Museum, The Video Game

Via a social post ArtsMidwest made, there is a museum management game coming out next year called Mondo Museum. Thinking back to all the posts Nina Simon had made on Museum 2.0 over the years, my first thoughts were that there was no way a game could really encompass all the ways in which a museum needs to work to become relevant to their community.

Then my misgivings started to move toward 10 on the dial when I read the following:

Success is quantified in two ways: money, which comes from ticket sales and gift shop revenue; and prestige, which is measured by visitor numbers and their experiences. These metrics feed each other: a prestigious museum will have high foot traffic, while a big-budget will give you more opportunities to please audiences.

Granted, the game designer wants Mondo Museum to have the widest appeal possible so these are terms which general players could best understand, but revenue and visitors are hardly the best measures of a museum’s real value.

My concerns began to dial back when I read there would be some nuance required in the curation of displays and that the designers were cognizant of some important conversations associated with museum collections.

Curating shows that draw meaningful connections between disparate collections—like a model of the solar system next to ancient Egyptian astronomical tools, the designer suggests—will earn you points.

[…]

Yet, by and large, the game is not about replicating the modern museum. Instead, it posits an alternative form of institution, one free from colonial histories, strict genre restraints, and underpaid labor.

In the world of Mondo, art is never purchased, and artifacts are never obtained through imperialism or theft; all historical objects live in institutions near to where they were created

In an interview in another article, the game creator commented:

…if anyone is brought in will likely be to review specific collections for cultural sensitivity issues we might have been oblivious to. For example, someone recently brought up the debates museums have around the subject of human remains when making exhibits about ancient burial practices and so on, which I hadn’t considered before. That kind of insight is really helpful (in our case, this helped me decide to only have mummified animals because a) they’re actually pretty cute while human mummies are pretty gross and b) a human mummy is kind of unnecessary since the real interesting artefact/art is the coffin and sarcophagus).

No video game is going to perfectly replicate all the considerations of running a museum. (I mean what museum can operate entirely on earned revenues, with a well-paid unionized staff,  avoiding grant writing, fund raising galas and thorny ethical questions about accepting large donations?)

As the creator discovered, there aren’t actually any museum management games out there. The fact that the game encourages people to draw thematic connections between seemingly disparate topics in curating displays and requires you to source objects through exchanges with legitimate sources means it introduces people to some good processes and practices.

One Of The Most Significant Music Venues In Washington DC Is Outside A Cellphone Store

Today CityLab had a post titled “How Go-Go Music Became Kryptonite for Gentrification in D.C.” This was actually a follow up to an article that had come out in the Spring that I bookmarked with a notation “A T-Mobile store is the cultural axis for Go-Go music?”

I had bookmarked the story with the intention of returning to it in order to draw attention to the way centers of cultural signficance often emerge organically rather than by plan. I don’t think anyone uses a cellphone store as a model when drawing up plans for a cultural facility.

Briefly, the story here is that a guy who owned a nightclub which featured go-go bands opened a cellphone store when the venue closed and started playing his go-go music collection over the speakers outside his store. The neighborhood has gradually gentrified since the mid-1990s and residents of the new condo across the street complained about the music being too loud.

You may not know that residents of Washington DC claim go-go as their own, feeling the music style is synonymous with the city. Hearings were held on October 30 in support of a bill to make it the official music of the city.

They rallied around the store in a big way:

Thousands of people flooded Shaw’s streets and thousands more signed a petition (80,329 to be exact) demanding that Campbell be allowed to keep playing go-go at his corner, all done under the banner #Don’tMuteDC, which was to say “don’t mute—or erase—black people in D.C.” … which was to say, “don’t let gentrification have the final say.” And it didn’t. Several forces converged—including the CEO of T-Mobile, which owns the Metro PCS cell phones and service Campbell sold at his store—to declare that “the music will go on,” which led to the condo tenant dropping the complaint and acquiescing to the will of the streets.

Often speakers/writers about non-profit organizations challenge people to think about their place in the community and ask the question, who would miss you if you were gone, as a way to gauge the degree of relevance your organization has in the community.

Something of a corollary to this question is whether there is an entity in the community so that is so closely tied into the identity of the community that people would become angry if it disappeared. It may not be your organization, but really asking the question and paying attention might be revelatory. On the surface, it may seem obvious. In some communities, everything may seem aligned toward high school or college football. But there may also be some powerful, but overlooked element your organization could do a better job embracing and/or magnifying. Or at the very least recognizing and acknowledging the importance of.

It’s Time To Paint The Town Red

Hey all! If you live in a small or medium sized town and have always thought the asphalt and concrete slabs of your streets wouldn’t be so bad if they just had a coat of paint, Bloomberg Philanthropies is making it possible to take your art to the streets.

Their Asphalt Art initiative is open to applications from communities with populations of 30,000-500,000 people. Deadline is December 12, 2019

The initiative will fund “visual interventions on roadways (intersections and crosswalks), pedestrian spaces (plazas and sidewalks), and vertical infrastructure (utility boxes, traffic barriers and underpasses).”

There is a CityLab piece on the project with gorgeous examples of what other cities around the world have done. Bloomberg Philanthropies also offers a free guide and promises to include project planning information like model contracts, permits and insurance. If you don’t intend to apply for a grant, but are contemplating a project along these lines, these resources could be valuable.

A type of project along these lines that has been very popular lately is painting crosswalks with the goal of making pedestrians safer in the theory drivers will tend to slow down when driving across/near an image that doesn’t conform to familiar road markings. If that is an appealing notion, you should be aware that the Federal Highway Administration frowns on crosswalk art and actively requests cities remove them.

The Kentucky removal particularly peeved Lydon, who said that piece of street art saved lives.

“That was at an intersection with almost 10 crashes a year,” he said. “After it went in, it went down to zero. But the state DOT there too them to get rid of it because of the letter from [the federal authorities].”

And locals living near new street art in Rochester, New York told local radio station WXXI that the rainbow designs there calmed traffic on streets that were less than pedestrian friendly.

[…]

But the Highway Administration doesn’t see it that way, ruling in its report that “crosswalk art is actually contrary to the goal of increased safety and most likely could be a contributing factor to a false sense of security for both motorists and pedestrians.”

There are still a lot of other type of projects one could undertake. There are a number of pictures of pedestrian plazas and parking lots in the articles, but I think vertical structures like utility boxes, traffic barriers and underpasses are particularly ripe for development. I passed this information on to some people I know who were eyeing a train underpass I frequently walk under. I think more people would feel safer walking through there if there was more light and color.

A Hack At The Opera

No, no, no, this isn’t a story about someone with little talent and unoriginal ideas, quite the contrary.

Recently my Arts Hacker colleague, Ceci Dadisman, had linked to an article about an Opera Hack-a-thon that happened at the end of July.

If you are wondering how a “diverse group of opera industry composers, librettists, producers, directors and designers as well as experts in the fields of virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, machine learning, software design, creative coding and 3D printing” can solve problems facing opera, among the ideas they came up with where: (my emphasis)

There was also a discussion of using virtual reality to map the interiors of the theaters that opera companies use as well as the use of 3D printing technology to create low-cost costume, prop and scenic elements.

[…]

One idea involves creating an online database that producers and scenery designers could use to virtually create a three-dimensional scenic design inside a digitally mapped theater to determine how that scenery would fit in the space and what construction materials would work best for the venue, Bennett said.

Last season, San Diego Opera was forced to postpone a production of “Hansel and Gretel” because the company discovered after announcing the production that its rented scenery was too large to fit on the stage of the Balboa Theatre. Technology like this virtual database might eliminate problems like this in the future.

The article said the winning ideas from the Hack-a-thon wouldn’t be announced until August. I was curious to learn what emerged so I sought that article out as well. What caught my eye was that it sounded as if some solutions emerged outside the structured conversation of the event.

[Angel Mannion, project manager for Opera Hack, said]  “I think that we in the arts often live in our own heads, where we forget to ask for help, and that usually leads to re-creating the wheel in both artistic and administrative ways. We found that there were several problems that came up in side chatter where technology could provide an easy solution.”

One of the ideas coming out of the July event will receive funding to develop virtual reality equipment focused on delivering the sonic experience of an operatic performance:

The listener would be able to walk up to a virtual performer in the visual environment to listen more closely to their voice. Vibro-tactile haptic sensors strapped to the viewer’s body would also enable the viewer to “feel” the music.

Another project melded the digital mapping of a space for scenic design I mentioned earlier with project team collaboration software:

The database would incorporate the use of 360-degree “protogrammetry” to map the stages of opera theaters around the country, so that opera producers could work with scenic, lighting and other designers to see how a set might fit on their stage and appear from the vantage point of audience members. Eventually, the database would offer virtual reality “meetings” where multiple users could “beam into” the same virtual space together for planning meetings.

This proposal will be tested first by Houston Grand Opera, which is one of the lead architects of OPERAMAP, but will be made available to opera companies and designers nationwide.

The third project to receive funding, Open Show Bible, aims to cut production costs by making it easier to coordinate all the technical and performance cues for a show.

Using existing score-following software, the process would be tied into a live-animated open-show display that would be immediately accessible to multiple collaborators.

Creators say the new system would dramatically cut production costs by reducing the time it takes to “dry-tech” a rehearsal and it would improve communication between departments. In the long-term, the show bibles could be shared among multiple opera companies to present lower-priced, turnkey production with pre-programmed digital cues.

These latter two ideas especially would probably be welcome in other performing arts disciplines since dance and theater face many of the same design and production coordination challenges as opera.

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