The building itself was rather daunting and unfriendly — not the kind of place to ‘invite’ you in. So the Brooklyn Museum started reaching out.
Not content with offering better seating, free evening lectures and movies, they decided to use the Internet.
Bernstein talked about some of the numerous ways the museum uses the Internet to help visitors be more engaged.
The YouTube response
For example, when they ran Black List, an exhibition about race, they installed a couple of laptops in the gallery and invited people to record a video of their response.
The laptop sent the videos to YouTube.
This meant that the exhibition became more than just the voice of the museum, but a focal point for wider discussion.
Share the journey
The museum staff use both blogs and Twitter, to communicate not only to, but with their visitors.
They don’t use an impersonal ‘institutional’ voice either, but instead make sure the writer of each piece is clearly named.
Nor do they only write about the ‘good stuff’. They share both good and bad news; their triumphs and their mistakes.
They recently live tweeted about the cat scan of some mummies. In a way, the cat scan process became an exhibition in its own right.
The audience became part of the journey, and discovered only moments after the staff did that the ‘male’ mummy was in fact a female. (Or maybe vice versa.)
Te Papa did a similar thing last year with live video of their giant squid inspection.
Amplify the community’s voice
When the museum had an exhibition about graffiti they put up a special wall for visitors to graffiti. Then they took photos of the wall each day and posted them to Flickr.
Many of the graffiti artists also took their own photos and added them to the Flickr exhibition.
And so, the exhibition moved beyond the bounds of the museum buildings and drew in the public, amplified their voices.
Tag you’re it
The museum have a ‘posse‘ — a group of people who add information to collections the museum put online.
For example, the ‘official’ information about an art work will include the name of the artist, media used, date, and so on.
But viewers may add tags or descriptions such as ‘mystery’ or ‘foreboding’.
In some cases, online visitors have been able to highlight errors or confusion in what the museum knows about works.
Bernstein spoke with a passion about her work. She also gave us many more examples of how the museum are using the Internet in other ways to engage with their community.
The video of her 45 minute presentation will probably be added to the Webstock website soon. I’d urge you to watch it.
You may also like to read my article that was published in the NZ Herald — Webstock: Amplifying the community’s voice.
Written by Miraz Jordan for, and reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, March 2010. This article has been modified for publication here.
* Building image from the Brooklyn Museum website, and used under a Creative Commons License.