Interactive Museums: Unique Ways of Eliciting Responses to Art ☆

MET Family map illustrations by John Kerschbaum.

The second day of the Creativity, Play, and the Imagination across Disciplines conference at Teachers College began with a panel discussion on innovative museum practices in Horace Mann 146. Audience members from the UK’s powerhouse Tate Museums, as well as New York’s American Museum of Natural History, listened to presentations exploring new ways for promoting visitor-museum interaction.

Mark Dzula, a TC Doctoral candidate and freelance educator with a background in music education, talked about his work at the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in Long Island City, Queens. Noguchi, a Japanese-American artist, designed the open-air sculpture garden-gallery in the 1980’s and placed 240 of his works there. Dzula hosted weekend activities there in the spring. Children and adults were asked to articulate their responses to Noguchi’s works in a unique way. Heeding the words of French philosopher and historian, Michel Foucault: “what we see never resides in what we say” Dzula let Noguchi’s works and the “structural elements become the basis for musical response,” he explained. He broke the visitors into groups and had them tackle specific sections of a song. Then, by walking around the sculptures, touching them and staring at them, the groups came up with lyrics and sounds to describe what they saw. The sections were put together to form a cohesive composition. Conference attendees were flabbergasted when Dzula played clips of the songs. From kindergartners to fifth graders, exceptional insight and reflection shone through their compositions. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Dzula’s activity for the teachers in the audience was that through creating a musical response to the art pieces, he was able to hold the childrens’ attention and have them interact with single Noguchi pieces for up to 30 minutes.

Over at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, they are working on getting visitors to interact with the museum online. Masha Turchinsky, a TC alumna and Senior Publishing and Creative Manager, Digital Media at the Met introduced conference participants to the museum’s interactive project. Born from a practical problem: the confusing Met floor plan and people consequently getting lost, the Met came up with the Family Map. The print version, which is now available for download, was created from a child’s perspective and contains illustrations by John Kerschbaum of 3,000 art pieces and a clear, interactive map. The hope is to “demystify and uncomplicate a complicated space,” explained Masha. It is also a chance for children to take on a leadership role and guide their parents through the space. The Family Map’s Internet counterpart, which will launch in the coming year, is a robust virtual and parallel version of the museum online. Online visitors click on a particular illustration, which brings up the actual photo of the artwork along with an information tab. Once a visitor is done learning about specific works they chose, they can submit a literary or visual response to what they saw, get information about related events and even take quizzes. The Met is also looking into having this virtual map as an app on mobile phones and tablets.

What do you think about Mark Dzula’s and the Met’s projects? Do you have any ideas/have your heard of or seen other innovative ways museums are providing for more interaction between visitors and their artworks?

Mark Dzula’s Jukebox Radio