21st Century Museums: Learning with the Carnegie Innovation Studio

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Thursday, November 5th, 2015

Carnegie Museum Innovation Studio

The Carnegie Museums recently announced the launch of an Innovation Studio. The idea of incubators and centers of innovation within museums has been a hot trend in the last couple of years. The development feels like a natural byproduct of fewer grant and donor resources, more competition for attendance and a rapidly changing industry. In many cases, just carving out the space to ask tough questions about the role of museums in modern society and how to attract younger audiences is a useful exercise. But what captured our attention with the Innovation Studio was its very targeted mission around technology and data.

The Carnegie Museums describe the Innovation Studio as “the post-digital research, design and development laboratory at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.” The Studio has four key elements that it focuses on:

  • Infrastructure: The team is focused on “designing and developing progressive, sustainable and standards-compliant infrastructure that can support the experienced-based interactions modern audiences demand;”
  • Experiences: The Studio positions museums as being in the business of experiences. As a result, their goal is to develop interfaces that are both elegant and fun to use;
  • Partnerships: The focus here is to build relationships with individuals and organizations that result in “creative collisions;”
  • Digital Adaption: Finally, the Studio is interested in the ongoing exploration of how technology impacts the museum experience and can enhance and improve exhibit design.

Digital Metrics Dashboard

The team is diverse, with members ranging from a VP of Technology to photographers, filmmakers, and tech experts. The interdisciplinary focus is leading to projects like the development of the Digital Metrics Dashboard. The Digital Dashboard is a tool that makes big data actionable for museum leadership. Its tools harvest data from web and social media analytics, and help visualize it on a holistic level. As the tools become more sophisticated, the potential to integrate with other digital systems within the museum could provide much better data. Data-driven museum management – especially at the level of exhibit design and curation – is predicted to be one of the hottest trends of 2016. The Dashboard is one example of the ways that museums are adapting and working to gather the information that they need.

Innovation Studio Innovation Salon

One interesting approach that the Studio has taken is hosting Innovation Salons. Engaging the public in discussions is an important way of getting mainstream audiences to rethink the role of museums, while also bringing fresh insights from outside museums and academia. Free public events bring together members of the public along with experts and thought leaders to talk about solutions to different elements of the media, innovation and museum world. Past sessions have included Future Scanning with the fabulous Elizabeth Merritt of the Center for the Future of Museums and explorations of data visualization applications.

Innovation Salon: Future Scanning

Perhaps the most audacious program that the Innovation Studio is undertaking is currently in the earliest phases: ArtTracks. ArtTracks is described as “attempting to structure provenance and exhibition history data so curators, scholars, and software developers can create dynamic visualizations that answer impossible questions.” Provenance – or the physical journey that brings artwork to a museum – can often reveal as much about its significance as scholarly inquiry. What did the piece’s journey to the museum look like? Did art pieces arranged together in a collection share an owner or perhaps an inspiration? Was there a moment in time that somehow gave rise to a trend that we’re not yet seeing? The Provenance Visualization Project is digging into the institution’s curatorial files to find out. It’s early days yet, but scoping out the connections within the collections of the Carnegie institution – and eventually more broadly – is enticing.

Incubators in other museums are tackling a wide range of challenges: how to integrate social issues into exhibits, how to embrace virtual reality for education, and how to launch artist-entrepreneurs into the world. But the Innovation Studio is unique. Its focus on deeper data and big data uncovers an important opportunity for museums: few institutions have richer repositories of information. For more on their theoretical framework, read Museums as 21st Century Databases.

The potential to find unique insights in the items themselves, in the paper trails behind them, and in the scholarship about them is massive. Unexpected solutions may be found by combining these insights with other data, such as social or web traffic analytics. While it’s hard to know what the impact of the Innovation Studio will be, we’ll be following their development on the application of data visualization and other tools closely in the next couple of years.

Images sourced courtesy of Innovation Studio and CFM

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