- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009


Milwaukee Art Museum visitors can hear music from the 18th and 19th centuries along with information about American furniture from those centuries in the new iPod Touch tour.

At the Baltimore Museum of Art, people can stand at a touch-sensitive flat screen and get a virtual tour of the apartment and artwork of sisters Claribel and Etta Cone, who assembled a grand collection of pieces from Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh. The museum also uses its 3-D screens for visitors to see a Matisse sculpture from different angles and light, plus how Matisse may have created it.

At the Brooklyn Museum, two laptops with webcams record videos of people talking about race in relation to the exhibition “The Black List Project,” to be broadcast on YouTube.

Art museums nationwide are trying to connect in different ways to a population that is spending more time on Wiis and getting information with the touch of a button on smart phones.

“The goal here is not to have technology replace the real experience of the art in the museum, but technology becomes an important point of access,” says Milwaukee Art Museum Director Dan Keegan. “Technology becomes a critical educational tool. Technology becomes a social connecting link for people who are like-minded.”

Mr. Keegan says the museum has received positive comments since it started the iPod pilot program in October. It has five iPods featuring music and opera singer Christian Elser talking about pieces. He wants to get at least 200 iPods and add better wiring for cell-phone and Wi-Fi reception so visitors can access tours and information through cell phones. The goal is to have at least one sound bite for every piece on display.

“We won't think of hanging a work of art without a label and at least the audio clip,” he says.

Interested sponsors are holding off because of the economic downturn, he says, adding that he is optimistic the museum eventually will get the funding.

Museum officials also want to install a photo portrait booth where people can choose their photo style from among painter styles, Mr. Keegan says, and he wants to use GPS technology to help guide people through the museum.

Maxwell L. Anderson, director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and past president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, says most of the association's 190 members concentrate on e-mail newsletters, Web sites and presence on social networking sites.

He says few are concentrating on iPods and cell-phone guides and other technological gadgets and even fewer will start soon because of the economy.

The devices don't necessarily keep people coming in the door, he says. “Whether it's cell phone or iPod or any other gizmo, the premise is what content is being delivered and how engaging that is and how sticky that content is in the hearts and minds of potential visitors.”

He says his museum has had cell-phone tours for two years, but just a small percentage of people use them.

Cell-phone users at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis can call a special phone number and plug in a code to hear more information for about half of its pieces. The museum also has an interactive table system that lets people drag works of art and human figures together to get more information about the artwork and artists. There's also the Dolphin Oracle, which enables visitors to type a question about an artist or piece and get an answer. The table and the dolphin were designed by local artists.

Many museums are revamping their Web sites to make them more interactive and using social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. G. Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, is digitizing its more than 136 million objects in its 19 museums.

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