Digital Museum Wins & Thoughts: MCN 2016 New Orleans Edition

The Museum Computer Network 2016 conference is fast approaching, and the museum Twitter community is already abuzz with New Orleans restaurant recommendations and French Quarter Halloween musings. Although I will sadly not be making my way to the conference this year, I will be closely following the conference via #mcn2016. But as I have never before been to NOLA, I felt that a brief exploration of the city’s digital museum landscape would be an excellent way to gain some context myself, and perhaps join the larger conversation in a meaningful way from afar.

New Orleans and its surrounding towns boast several unique museum experiences. Many of these experiences can or do involve digital technology or digital engagement as a central component. In highlighting each experience, I hope to shed light on each institution’s success stories as well as look critically at their execution of human-centered design.

First up: The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at The New Orleans Museum of Art

What it’s doing well: Transparency. The website dedicates an entire menu on its homepage to the garden, as well it should – with works by Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi and Claes Oldenburg, it’s a gem. Before you dedicate your afternoon to an outdoor art jaunt, you can determine whether it’s worth your while, as well as whether the activities you plan to participate in (drawing? Reading? Instagram post creation and curation?) are acceptable. There are no secrets – even the names of the garden’s designers and architects are available.

Screen Capture of NOMA’s Website – List of Sculpture Garden Works (with pictures!)

Additionally, the museum is putting its exterior beauty to good use for the benefit of the surrounding community – yoga and pilates are offered in the garden on a weekly basis.

Ideas for future engagement: Crowdsourced content aggregation. There is a wealth of beautiful content specific to the NOMA sculpture garden on Instagram. While I’m never a fan of photo contests unless they have a specific goal and some sort of pre-planned and tested reward system, the fact that when visitors walk outside, they think to pull out their cameras and broadcast their surroundings is a huge benefit that should be fully taken advantage of. The added benefit of generally mild weather makes the garden a year-round attraction, expanding the possibility for social media engagement and return visits.  

Although the garden’s programming has already seen the introduction of more human-centered activities, I would urge the institution to think about just how fortunate they are to be located in a place where temperatures expand the outdoor activity season beyond the fall months.

Next: Everything (Digital) About The Abita Mystery House

What it’s doing well: Playing hard to get. This museum doesn’t give it all up on the first date. Although its online presence is accessible enough to allow for visitor confidence in its existence and general focus prior to their visit, its atmosphere seemingly cannot be digitally replicated. It also benefits from and broadcasts high profile endorsements including the TV show American Pickers, and John Bullard, the former director of the aforementioned New Orleans Museum of Art. Its internet 1.0 website, which could at this point be considered kitschy, is therefore a poor substitute for reality, which may very well drive more in person visitor traffic.

Lastly, the sometimes goofy, sometimes cryptic memes the museum creates for its social posts have huge potential.

Courtesy of the Abita Mystery House Facebook Page

Ideas for future engagement: Participatory experiences. The visiting experience, from what I can discern on the website, is fairly one-way – a cabinet of curiosities, rather than a carnival, if you will. While there is nothing wrong with limiting visitor engagement with the art itself, it seems to me that this place is an excellent setting for site-specific dance performances, innovative musical explorations, New Orleans-style parades, and endless art classes which could generate a ton of organic online engagement.

An added bonus would be for each of these events to be recorded and compiled into a series of youtube videos. With what resources, you say? Perhaps the visiting artists or participating visitors will be willing to contribute the digital documentation in exchange for the use of a unique venue. My thoughts are simply conjecture. The potential of the Abita Mystery House, however, is undeniable.

Last but not least, The World War II Museum’s Blog

What it’s doing well: Variety. Scrolling through the last month of blog posts, I found a playlist, a recipe for pie, an invitation to try my hand at animation, and a brief, easily digestible science lesson. This blog reflects the wealth of knowledge of the museum staff in an authentic way, because it’s clearly authentic, i.e. written by the experts themselves. The staff take turns writing their posts, focusing on providing supplemental information for past and future visitors as well as fun explorations into the many facets of World War II era history and culture for online readers.

The staff have also done a fair job of updating their post metadata – it looks as though categories of posts have been maintained, and tags help surfers find more specific iterations of their areas of interest.

Ideas for future engagement: High quality videos. The World War II museum’s greatest assets are undoubtedly the people who experienced the war. While the blog has several interview-style videos available for viewing, I would encourage the production of many, many more. Equipped with a high-quality camera, a tripod, a short list of questions, and a willing participant, museum staff members could easily develop a short interview that captivates audiences and conveys a human experience better than any blog post can.

Additionally, the museum has several events that have wider potential reach with the help of video. For example, the institution has regular performances in its canteen. The hype surrounding these events would likely draw more visitors with the help of a simple :30 trailer. Because the content of the video is an event occurring regularly in the museum and not a one-off show, shooting would not need to be scheduled, but could be taken at the convenience of the staff.

For those of you who are watching MCN2016 from your computers like me, this article is simply food for thought. For those attending, however, I hope my musings will serve as the beginning of a conversation. Using the wise words of Olivia Newton John for my own argument’s benefit, let’s get (more) digital, New Orleans!

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