Thesis Update: An Evaluation of Technology in the Art Museum

Leah Gelb
Scott Snibb’s “Deep Walls” at Milwaukee Art Museum

My thesis began as a critical review of technology and media devices when placed throughout the art museum. Were such devices meeting the needs of the museum audience, and could they successfully reach each type of museumgoer without alienating another? The truth, however, is that the implementation of technology into art museum galleries is a relatively new endeavor, and while it certainly appeals to the public as a new and exciting platform for engagement, it is still in its experimental stage and lacking in long-term evaluation.

My bibliographic research has been plentiful- between books on the museum visitor, publications on technology in museums, newspaper articles on recent technological innovations, opinion pieces, and TedTalks on the digital age in America, I have plenty to read on my topic.
Yet, it was my own primary research that had me scratching my head. This thesis is still broad, and I have so many options as to how to evaluate technology in the art museum. So many options, that it became apparent that I have a dissertation topic on my hands rather than a thesis. To design one method of evaluation for technology in museums and to execute that survey could take years. Rather, this thesis could serve to inform the evaluation in its early stages.
Therefore, I have figured the way to narrow my research is to focus on interviewing various museum professionals and digital developers in order to examine their considerations and research prior to creating and installing such devices. What are the museums’ main goals when placing a digital device into their galleries? What visitor considerations does a design firm focus on when developing an interactive? These are the types of questions I would like to explore so that I can develop a successful and comprehensive means for evaluating technology in the art museum. As Stacey Mann, Jennifer Moses, and Matthew Fisher of the design firm Night Kitchen Interactive write,
            “…decades may pass before we fully understand the implications of any new technology,
            either at the individual or societal level. By that time, the marketplace has been defined less by
            best practices, and more by ingrained habits and profitability. It can be difficult to rethink and
            retrain ourselves to use the technology in more strategic or beneficial ways.”[1]
This thesis can assist in the process of technological evaluation and interpretation and therefore contribute to the understanding of what such implications are, and what we as museum professionals can do about them.
Therefore, I am currently reaching out to various museum professionals, whether in the technology, education, curatorial, or evaluation department for interviews. Additionally, I have conducted one interview with a producer from a technological design firm, and I plan to contact others of the same profession. I have attended two conferences with technology in museums as its main focus, the most recent being “The Future of Museums Conference.” This proved to be very informative, as it was an online forum where museum professionals from around the world came together to discuss technology in the museum.
I still feel that I have a ways to go; yet my path is much more narrow and clear than it was when I began.

[1]Mann, Stacey, Jennifer Moses, and Matthew Fisher. “Catching our Breath: Assessing Digital Technologies for Meaningful Visitor Engagement.” ExhibitionistFall 2013: 15-19. Print.