Tag Archives: tate

TO TWEET OR NOT TO TWEET?

The session about museums and their use of social media was food for thought. There are now so many different platforms that it can be hard to keep up. By the time a museum grows accustom to one, another more popular one takes its place. Should they try and use every platform available to reach out to more people? Should there be a limit? To that I answer yes; even if their audience (or, indeed, competition) have an account with all the various sites, there should be a focus on quality over quantity. At the end of the day, they still have an institutional reputation to maintain and thus their methods of engagement should reflect this.

On browsing related articles, I came across a blog post on the Tate website which poses the question: should museums be using social media more creatively? Using the Tate’s Twitter account as the primary case study, the blogger Kirstie Beavan looks at how Tate had been using their social media in alternative ways than just ‘broadcasting’ or self-promoting their collections and exhibitions. She raised an interesting point in saying that Tate wanted to inspire creativity in their audience, rather than push creative projects or initiatives that require participation exclusively via social media. Even since this blog was published four years ago, new social media sites have been developed and grown in popularity, raising the potential for museum-public engagement. As we discussed in class, national – even international – online events such as #MuseumWeek have the scope for involvement across, and in partnership with, different platforms.

Scrolling through their past activity on both Twitter and Facebook, I would say that Tate falls comfortably under the Level 4 category of Nina Simon’s Hierarchy of Social Participation pyramid (“Individual, Networked, Social Interaction with content (Me to We with Museums)”). They have created a platform for audience discussion and interaction with the shared content, the experience improving as more people join in.  They may even have reached into Level 5 (“Collective Social Interaction with Content (We in Museum)”), particularly given the strong drive and influence of Tate’s Digital Strategy 2013-15. There is direct interaction between users and, occasionally, with Tate itself through the asking of questions, holding contests, and creating thematic hashtags (which, effectively, builds an online community who contribute towards a mutual topic).

Looking at a selection of the posts and tweets from the Tate pages, it would seem that they typically pose a question or prompt a topic and then let the fans/followers start conversations and debates with each other. As far as I could see (though I could be mistaken), the Tate do not get involved with the comments at all. However, in their social media how-to guide, the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) emphasise that responding to participator’s comments is important for strong and successful engagement and communication, showing that you are listening to what they have to say.

In the blog post’s comments, the general consensus seems to point towards wanting a more one-to-one interaction with the Tate through its social media, bringing individual personality to an otherwise impersonal institution. But is this a good idea? On the one hand it would provide a relatable name or personal contact, breaking down the barriers between the institution and the public (which, as discussed in class, is now becoming a priority for many museums today). On the other hand, is it better to maintain a sense of professionalism and have marked separation? Where do you draw that line between professional and personal?

I do have some concerns about having a designated ‘tweeter’ as the face of an institution’s social media. They would, essentially, become a spokesperson – would this put pressure on them? If they only answered some of the queries, would they be accused of only engaging with certain people and ignoring others? There may be a risk of alienation. There’s also the difficulty of communicating through the written word; sometimes things can be misinterpreted if not worded carefully, and it is often tricky to placate debates or arguments without speaking face-to-face.

The Tate blog post was originally written in 2011 and, on looking at the pages today in 2015, there have been changes made. In the Twitter ‘bio’, the names Maria and Bea are mentioned, adding a more human touch. The feed still maintains the same broadcast-y messages as before (after all, they need to promote their exhibitions and opening times!), but there are now more casual tweets such as:

Importantly – whether a message or #XmasQuiz – each contains an image of something from the collection, making it personal, casual, and fun whilst maintaining institutional relevance and education. They also retweet complimentary messages, use emoji icons, and respond to the odd question about booking tickets and visitor complaints.

For comparison, I had a look at a few other major London museums. The V&A follows in a similar vein to the Tate; there are retweets of followers and reviews praising current exhibitions and staff promoting good causes (for example, the Gallery Assistants wearing jumpers for #ChristmasJumperDay), and responses to questions about specific gallery opening times. The same can be said for the Natural History Museum, the Horniman Museum, the Science Museum, the Wellcome Collection, and the Imperial War Museum. Notably, only the Horniman reveals the names of those tweeting on their behalf.

It’s still a relatively new area for museums, so there will inevitably be a lot of change over the coming years as experience and knowledge about the effect and impact of social media grows. As to whether museums should be creative in their published content, I think so long as there is relevance to the institution and a sense of professionalism in what they share, museums should continue to experiment with social media and engage with their audience in different ways. Although you can’t please everyone all of the time, given the variety of things that can be achieved through the digital medium, there is the capacity to be a bit different and do something more creative and fun with the content. It is a way of connecting visitors – past, current, and potential – from all over the world, and allows engagement in ways not easily achieved within the physical gallery spaces themselves. It will be interesting to see what role and impact social media will have going forward into 2016.

Should museum social media pages have designated and identifiable contributors?

Is producing ‘creative’ content more important than ‘broadcasting’ information?


Resources

Beaven, Kirstie. 1 September 2011. Should museums be using social media more creatively? [http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs/should-museums-be-using-social-media-more-creatively], accessed 26/12/15.

Simon, Nina. 20 March 2007. Hierarchy of Social Participation [http://museumtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2007/03/hierarchy-of-social-participation.html], accessed 26/12/15.

Stack, J. Spring 2013. ‘Tate Digital Strategy 2013–15: Digital as a Dimension of Everything’, in: Tate Papers, no.19, [http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/19/tate-digital-strategy-2013-15-digital-as-a-dimension-of-everything], accessed 26/12/15.

Zeuner, Diana., ed. 2014. Association of Independent Museums: Successfully Getting Started with Social Media [http://www.aim-museums.co.uk/downloads/aaee4b8c-f54d-11e3-8be4-001999b209eb.pdf], accessed 26/12/15.

Additional

Horniman Museum Twitter: https://twitter.com/HornimanMuseum [accessed 26/12/15].

Imperial War Museum Twitter: https://twitter.com/I_W_M [accessed 26/12/15].

Natural History Museum Twitter: https://twitter.com/NHM_London [accessed 26/12/15].

Science Museum Twitter: https://twitter.com/sciencemuseum [accessed 26/12/15].

Tate Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tategallery [accessed 26/12/15]

Tate Twitter: https://twitter.com/Tate [accessed 26/12/15].

V&A Twitter: https://twitter.com/V_and_A [accessed 26/12/15].

Wellcome Collection Twitter: https://twitter.com/ExploreWellcome [accessed 26/12/15].

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IS IT ALL FUN AND GAMES?

The session with Rhiannon Looseley, member of the Digital Learning Team at the Museum of London, demonstrated the benefits and challenges of using digital and virtual media as part of the learning programmes. As the next generation of museum-goers are growing up with technology in everyday life, it seems sensible and appropriate to utilise these tools in their education (though, as Merete Sanderhoff points out in her paper, just because this generation have been given the title “digital natives” does not mean they automatically understand what exactly they see and read online. Museums offer a ‘truth’ in their content, which gives them an educational authority over questionably-sourced websites such as Wikipedia. Today’s children may be born into a digitally-dominant world but they need guidance in how to utilise this to its full learning potential).

The end goal for the Museum of London is for digital technology to become part of the learning tool box both inside and outside the physical building – it will no longer be considered a separate entity or alternative medium. Given the rate of technological growth and the current experimentations, this goal of becoming a “postdigital museum” sounds very achievable. The lines are beginning to blur, but museums are still very much in the transformative phase.

Using online games for educational purposes is not a new concept (I remember the BBC Bitesize games being a staple of revision during my GCSEs, a tool very much encouraged and welcomed by the teachers), however recently in the museum world, it seems to be an increasing venture with various levels of output and prerogatives. Are they successful in achieving their educational goals, or is this overlooked in favour of playing something just for fun? Is it a case of “chocolate covered broccoli”, or do they strike a balance between education and enjoyment?

As we looked at the Wellcome Collection and Museum of London’s games prior to and during the class, I decided to turn my attention to another large institution that is integrating digitalisation into their everyday practice – the Tate. Digital learning is generally aimed at children and families, but I will obviously be considering them from an adult perspective.

The Tate has an interesting and varied compendium of games on the ‘Tate Kids’ website (also listed on the regular Tate site under ‘Learning Resource’), ranging from simple drag-and-drop activities to one that uses a webcam. A star system rates the difficulty/skills level, presumably taking the depth of involvement, commitment, and concentration into consideration. It is also interesting to note the differences in art styles and graphics – from the Microsoft Paint-esque ‘Street Art’ (a game I’m not sure I agree with – should we be encouraging children to graffiti, albeit virtually?!), to the sophisticated Tim Burton-esque ‘Cuboom’. The simplistic games seem more aimed at encouraging creativity and the sharing of achievements, than learning about specific subjects.

I was most intrigued by the Secret Dancer game – a collaborative project with the Royal Ballet School, inspired by Degas’ Little Dancer Aged 14 sculpture. At the beginning, the game states it will last approximately 20 minutes, though it is possible to skip sections. The narrative is based on the ‘night at the museum’ premise, whereby the security guard sees an object – in this case, the Little Dancer – come to life after dark. The ballerina leaves behind clues and activities for her to solve, for which the prize – SPOILER – is a performance from the dancer herself. The learning element is in the story of the model and inspiration behind the sculpture, Marie van Goethem, presented in the guise of puzzles, maths riddles, and a navigational treasure hunt. The majority of the story takes place within the tanks of Tate Modern, adding an interesting – if slightly spooky – behind-the-scenes-at-the-museum element.

Although I am not the intended audience for this game, I nonetheless found the activities quite enjoyable. Overall, though, it did feel too long, and some of the acting and scripting was a bit ropey. The final dance was lovely to watch, but it was a rather long-winded trip to get to that point. From an educational standpoint, I did learn about the Little Dancer’s model and followed up the experience by finding more information about her online. This, in essence, is the aim for such games, though I question whether a younger audience would do the same. I can now sympathise with Rhiannon’s concerns about the challenges of creating long-form activities and being able to create narrated content that will stand the test of short attention spans. Are skippable sections the way to go?

My favourite game on the website was ‘Wondermind’, created with support from the Wellcome Trust (and thus has a very different feel from the rest of the compendium). It is a highly educational game based on Alice in Wonderland, combining challenging activities with trivia and quizzes about the workings of the brain. ‘The Tea Party’ was especially difficult, and I found myself playing it several times to try and better my score. Of all the games, I feel this one has the most educational output, though perhaps a little too much for a very young audience. I was also unsure how Alice in Wonderland related to the Tate, as there were no mentions of any particularly artworks like the other games. I was also unsure how Alice in Wonderland related to the Tate as there were no mentions of any particularly artworks however, on consulting Google, I discovered there was an Alice exhibition at Tate Liverpool a few years ago.

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Source: ttp://www2.tate.org.uk/wondermind/

As is evident from the ages of those who have shared their finished works on Tate Kids, age is not a barrier when it comes to playing these games. Rhiannon said that digital learning tends to be aimed at children and families, but why exclude adults from this? As the Wellcome collection has shown through its compendium, it is possible to make fun, educational, and challenging games (or ‘interactives’) for adults too. Perhaps there is room for Tate to offer something in the future as part of their ongoing digital revolution. After all, adults want to have fun when learning too!

Does it matter if the ‘fun’ to ‘educational’ ratio is skewed in favour of overall enjoyment?

Is there a market for adult-oriented museum games, or are those largely intended for a young audience more universal in their ‘edu-tainment’ output?


Resources

BBC Bitesize Games: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/games/ [accessed 01/12/15].

Bouchard, Sean. November 2011. Chocolate Covered Broccoli: Building Better Games [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrK7VXCfsS0], accessed  01/12/15.

Museum of London Games: http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/explore-online/our-games/ [accessed 25/11/15].

Rodley, Ed. 11th September 2011. ‘Tracing the contours of digital transformation Part One’ in: Thinking About Museums [https://exhibitdev.wordpress.com/2015/09/11/tracing-the-contours-of-digital-transformation-part-one/], access 01/12/15.

Sanderhoff, Merete. 29th January 2015. Wanna play? Building bridges between open museum content and digital learning in public schools [https://medium.com/code-words-technology-and-theory-in-the-museum/wanna-play-8f8e2e8cb2fe#.5wvj4gfgq], accessed 01/12/15.

Tate Kids Games: https://kids.tate.org.uk/games/ [accessed 25/11/15].

Wellcome Collection Interactives: http://wellcomecollection.org/play [accessed 01/12/15].

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DIGITAL WELCOMES: MUSEUMS, WEBSITES, AUDIENCES

Recently I visited Tate Modern to see The World Goes Pop exhibition. Having been to the Southbank site many times, I was already familiar with the commanding brick façade and vast interior spaces. Approaching the building from the riverside, you are faced with a very wide, very high wall; the people standing on the balconies above seem tiny and lost against the brick and glass. This imposing – and slightly intimidating – architecture of the converted power station could be seen as a reflection of the Tate’s significant and dominant presence in the art world. The entrance is indicated by signs for the current exhibitions and, as it was a Saturday afternoon, there were crowds aplenty.

Once inside, just past the gift shop, there was a lady in a bright coloured t-shirt standing with a clipboard, ready to give directions and answer questions. As the Turbine Hall was closed off for installation work, there were a lot of confused visitors blocking the doorways, trying to navigate to their chosen destination. With seven floors, there is a lot of ground to cover and this can seem quite daunting to both new and regular visitors alike. Despite the floor number being visible on both the stairwell and the lifts, it can be quite disconcerting trying to navigate the near-identical levels. Further still, the escalators only join alternating floors, which isn’t always apparent until it’s too late to step off. Tate tries to encourage use of the stairs to prevent over-crowding at the lifts, but this too can prove tricky as they are quite steep and narrow. In terms of signage, there are wall-mounted directions, and the occasional stand with purchasable maps. I don’t recall seeing many members of staff.

The Tate’s website, on the other hand, is much more straight-forward and traffic-free. With its white backgrounds and dark grey font (colour is reserved for images and the occasional underlining and highlighting), it is clean-cut, coherent, and easy to navigate. Each specific Tate site is given the same treatment, promoting a sense of unity and – perhaps more significantly for them – a cohesive brand, with the recognisable logo emblazoned at the top of every page. The drop-down column on the far left hand side replaces the lady in the bright t-shirt. It states clear headings, covering everything from opening times and school visits, to a comprehensive history of the Turbine Hall. It even has options for viewing the pages in French, German, Spanish, and Italian.

This current design was employed following a complete overhaul of the website in April 2012, as part of the 2010-2012 Online Strategy initiative (also coinciding with the revamp of Tate Britain). Using the Wayback Machine, it is curious to see the development of the site leading up to this point.

In the year 2000, when Tate Modern first opened its physical – and digital – doors, the websites used bright colours to distinguish between the four different sites. These colours formed the main background for the overlaying white text (which, for me personally, makes the writing very difficult to read). The detailed information given is almost identical to that displayed on the current website, under similar – if not the same – title headings.

2004 saw a layout change wherein the images and text were more bunched together. Combined with the bright coloured backgrounds, the overall look was rather cluttered and disjointed.  It was interesting to note the flags of alternative languages available to visitors, including British Sign Language. It’s understandable that as the contents of the website grows, it is near impossible to translate everything into every language, however it is a shame that BSL no longer seems to be included (or, if it is, it is not as easily visible on the homepage).

In some respects, a museum’s engagement with digital practice can be viewed as a comment on how they view themselves as an institution (as argued by Lianne McTavish). If a museum has an extensive array of digital activities, it suggests that this is an institution that pushes the boundaries of their basic role.

Although the definition of the “proper” role of a museum is constantly shifting, there is an expected duty to build and maintain a relationship with the public. Having a digital presence provides another platform on which this can be achieved, enabling further levels of didactic interaction with the collections. As museums are adapting to keep up-to-date with new generations and maintain relevance in an increasingly digital society, employing such techniques show a willingness to branch out and try new means of engagement.

The Tate is currently undergoing a transformation, aiming to integrate digital practice within every department. As dominating as this sounds, the digitisation is set to work in ‘parallel’ with its current work, not replace it. John Stack referred to the Tate’s website as being its ‘fifth site’, as great or important as any of the physical buildings. McTavish argues, however, that some museum websites are paradoxical because they seem to have contradictory aims, not unlike museums themselves [McTavish, 2006, p.229]. They seem to be confused with what they want to achieve and the overall impact this will have, losing their way in the process. Although this may be true of some museums, Tate’s strategy seems to have been well thought out in relation to their mission as an institution and the kind of audiences they are playing to.

Digital literacy and understanding will be a significant contributor to its success. Stack emphasised that such plans are often met with resistance from certain members of staff who are unfamiliar with social media/blogs/etc and are therefore reluctant to change their practice. For this reason, careful planning needs to take place before engaging too heavily in the digital. By trying to become more inclusive for online audiences, there is a risk of excluding those offline.  Not everyone is happy to embrace the digital, nor have the skills to do so.

For example, a museum that relies on retired volunteers to operate will not have the same capacity to branch out into the digital world. A tiny local museum I worked for a few years ago has only recently switched from dial-up internet to broadband. Even though sites such as Facebook and Twitter are free to access, you still need the familiarity and computer-confidence to use them effectively. An outdated, non-flashy website is perhaps commonplace for an outdated, non-flashy museum, but it doesn’t mean this is how the museum views itself. It may wish to get more involved but does not have the means to do so.

“In order to create a more joined-up approach to audiences, we need to connect our online audiences with our offline audiences…” (Finnis, Chan, and Clements, 2011, p.5.)

It may be easier said than done, but I agree with this to an extent. A good website and online presence may help to bring together a museum’s audience (both existing and potential), and can bring great benefits to the work of the institution and enhance its visitors’ experience.

However, it is worth remembering that every museum is unique, and will therefore need to devise strategies that are suited for their individual goals and requirements, as well as the needs for their particular audience. It might be too easy to delve into the digital world without having a set intention for what you want to achieve. Perhaps if a museum’s typical audience is generally ‘offline’ (being in a town with a largely retired population, for example), there is little need to invest heavily in technological practice. It could be used for advertisement or as a way of reaching out to younger generations but, depending on the individual circumstances, this might not be a beneficial use of resources.

So yes, in essence, connecting audiences through the shared medium of technology may result in a more all-encompassed work practice, but this will not necessary apply to everyone. Perhaps it will become clearer as we look at more case studies throughout the module, but the relationship between a museum and it digital work is bigger and more complex than it initially seems…

Are small museums in danger of being left behind during the impending digital revolution?

Should more be done to teach museum staff about ways of communicating online, and how to utilise this in order to reach out to the public and build on the museum/visitor relationship?


References: 

Finnis, J., Chan, S., Clements, R. 2011. How to evaluate online success? [http://www.keepandshare.com/doc/3148919/culture24‐ howtoevaluateonlinesuccess‐bw‐pdf‐september‐19‐2011‐11‐15‐ am‐2‐1‐meg?da=y], accessed 08 October 2015.

McTavish, L. 2006. ‘Visiting the Virtual Museum: Art and Experience Online’. In Marstine, J., (ed) New Museum Theory and Practice: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell.

Stack, J. Spring 2013. ‘Tate Digital Strategy 2013–15: Digital as a Dimension of Everything’, in: Tate Papers, no.19, [http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/19/tate-digital-strategy-2013-15-digital-as-a-dimension-of-everything], accessed 10 October 2015.

Stack, J. Spring 2010. ‘Tate Online Strategy 2010–12’, in: Tate Papers, no.13, [http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/13/tate-online-strategy-2010-12], accessed 10 October 2015.

Stack, J. ‘The Digital Museum’, presentation given 03 November 2014.

Unknown. Date unknown. About Tate’s Website [http://www.tate.org.uk/about/our-work/digital/about-website], accessed 10 October 2015.

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