David Bowie and Minecraft: The Next Frontier of Museum Technology

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Thursday, November 6th, 2014

David Bowie Is - Museum Exhibit

Museum technology is moving at the speed of light. Mobile integration, wearable devices, and other trends are allowing visitors to experience museums from a new perspective. Curators around the world have begun exploring how they can use different technology platforms to connect with museum guests and enhance the overall visitor experience. Certain innovative institutions are exploring high-tech strategic partnerships to engage with new audiences outside of the typical museum community. Two recent examples of museums that are using technology in interesting ways are the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the British Museum.

The “David Bowie Is” exhibit opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago on September 23rd. The multi-faceted exhibit, which pays tribute to one of the most well-known rock n’ roll legends of our time, relies on mobile technology to create a more user-friendly experience for museum visitors. The exhibit itself is a retrospective featuring over 400 objects from the artist’s personal collection. In particular, the exhibit strives to put his work in the broader pop culture context by looking at his musical influences and other artists that he in turn inspired. As described by the exhibit organizers, “Multimedia installations incorporating advanced sound technology produced by Sennheiser, original animations, continuous audio accompaniment, and video installations immerse visitors in the sights and sounds of Bowie’s artistic life.”

David Bowie Is Costumes

Museum goers who explore the exhibit are provided with a cutting-edge audio device before they enter. The device has built-in technology which activates when a museum guest is within a certain range of different elements in the exhibit. This creates a streamlined, ongoing audio accompaniment that’s customized based on the user’s own path through the gallery. Instead of the guest having to tell the device where they are as they’re exploring, the audio automatically plays the narrative about the nearby interactives or artifacts. The MoCA has plans to integrate similar audio tours into future exhibits.

Other institutions, like the British Museum, are thinking out of the box to attract the attention of new and especially younger audiences by exploring strategic partnerships with popular technology platforms. The Museum has recently announced that they are in the early stages of developing a replica of their iconic building designed for Minecraft, the hit 3D-construction themed video game that features Lego-inspired digital designs. Nearly 55 million copies of the game have been sold since it was introduced to the market in 2009, and Microsoft recently acquired Minecraft for $2.5 billion.

British Museum Minecraft

The British Museum is taking a unique approach to designing its Minecraft replica. Museum representatives are crowdsourcing the project to volunteer designers. The Museum team has put a call out for participants via the popular internet platform Reddit, and there’s been considerable interest in the project thus far. The goal of the new Minecraft collaboration is to attract the attention of a younger and more technology advanced audience – and so far it seems to be working. It will be interesting to see how the museum leverages this interest and continues to build on it with future programmatic decisions.

As technology has advanced, museums have begun taking creative approaches to technology integration and increased audience engagement. Some are choosing to look inward by using digital elements in exhibits, while others are exploring outside partnerships to deepen connections with new audiences and the broader community. Both the Museum of Contemporary Art and the British Museum are demonstrating an important fact: taking novel approaches to working with the latest technologies creates the potential to offer your visitors something unique.

Images courtesy IB post, Thetfts.ca, Artnet


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