Frankenstein’s Museum App: Learning from the Landscape of Digital Initiatives

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Tracy Stuber, George Eastman Museum, USA, Kate Meyers Emery, George Eastman Museum, USA

Of over a half million objects in the George Eastman Museum’s collection, only a small fraction, totalling under 0.001%, are on view for the average museum visitor to see. In a recent visitor survey, we found that many people leave the museum wanting to see more from our permanent collection. In particular, docents and educators want the ability to dive deeper into conversations that connect what is on view with the other objects we have that are not. Since over 60% of these objects are available online, we determined that the best way to tackle this challenge was by creating a digital tool that could leverage our digital collections to expand the experience of visitors while they are on site.
This presentation argues that in the current rich landscape of digital museum initiatives, no one needs to start from scratch when developing their own tool or platform. In our experience, the process of exploring and experimenting with existing models is just as worthwhile as a final product, since these exemplars introduced unexpected ways to think about and interact with our collections. This presentation shares our survey of inspiring initiatives at other museums, including the Cleveland Museum of Art’s ArtLens app, the Corning Museum’s Glass App, the Hammer Museum’s Expanded Digital Archives, and the Art Institute of Chicago’s JourneyMaker. Further, we will detail our process as a case study, moving from rapid paper prototyping to creating a functional in-gallery digital tool. By being open and transparent about the failures, successes, and issues encountered, we aim to provide a starting point from which others can create their own institution-specific projects.

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