Two Recent Projects

When Fairy Tales Collide, 2009 © TODD SCHORR

When Fairy Tales Collide, 2009 © TODD SCHORR

I’m excited about two recent projects that I’ve produced at the San Jose Museum of Art. Both are video projects around exhibitions and in both cases we are using the typical platforms of YouTube, iTunes, mobile tour for delivery. Additionally SJMA is now a partner of ArtBabble and the videos are available there.

The first project is a series of videos that were created to help promote and inform around the exhibition Todd Schorr: American Surreal. A colleague of mine and I flew down to Beverly Hills for the day to interview Schorr about his influences, technique and many of his works of art. Todd Schorr was welcoming to us and offered a bounty of information which we filmed in high definition video to later be edited down to the videos for the exhibit.Todd Schorr’s work has a lot of depth to it and contains a lot of nostalgia from his childhood. This includes classic cartoons, monster movies, comic books, pulp magazines, and toy models. Additionally, Shorr incorporates a lot of commercial iconography, knowledge acquired from his years as a commercial designer.

Back at the museum we broke down the video we had into four different informational segments and one preview/promo video. The promo video consists of pan and zooms over several key Schorr painting while interspersingsmall snippets of the day in Beverly Hills to whet people’s appetites for more of the interview. All of this was layered over an old song that I found online by the Raymond Scott Quintette called Powerhouse. Scotts music was purchased by Warners Brothers and musical director Carl Stalling incorporated it into many of the classic Looney Toons cartoons. The music fits perfectly with the subject matter.

We were fortunate enough to be featured on several heavy traffic blogs such as Drawn, Boing Boing and Laughing Squid which bumped up the views considerably. The preview video is closing in on 20,000 views as of the writing of this post.

Enjoy the videos!

The second project centered around the exhibition Ansel Adams: Early Works. After a lot of brainstorming around the idea of social media we decided to ask outsiders to participate in the exhibition by submitting their own photos.

The idea was to make a video asking people the question, “Is it you?” throughout. Each time the question popped up an arrow would point to a person who was taking a photo in Yosemite National Park. Interspersed between all the people would be shots of some famous landmarks within Yosemite itself. At the end a final question is asked — “Are you the next great photographer?” Instructions are then shown stating “Submit your photos to be part of the exhibtion. www.flickr.com/groups/ansel”. Once there the user finds out more guidelines for submitting their Ansel Adams inspired photo.

We had thrown around the idea of having the general public vote for their favorites in the Flickr group. The winner would then be represented in a separate spot in the exhibition. Instead of being exclusive it was decided to be more inclusive. There will be a monitor set up in the gallery which will deliver a looping slideshow of all the photos.

I’m pretty excited by the concept and the video production (it might be my best video to date). I was fortunate enough to travel to Yosemite to shoot the video which was shot entirely in black and white HD. One of the challenges was to film people with their faces obscured to avoid any clearance issues. The last shot of the video took a stroke of luck to obtain.

Here’s how it looked in the gallery with the kiosk set up:

SJMA Ansel Adams Flickr Project from Chris Alexander on Vimeo.

Two Recent Recordings

Nancy Proctor at the Tate Conference

Nancy Proctor at the Tate Conference

I owe a lot to Nancy Proctor, the Head of New Media Initiatives at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She can safely be labeled a guru of mobile museum tours because her knowledge of the subject matter is extensive. She has also been a great advocate for the work that I have been doing at the San Jose Museum of Art by inviting me to speak at conferences like the Tate Handheld Conference in September 2008.

Recently, I was honored to be involved with two side projects of Nancy’s.

Learning Times Handheld Conference

Learning Times Handheld Conference

On June 3rd, 2009 I was part of an online conference through Learning Times (sponsored by the American Association of Museums) and organized by Nancy. The conference was focused on handheld tours and built on the collective knowledge of the previous Tate conference. For my part I was involved again with the getting it done section. My presentation titled, “The Little Engine That Could: Mobile Tours on a Shoestring Budget” was paired with that of Silvia Fillipini Fantoni from the British Museum which provided a good contrast of what goes into developing a large mobile tour versus a smaller scale one.

The outstanding list of presenters that day also included – Nancy Proctor herself, Koven Smith from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Titus Bicknell from Experius/Gateway Auto Museum and Bruce Wyman from the Denver Museum of Art. Nancy and Koven’s part talked about the future of mobile and Titus and Bruce spoke about the rapid development of a mobile tour.

Here are the slides from my presentation:

This was my first online experience and I have to admit I had some concerns going in, but overall I thought that it was very effective. The one bit of strangeness that was prevalent, and expressed by Bruce during his presentation, was that you are speaking into the phone with no gauge on how people are reacting on the other end. A large part of speaking at a conference is gauging the expression on peoples faces as you are talking and making adjustments as necessary to make it more entertaining or more informational. There is obviously no way to do this via an online conference.

My part of the conference is available in it’s entirety and you are more than welcome to listen to all the other sections of too.

Museum Mobile

Museum Mobile

The other side project that I was a part of is on her wiki called Museum Mobile where she features regular podcasts around the subject of mobile tours. She had asked me at the 2009 Museums and the Web conference if I would like to be interviewed and I was quick to say yes.

For the interview, which also took place in June, she paired me for a discussion with Ted Forbes from the Dallas Museum of Art who has recently been developing a tour for his museum. In the podcast Nancy asks us a variety of questions about the development of our tours, web app vs. SDK, implementation in the galleries and a host of other juicy tidbits. The conversation was over an hour long and very enjoyable.

You can listen to it on Museum Mobile – Chris & Ted’s Excellent iPod Tours or listen to it here.


Road Trip Heels Screenshot

It’s very exciting to announce that the video we created for our Road Trip Exhibition won the Gold award in the category of Public Relations and Development at this years MUSE awards. The MUSE awards are given out by the Media and Technology committee, part of the American Association of Museums, for excellence in the area of museums and technology. The jury that voted in our category, led by Dana Allen-Greil, Project Manager for New Media, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, said this about our video:

This quirky video was produced in-house by San Jose Museum of Art staff armed with only a sense of humor, a video camera, and some crazy Japanese high-heels. The short clip depicts a journey to the fabulous Giant Artichoke restaurant, where a postcard is purchased and sent to the museum for inclusion in the “Road Trip” exhibition. Viewers are then prompted to send their own iconic, unusual, and hilarious postcards to supplement the museum’s “Road Trip” exhibition.” The judges were impressed with the innovative, low-cost, and appropriate use of technology to reach a large audience and engage people with the exhibition beyond the walls of the museum. Both the idea and the execution are fun, creative, and playful and show that the museum is both scrappy and savvy about engaging with visitors and successfully integrating experiences between online and offline presences.

When we created the video we knew that we were making something that was fun and special. It was definitely a new direction for us and it felt good to be pushed and challenged by our Director of Marketing.

As with most projects this was not a solo effort. I want to thank my partner in crime at SJMA Lucy Larson, Manager of Interpretation, for being a great and fun person to work with and an outstanding springboard for ideas (we can volley ideas back and forth with great ease). Additional thanks go out to Nicole Mcbeth, Director of Marketing, for her advice and up front criticisms which helped to fine tune the video in the editing process and also to Kristen Evangelista, Associate Curator, for creating an inspiring exhibition to work from.

Also, I want to thank AAM’s Media and Technology Committee and the jury that selected our piece.  It’s great to be recognized for our efforts and to be in the company of so many great organizations!

SJMA Wins Gold @ MUSE Awards from Chris Alexander on Vimeo.

Dipity Do It!

Warhol Digital Timeline in Gallery

A few months back during a team meeting at the San Jose Museum of Art we had a discussion about including a timeline in our exhibition Prints of Andy Warhol. The idea was quickly tossed out because it can cost a few thousand dollars to do a timeline right. However, around May of last year I had heard about a great new online service on my favorite podcast Net at Night called Dipity that made it simple to create dynamic interactive timelines online. Users can drag the timeline from left to right to scan through different years or days. Clicking on an event will open up a window to display more information including text, video or images.

Additionally, in November a timeline created on Dipity was referenced on one of my favorite blogs Kottke.org. After finding out more about the service I started looking for an opportunity to utilize Dipity in an exhibition setting and didn’t realize the opportunity would come so quickly.

I ran back to my office space, grabbed my laptop and brought it back to the meeting to show everyone the timeline that was referenced on Kottke. The timeline was a history of different types of cereals and when they were introduced over the past century. My suggestion to the group was to create a timeline in Dipity for Andy Warhol and project it on a wall in the gallery using Dipity’s built in full screen mode. Everybody was intrigued and I promised to investigate the possibility further.

Our new director at the San Jose Museum of Art had recently worked at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) where they had just mounted a different Andy Warhol exhibit. The staff at SMoCA were kind enough to let us use the timeline events that they had assembled for their show. To experiment a little, I entered in a few of these events into a Dipity timeline that I created and found the service to be extremely easy to use. You can enter in individual events separately or you can import information from a “source.” Sources include – Flickr, YouTube, RSS, and other social media platforms.

One of the keys to make this work in a gallery is to utilize kiosk software to lock out the visitors from surfing the internet or doing a variety of other tasks you don’t want them to do in public sight. I started looking around and found wKiosk for the Mac. It’s pretty straight forward to use and after some tweaking finally had a working model to show everybody back at the exhibition team meeting.

The reception of the timeline was positive and it was determined that we would proceed with it being in the exhibition so I set out to enter all 135 events on the timeline. Each event is assigned one of four icons which references a legend to guide users to the four different topics presented – Warhol’s personal life, news events during his life, info about his subjects, and concurrent art world events.

Installation was easy. We utilized an old PowerMac G4 tower that we set-up with the wKiosk software to display the timeline. I would recommend a faster computer, such as a Mac Mini, for delivery because it adds more fluidity to the nice motion effect the timeline has when you scroll from side to side. Our installation department installed a projector to display it on a large wall. Additionally, they built a nice little pedestal where users interact with the timeline using a mouse.

Timeline Pedestal for Interaction

Timeline Pedestal for Interaction

We had some challenges early on with implementing the timeline. None of the problems that came up were the fault of Dipity. We are using their product in an unconventional way where it is running for up to 8 hours in a day. In a typical situation the user would go to the Dipity website and spend much less time than that.

Early on we had some issues with IP addresses being cached on our in-house DNS which would cause the timeline to not load – a white screen displayed instead. A clearing out of the cache would help until something would cause another bad IP address. Finally our IT person set up the internet connection to scan three different external DNS servers instead of our one internal. This helped immensely. If something was wrong on one DNS it would go to the next one, and so on, providing a back-up plan.

Dipity is a fast growing company that is seeing their product take off. They are constantly adding great new features that I’m sure are on their company roadmap. The addition of some of these features did not play too well with our kiosk software because of the settings I had for it. For example, the wKiosk software can allow and disallow certain urls and keywords. This keeps the visitor where we want them to be. If there are any changes to those urls through the web service it will affect how the timeline works. Seemingly, this scenario played out which caused the timeline to reload itself and not allow the visitor to explore the different events. The problem was easily correctable by changing some kiosk settings.

Additionally, Dipity implemented a subscription model where a monthly payment will remove ads from the timeline (they obviously need to make money!). We were unaware that they were implementing this and some ads showed up one day. I contacted the company to see about options for removing them and they were quick and kind enough to help us out and were very intrigued about our use of their product in a museum setting.

We were fortunate enough to have Zack, one of the founders and CTO, visit us to see it in action. He is very interested in helping make it more museum friendly for uses similar to ours or in an actual kiosk format. You can read about his visit to the San Jose Museum of Art at http://blog.dipity.com/2009/03/11/dipity-kiosk-at-sjma/.

The timeline has been a success and we are already trying to think of future uses. Dipity is an outstanding, easy to use service that will only grow more in its capabilities over the years. I can see it being used in schools, museums and libraries. Our use of the Dipity service is obviously unconventional at this point, however, there are some additional benefits. One being that we are able to embed the timeline into our webpage for the Prints of Andy Warhol exhibition allowing for visitors who visit our website the opportunity to prepare for their visit or reflect on it afterwards. Also, it extends the SJMA brand into another area of the burgeoning social media world we are currently in and allows our users to interact with one another.

Dipity do it!

Presentation: SFSU and SCU

I recently had the pleasure of addressing two groups of students at two different universities. One, at San Francisco State University, was a class was being taught by my friend Karen Kienzle who recently became the director at the Palo Alto Art Center. The other was a class being taught by artist Kathy Aoki at Santa Clara University. The presentation (below) focused of a broad overview of technology in museums cover aspects of in-house content creation, mobile tours, and social media. There was an additional focus on the cell phone tour company Guide by Cell because both will be using the service for exhibitions later this spring. Both classes were engaged and had some good questions afterwards.