Meet the Team: Golf, Naps and Skimming the News - The Friday Fives with Emily Nimrick

May 30, 2014

Emily Nimrick

Emily Nimrick

Happy Friday! We love introducing readers to our superstar co-ops.  This week, we're getting to know University of Cincinnati Design Architecture Art and Planning (DAAP) student, Emily Nimrick:

I beat a creative block by …  
Going for a run or taking a nap. I always come up with solutions when my mind is somewhere else and completely relaxed.

I get my daily news from …
theSkimm. I cannot start my day until I have had my coffee and read theSkimm.

To get inspired, I go …
To museums. Whenever I am home in London I can't help but take an entire day to wander through all the museums I can. Inspiration is everywhere there from old and new artists and designers.

In my spare time, I … 
Golf. I come from a family of golfers and have been playing since I was 12.

The first thing I notice about a person I meet …
Body language. You can tell so much about a person's personality from the way they act when you first meet them.

Stay tuned for another Friday Five next week, as well as the grand opening announcement of a JRA-design project!

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TrendsWatch 2014, Trend 6 - Robots: Helpful, Harmful, or Somewhere in Between?

May 16, 2014

Google Self-Driving Car.  Photo credit: Motor Trend

Google Self-Driving Car. Photo credit: Motor Trend

“Everyone has an opinion about technology. Depending on whom you ask, it will either a) Liberate us from the drudgery of everyday life, rescue us from disease and hardship, and enable the unimagined flourishing of human civilization, or b) Take away our jobs, leave us broke, penniless, and miserable, and cause civilization as we know it to collapse.             – Richard Florida

In 1962, The Jetsons offered a utopian portrayal of 21st Century domestic life, peppered with flying cars, a two-day workweek enabled by (sometimes unreliable) labor-saving gadgets, and a robotic maid named Rosie. Aside from the usual teen angst displayed by George Jetson’s daughter Judy, life at the Jetson household could only be described as enviable. On the other side of the entertainment spectrum, over the past 30 years, the Terminator franchise has made millions in box office dollars, chronicling the struggle to keep an army of lethal robots from wiping out the entire human race. So in 2014, where does the truth really lie? Are robots friend, foe, or simply the next logical step in an evolving economy? In our final analysis of the American Alliance of Museums’ TrendsWatch 2014 report, we’ll investigate new ways in which robots are changing our world, the potential ethical implications and the ways that museums can apply robotic technology to their benefit. We’ll also tell you how you can experience some of these innovations right from the comfort of your living room during next week’s 2014 AAM Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo.

While we are still a few decades off from flying saucers for every household, robots are already revolutionizing transportation. The US Department of Defense has devised headless robotic pack mules that can follow soldiers through heavy terrain while toting 400 pounds of cargo. The DARPA Robotics Challenge seeks to create robots that can be deployed in emergency situations in environments (such as nuclear disaster sites) considered unsafe for humans. The scale of robotic transportation innovation extends to everyday life as well. Amazon Air could offer the possibility of delivering a book (or Kindle) to your door in 30 minutes, “the mythical point that only pizza companies have achieved,” said Amazon Air leader, Gur Kimchi. Amazon’s drones can navigate autonomously via GPS and carry a payload of 5 pounds (which encompasses 86% of Amazon’s inventory), and the FAA could issue regulation on commercial drone systems as early as 2015. But perhaps the most exciting transportation prospect enabled by robotic technology is the self-driving car, which is now legal in three states and the District of Columbia. Companies such as Google, GM and Audi are racing to become the first commercially available autonomous car on the road.

Robots are also revolutionizing the workforce, education and personal mobility. According to John Markoff of the New York Times, “the idea that robots will be partners of humans, rather than stand-ins or servants, is now driving research at industrial laboratories.” Telepresence robots (those robots controlled from afar), are transforming the way people go to work or attend school. Instead of calling of Skype-ing into a meeting, workers can virtually roll their telepresence robot right up to the conference table, where their colleagues can see their face and hear their voice, and then roll their robot down the hall so they can “chat” with their employees. Classroom interaction is now a possibility for children with mobility issues, and children on the autism spectrum can now communicate with robots to a degree they could never achieve with their other humans. As Henry Evans and Chad Jenkins demonstrate in the TEDTalk below, with the advent of telepresence robots, quadriplegics can virtually travel to places they never thought possible, and through the use of cyborg technology and robotic exoskeletons, a victim of paralysis can walk for the first time in decades.

Despite the perceived benefits of robotic technology, as the TrendsWatch report explains, “the ethical implications of robots have become more urgent in the past couple of years, as the military deploys pilotless drones that can both make decisions and act on them.” The question thus becomes not “can we do this” but “should we do this,” and the United Nations has so far answered with a resounding ‘no’, hinting that it will ban “killer robots” during its 2016 Convention on Conventional Weapons. But even if robots aren’t being used to kill humans, will they in time destroy the fabric of our labor force? Will our future teachers, taxi drivers, pharmacists and manufacturing workers consist solely of robots, resulting in catastrophic unemployment? For Richard Florida, the role of the robot brings neither gloom and or utopia – it is the natural progression of socio-economics and industry. As the farmer gave way to the working class industrialist and then the dot-commer, so will the next phase of industry rest on the workforce’s ability to manipulate robotic technology.

Aedi. Photo courtesy The Mind Museum.

To capitalize on the oncoming age of robotics, museums might want to consider the roles robots could play in their institutions now and explore grant programs that may support their exploration of these emerging technologies. While the probability of replacing curators with robots seems unlikely, robots are even now providing important preservation and docent functions. At The Mind Museum in Taguig, Philippines, visitors are greeted in the lobby by a robot named Aedi (“idea spelled backwards”) who provides them with a brief overview of what they are about to experience. Through the National Museum of Australia’s “Robot Tours” program, groups of students can interact with the museum by way of a robot carrying a panoramic camera. In addition to viewing the items on display, students can bring up additional content on the objects and respond to questions from a NMA educator. Telepresence robots also have the opportunity to take remote visitors behind the scenes, showing them items in the collection not currently on display. And for the mobility challenged, these robots will enable many of them to “step inside” a museum for the first time. Through the increased access provided by robots and drones, museums will be able to reach a larger audience and may be able to paint a stronger picture to visitors and donors of how they are providing positive ROI, both on an economic and humanitarian level, for their communities.

View of the 2013 MuseumExpo floor.  Courtesy American Alliance of Museums.

Starting Monday afternoon, you’ll have an opportunity to experience telepresence technology yourself. If you are attending the 2014 AAM Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo, you can log in to telepresence robots right from the expo floor, connecting with San Francisco’s de Young Museum, the National Museum Australia and others, and you’ll have the opportunity talk to representatives from Suitable Technologies about their groundbreaking work. Those unable to attend can contact Vanessa Jones at the Center for the Future of Museums (, to control a Suitable Technologies telepresence robot that will be roaming the Museum Expo.

Over the last three weeks, we’ve discovered new potential museum funding models, engaged all of our senses, weighed the risks and rewards of big data, investigated various ways to protect visitor privacy, learned that sharing can mean profit, and considered the ways that technology could open up new possibilities for visitor engagement and accessibility. The underlying themes of this journey have been innovation and the need for museums to take a strategic leap of faith. With the experiential needs of the visitor rapidly changing in this increasingly digital world, museums must explore ways to devise sustainable funding models, collaborate (both on a programmatic and a financial level) with other cultural organizations, take advantage of low cost or cost-neutral research tools, and incorporate technology to (virtually) open their doors to previously unreachable audiences. Obviously, these changes take time and money, but even the smallest adjustments could mean big gains in attendance and exposure, and the costs of not investing in innovation could be far greater.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our “deep dive” of the AAM/Center for the Future of Museums (CFM) TrendsWatch 2014 report and that your minds are flush with new ideas for your institution. We’d like to offer a sincere thanks to Elizabeth Merritt, Director of the CFM and creator of the report, and Dewey Blanton, Director of Strategic Communications at AAM, for their support and feedback throughout this blog series. For those attending next week’s MuseumExpo, we look forward to seeing you in Seattle. Thanks for reading.


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TrendsWatch 2014, Trend 5 - Collaborative Consumption: Share and Win Alike

May 15, 2014

A Lyft car, complete with its distinctive hot pink mustache.  Photo: YouTube

A Lyft car, complete with its distinctive hot pink mustache. Photo: YouTube

I believe that we are at the start of a collaborative revolution that will be as significant as the Industrial Revolution.

  • - Rachel Botsman, Co-Author, What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption

Welcome to Part 5 of our analysis of the American Alliance of Museums’ TrendsWatch 2014 report. We are only a few days away from the commencement of the AAM’s 2014 Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo, so be sure to check this blog, our Facebook and LinkedIn pages and @JRAtweets for all the updates from Seattle starting this Sunday.

Have you used Airbnb to book someone’s home for your next vacation instead of staying in a fancy hotel? Have you found a pet sitter through DogVacay? Or rented a designer dress from Rent the Runway? Congratulations! You’ve participated in collaborative consumption. This concept consists of peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions that usually start online and then follow with an in-person interaction, thus, according to author Rachel Botsman, it is “tied to the digitization and de-materialization of goods." And it’s becoming big business. Airbnb recently closed a $475 million round of financing and is valued at $10 billion, more than several of the big name hotel chains. But P2P isn’t just happening at this scale – the “Sharing Economy” is also permeating society at a more community based, non-profit level. Around the world people are sharing lawn mowers, power tools and baby clothes. Collaborative consumption has become so pervasive that it has raised concerns about the disruption of traditional services. Recently, taxi drivers in Cincinnati, Ohio protested at City Hall about how the rise of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft have eroded their profit margins. In the end, however, the free market economy wins out – and right now people are choosing these new, flexible service options over the traditional consumer transaction paradigm.

Cincinnati cabbies protest ride-sharing services.  Photo credit: Andy Brownfield, Cincinnati Business Courier

So what’s behind it? Unemployment rates, for one. As we mentioned in previous posts, Millennials are graduating short on employment prospects and long on debt. Once only reserved for the lower classes, the “Gig Economy” has become a reality for 20-somethings. Instead of one job with solid benefits and paid vacation, Millennials are relying on odd jobs to pay the bills, and technology is rapidly jumping on the bandwagon to accommodate this socio-economic shift. Enter TaskRabbit, the website that pairs odd jobs that need doing with those who want and have the skills to provide them. Need your Ikea furniture assembled? Here’s Dave. Have some laundry that could use a wash and fold? Lucy would be happy to help for the low price of $20/load. The lack of a consistent income stream also means that Millennials are more interested in experiencing (i.e., renting) things than buying them. Renting becomes a spatial necessity as well, as inconsistent incomes often result in smaller and shared living spaces.

According to Botsman, “the currency of the new economy is trust." It obviously takes a great deal of it to let someone borrow your car, or take care of your dog, or (*gulp*) stay in your house for a week. But Botsman asserts that technology, despite its spams and scams and hacks, actually serves as a vehicle for trust. Communications begin and deepen online throughout a transaction (be it non-profit or for-profit), so that by the time you’re at the Tuscan cottage of the stranger who is serving you dinner, you already feel like you know the person. As a result of the gig economy, the cottage chef or the Ikea furniture assembly person or the accommodations purveyor take their online reputations extremely seriously – these odd jobs could be their only method of income, so they’re not going to jeopardize their livelihood by engendering a bad customer review. Trust thus becomes a professional and financial lifeline.

 So what do Collaborative Consumption and the Sharing Economy mean for museums? Since Millennials prefer experience over ownership, museums have a unique opportunity to market their value. As the TrendWatch report explains: “Museums seem to be in a great position to provide people with the pleasures of vicarious ownership – the opportunity to access all the stuff they don’t want to buy.” Visitors can experience the art without having to invest in it. This strategy can backfire, however, so museums need to find a way to monetize this sharing experience. From an artistic perspective, this could mean creating a “people’s collection” of art and artifacts that don’t make the “permanent collection cut” but that could be rented out to the public. The Portland Museum of Art, for example, hosts a Rental Sales Gallery, offering three-month rentals of among 3,000 works of art from local artists. Opportunities also exist to rent out other commodities to the community at large, including tools, equipment and office space. As a major community center, a museum could serve as a “sharing hub”, charging a small booking fee to people who want to use the museum to showcase their sharable wares. But perhaps the greatest opportunity for monetization could be the museums’ knowledge base. In this Gig Economy, community arts institutions could assemble an “artistic TaskRabbit community”, drawing from a singular pool of talent to complete short-term jobs instead of having to hire employees on a full or part-time basis. As with the previous four trends, the advantages of Collaborative Consumption are as broad as the imaginations of museum leaders.

For our final trend, we’ll discuss the rise of the robot, and the pros (and risks) it places on museum operations and labor.

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Celebrating Children's Museums Big and Small at the ACM InterActivity Conference

May 14, 2014

JRA Senior Project Director, Mike Meyer (second from right) and the recipients of the InterActivity Small Museum Scholarship

JRA Senior Project Director, Mike Meyer (second from right) and the recipients of the InterActivity Small Museum Scholarship

This week, our 2014 Conference World Tour is taking us to sunny Phoenix, Arizona, USA for the Association of Children's Museums InterActivity Conference.  Knowing that children's museums come in all sizes, JRA is a proud sponsor of the Interactivity Small Museum Financial Aid Program.  The program, founded by JRA in 2009, provides five selected individuals with complimentary registration to InterActivity and tickets to all three evening events. The goal of the program is to offset professional development expenses for museum staff at open children's museums with annual budgets under $500,000, who would otherwise be able to attend the conference. The program thereby helps to cultivate staff members at small museums for long-term careers in the museum industry. In addtion to the criteria above, the candidates must have been employed for at least one year at an ACM member children's museum, have not attended the past two InterActivity conferences, and be committed to a career in the museum industry. 

The 2014 InterActvity Small Museum Financial Aid recipients are:

"I am pleased and grateful that I have been selected as a recipient," said Fatma Mostafa.  "I hope we can explore the latest educational theories that are used in children's museums and how we can apply it to our museum...[I hope to] transfer the experience that I will gain from attending the conference to the museum's staff."

The recipients were feted at a reception last night and were recognized at the "Plenary Session & ACM Great Friend to Kids Award Ceremony" this morning.  JRA offers a heartfelt congratulations to all of the scholarship recipients and looks forward to seeing the important work they will do in the future, both for their museums and the entire children's museum field.


Tags: JRA Team , Outside the Studio

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TrendsWatch 2014 - Trend 4: The Quest for Privacy in an Increasingly Public World

May 09, 2014

I spend most of my time assuming the world is not ready for the technology revolution that will be happening to them soon.
- Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google

We begin our analysis Part 4 of the American Alliance of Museums' TrendsWatch 2014 report as we began Part 3 – with a quote from Google CEO, Eric Schmidt. Why? Because as much as big data opens up opportunities for the cultural realm and society at large, so does it open the door for Big Brother and invasions of privacy. Schmidt has warned against this “creepy line”, but his predilection has not prevented companies from crossing it or artists from commenting on it with their work.

Because Twitter is a public forum, companies essentially have “open season” to mine old tweets for marketing purposes. Similarly, search engine functions on Facebook make it easy for marketers to assemble detailed user profiles. But retailers and others are taking consumer tracking even farther, using smartphone signals to track users’ locations throughout a store, or employing facial recognition software to analyze the demographic profiles of shoppers – and tweak their product mix accordingly.

Cultural institutions are not immune to this technology trend, but they appear to be using it for more benign purposes. The Tate Modern employed Twitter not only to market a performance art festival that was kicking off its new gallery space, but also to create dialogue about the nature of art and to create a canvas for visitors to post their comments on the performances. The Royal BC Museum’s indoor tracking system gives visitors the power to guide their own experience, and engage with objects on a deeper level, through their phones. The app tracks where the guests are in the building, directs them to their desired exhibit, and pushes additional audio, video and graphic content on that exhibit when they get there.  Regardless of the motives of the company or institution, people are becoming increasingly concerned about their privacy. According to a recent Pew study, over half of the smartphone users surveyed had at one point either chosen not to install an app or had uninstalled an app due to privacy concerns. Thirty-two percent had cleared their browsing history, and 19% had turned off their phones’ GPS. Most had issues with entities mining data from them without their permission, and the majority felt that current laws do not protect them.

 Artists have chosen to address the privacy debate in a variety of forms. Adam Harvey has manufactured “Stealth Wear”, garments that block thermal imaging and cell phone signals, as well as makeup and hairstyles that cannot be detected by facial recognition software. Instead of blocking privacy invasions, other artists have crossed the privacy line as part of their art form. Fine-art photographers, such as Mishka Henner and Trevor Paglen, are creating “Surveillance Art”, trolling the internet for Google Earth views of top secret sites and sneaking pictures of complete strangers, garnering tens of thousands of dollars for their controversial work in the process. Heather Dewey-Hagborg takes this trend to an almost unconscionable level of creepy. She uses DNA collected from items such as a chewed up piece of gum or a discarded cigarette butt to construct a stunningly lifelike 3D portrait of the gum chewer or cigarette smoker. These artistic manifestations of the privacy debate will only become more intricate as the arguments rage on and as technologies for privacy invasion and protection develop.

Tate Museum: The Tanks.  Photo: The Tate Museum

In the face of this philosophical (and legal) conflict, museums will need to perform a cost-benefit analysis of the need for specific points of data and the methods used to collect them. As the report contends, and as we discovered in yesterday’s post, “emerging technologies hold enormous promise for evaluating and fine-tuning what museums do, and for meeting the rising demand for personalized experiences.” Museums will soon be able to gauge audience reaction to an exhibit, painting, artifact or graphic label through analyses of dwell times, or even through the monitoring of facial reactions and body language. The key is transparency – visitors must know a) if they are being watched, b) how that data is being used to serve a greater purpose and, as we discussed in our last post, c) what benefits they will receive in return. By factoring surveillance and privacy issues into their decision-making, museums and other cultural institutions can begin enjoying the benefits of data collection while protecting themselves from visitor backlash – or worse.

Next week, we’ll close out our exploration of TrendsWatch 2014 with the final two trends – Collaborative Consumption and The Rise of the Robot.

One of the genetically-mapped 3D sculptures from Heather Dewey-Hagborg's Stranger Visions exhibit. Photo:

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TrendsWatch 2014 - Trend 3: Big Data, Big Reward, Big Risk

May 08, 2014

Eric Schmidt, courtesy Google

Eric Schmidt, courtesy Google

Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.
- Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google

Schmidt’s quote is not hyperbole. Humanity has generated 90% of all the world’s data in the last two years. In fact, the scale of the data has become so large that it can no longer be quantified or analyzed by traditional statistical software – hence society’s new favorite buzzword: “Big Data”. But what does big data mean for the society in general and for the cultural community in particular? And how can museums and other cultural institutions harness big data to their best advantage? We’ll attempt to answer these questions in Part 3 of our breakdown of the American Alliance of Museums' TrendsWatch 2014 report.

According to a recent InPark Magazine interview with Kathleen Cohen, Digital Advisor for the National Constitution Center, the big data mining process can be broken down into four steps: Collection, Descriptive Analytics, Predictive Analytics and Prescriptive Analytics. Collection involves just that – determining a strategy for the type of the data you want to collect and how you plan to collect it (visitor surveys, point of sale systems, mobile apps, etc.). Descriptive Analytics involves manipulating that data to tell your current story, including shifts in attendance demographics or how your social media activity has spiked or ebbed for a particular exhibit or time of year. Then comes Predictive Analytics, wherein you use the patterns of the past (and a variety of data crunching tools) to help determine future results (i.e., “based on the this groups’ purchasing trends over the last 5 years, if we do x, we feel pretty confident that they will react in y manner)”. The final step is Prescriptive Analytics, through which you have the ability to cultivate your future plans based on a variety of options: “if we think our consumers will react in y or z manner, we think steering them toward option z is better in line with our mission.” While Descriptive and Predictive Analytics handle the “what” of big data, Prescriptive Analytics addresses they why and how, as in “why” future events will occur and “how” a business or organization should either take advantage of these events or try to mitigate the risks of them.

For better or worse, companies are wrapping their minds, algorithms and budgets around big data, to an almost voyeuristic degree. According to TrendsWatch 2014, “analysts are becoming ever more savvy at reading the digital footprints we leave via social media, parsing our Facebook posts and mining our tweets to predict our basic personality traits, values and needs.” Companies like IBM are using this type of personality-based research to target promotions, personalize customer service and better predict consumer preferences. Big data, however, isn’t just being used for capital gain. Police departments are using social media trends to spot “fault lines of crime”, and the United Nations’ Global Pulse project predicts spikes in unemployment, disease and even climate change through Twitter patterns. Kira Radinsky, a 27-year-old Israeli scientist dubbed the “web prophet”, mines New York Times headlines and social media data to predict epidemics, political upheavals and natural catastrophes with 70-90% accuracy.

The good news is that several arts nonprofits are also reaping the benefits of data collection, which they are only too happy to share with the public. Americans for the Arts has now published four Arts and Economic Prosperity reports, mining data from arts organizations and using it to demonstrate the arts’ impact on employment, household income and tax revenue. University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Project layered census data with information collected from cultural institutions, leading to the discovery that poor neighborhoods with cultural assets were three times more likely to experience a decline in poverty and more were likely to retain their ethnic diversity.

But with all museum budgets being unequal, do smaller institutions automatically get the short end of the big data stick? Not necessarily. Guidestar CEO, Jacob Harold, encourages museums to embrace “medium data”: “for the nonprofit community, Big Data also offers immense potential, but with our mere billions of data points, we’re not quite ready for it.” He calls medium data “organized storytelling”, the gathering of information about “who you are, what you’re trying to do, and what’s happening.” Luckily, there are now 371 platforms, including Guidestar, for gathering data about the non-profit world, including social indicators and capital flows. Programs like Fluxx gather and organize CRM (customer relations management) data to aid cultural institutions in their grant application processes. Open source software, data philanthropy (“cooperative pooling of large data sets”) and data sharing across multiple platforms (health, education, employment and the arts), have opened innumerable resources that museums and other cultural institutions can draw from to finally begin to gauge their impact not just on the arts community, but on their entire community. Thinking broadly about potential data resources, maintaining calm amongst the preponderance of data points, and exploring capacity building grants to improve data gathering capability will all help museums make the most of this unprecedented era of information.

Cohen recommends the following four steps to cultural institutions seeking to begin their big data journey: 1) determine whether or not you are or will use big data, 2) identify which department(s) should manage your data project (hint: it should not just be IT), 3) “hire a technology partner…[to] guide you through a big data process”, and 4) know your ethical limits – be transparent about how you are using visitor data and what you will give them in exchange. By joining the Dallas Museum of Arts’ “Friends” program, visitors agree to “check in” at various kiosks throughout the galleries, earning a free membership along the way as well as discounts in the gift shop and invites to exclusive events. They can also earn badges that will help them customize their overall visit based on their art preferences. Such programs not only help the museum track the patterns of individual visits and collect demographic information, they also encourage repeat visitation and potentially secure long-term customer loyalty.

DMA Friends - Badges, Points, and Rewards from Dallas Museum of Art on Vimeo.

 Big data can help museums demonstrate mission fulfillment and ROI to their donors, provide valuable tools for tracking attendance and spending patterns to their staff, and help craft more personalized experiences for their guests. But the acquisition of big data has created big concerns about consumer privacy. We’ll tackle those concerns tomorrow, as our analysis of TrendsWatch 2014 continues...

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TrendsWatch 2014: Trend 2 - Following Your Nose

May 02, 2014

Welcome to Part 2 of our recap of TrendsWatch 2014, an initiative of the American Alliance of Museums. Yesterday we followed capital, and today, we’re following our noses (and ears and fingers and mouths, too!).

In a world practically buzzing with multi-sensory stimuli, it only makes sense that museums should extend their realm of experiences beyond the visual into the aural, tactile and even olfactory realms. And with today’s technologies, these cultural institutions can afford, both financially and programmatically, to reach audiences on multiple sensory levels. From galleries to gourmet dining, restaurants, hotels and museums are devising innovative ways to evoke smell, taste, touch and sound into their offerings.

Examples of such multisensory experiences abound – as part of the Memories in the Museum project in Cincinnati, memory challenged guests meet at one of three local museums on the first Wednesday of each month to participate in tours designed especially for them. At Ultraviolet, a restaurant in Shanghai, guests can have their lobster dish paired with scents of the sea and the sound of crashing waves. As we reported in a 2013 blog, the 21c museums offer a dizzying array of light, sound and video installations. And companies are developing everything from digital lollipops and smelling screens.

 The multisensory trend is enabling many cultural organizations to cross over into other artistic milieu and to explore unconventional spaces. The Carnegie Center, introduced in yesterday’s blog, offers an annual “Art of Food” exhibition, for which artists craft sculptural pieces inspired by and even created from food. At the opening event, local chefs create culinary works of art, drawing from the inspiration surrounding them in the gallery. Invisible Cities, lauded as “bold effort to create individualized experiences within the context of communal performance,” redefined the way audiences could enjoy opera. Participants gathered in Los Angeles’ Union Station, were given headphones, and were treated to a full operatic performance – complete with full orchestra playing nearby – as they followed the singers around the ticket halls and waiting rooms, hanging on every aria. The Rijksmuseum employed music and live performance in their re-creation of Rembrandt's "The Night Watch", with a flash mob horseback riding, swinging and swashbuckling its way through a local mall.

 To capitalize on this trend, museums should investigate the ways in which they can create multisensory experiences around existing exhibits or create new programming that employs more than just the visual. They should also explore how they can use multisensory design the engage traditionally underserved groups, such as those with disabilities. Historical museums should consider how smells, sounds, tastes and cross-disciplinary art forms could be used to accentuate depictions of various cultures. Employing such techniques could involve a reconsideration of their physical spaces, such as was the case with the Sheldon Museum of Art’s “Naked Museum” exhibit, in which the museum removed all of its artworks from the great hall to fill them with multi-disciplinary performance art.

With the growing interest in multisensory experience and the increasing availability of the technologies to achieve it, museums now have a way to engage, excite and delight their visitors without compromising their artistic missions.

Next week, we'll tackle what may be the two hottest topics in the report - Big Data and Privacy.

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TrendsWatch 2014: Trend 1 - Following Capital

May 01, 2014

All month long, JRA + blog is celebrating Museum May! For the next three weeks, we’re dissecting “TrendsWatch 2014”, a report produced by the Center for the Future of Museums (CFM), an extension of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). The mission of the Center for the Future of Museums, founded and led by former Cincinnati Museum Center Director of Collections and Research, Elizabeth E. Merritt, is to “help museums explore the cultural, political and economic challenges facing society and devise strategies to help shape a better tomorrow.”

Elizabeth Merritt.  Photo courtesy AAM.

The 2014 TrendsWatch marks the third annual issue of the report, which is compiled by CFM from a year of producing their weekly e-newsletter, “Dispatches from the Future of Museums”. Each week, we’ll dive into two of the report’s six trends, leading up to the next two stops on our annual Conference World Tour – the Association of Children’s Museums Interactivity! Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, and the AAM Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo in Seattle, Washington. This week, we cover two divergent yet compelling trends: Social Entrepreneurship and Multisensory Experience.

Social Entrepreneurship

"While the popularity of for-profit social enterprise is soaring, the reputation of the non-profit sector is taking a dive." – TrendsWatch 2014

According to famed management consultant, Peter Drucker, “there are only two things in a business that make money – innovation and marketing; everything else is cost.” To the business world, the majority of non-profits in general, and cultural non-profits in particular, are using their 501(c)(3) status as an excuse for stasis and brand confusion. Faced with the erosion of individual, foundation and corporate sponsorships and the vice grip of federal tax regulation and governance requirements, more and more socially-minded organizations are opting to go the for-profit route. These businesses are instead “doing well by doing good” while still striving for a healthy bottom line, taking advantage of an ability to access capital unavailable to non-profits. This approach, called “social entrepreneurship,” focuses on generating revenue to create more and greater benefits to the company’s community and for society as a whole. To these entrepreneurs, less time filling out grant applications is more time generating value for society and building equity from investors.

The rise of social entrepreneurship corresponds to a rise in impact investing, which TrendsWatch defines as “people wanting to do good with their money not through charity, but through investing in companies that give a return in cash and in mission-driven results.” Investors are interested in the prospect of contributing to the health and vitality of their communities while making modest financial returns (the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, a pioneer in impact investing, estimates these returns at capital plus 1%-5%, net of fees). Saul Garlick, founder of microenterprise incubator ThinkImpact, took his formerly non-profit company for profit “to free the company from the treadmill of donor dependency”. Non-profit donors are more fickle in their desires: do they want access to curators, their name on a wall, or a gala dinner? Impact investors’ needs are more concrete: build the company in a way that eventually makes money while sticking to the altruistic mission.

But not everyone’s drinking the impact investing Kool-Aid. In his Forbes’ article “Is Impact Investing Just Bad Economics?”, Phil DeMuth renounces impact investing as no more than a hipster fad, as fashionable as Warby Parker sunglasses and skinny jeans. He quotes one of history’s most famous economists, Adam Smith, in support of his argument: “By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading him from it.” In DeMuth’s view, the best way to benefit society is to invest in successful companies and donate the profits to charity.

Regardless of the debate on impact investing, according to writer Dan Palotta, a lack of access to capital is one of several factors “dooming” non-profit organizations. In his TEDTalk, “The Way We Think of Charity is Dead Wrong”, Pallotta outlines the five factors that “cripple [nonprofits]” ability to solve problems:

Well, you put those five things together -- you can't use money to lure talent away from the for-profit sector, you can't advertise on anywhere near the scale the for-profit sector does for new customers, you can't take the kinds of risks in pursuit of those customers that the for-profit sector takes, you don't have the same amount of time to find them as the for-profit sector, and you don't have a stock market with which to fund any of this, even if you could do it in the first place, and you've just put the nonprofit sector at an extreme disadvantage to the for-profit sector on every level.

In addition to the lack of access to capital, museums and other cultural non-profits are beginning to feel the competition of for-profit companies with cultural missions. For example, private galleries are increasingly adding educational programming to their list of offerings, and the web is introducing a vast cadre of Millennial-driven arts/business enterprises and opportunities. Even among their non-profit counterparts, museums, theatres and the like are increasingly being seen as “nice to haves” when pitted against organizations fighting hunger, health, poverty and educational issues.

So how do cultural institutions address their image problems? The answer is that they may need to demonstrate how their activities have a broader reach, not just socially or demographically but across the economic benefit stream – job creation, youth development and employment, business incubation, etc. Manhattan’s New Museum opens its Business Incubator in 2014, which will provide space for designers, architects and other creators to devise projects that make money for themselves while addressing important community needs. Museums also need to create sustainable revenue streams so they can invest in innovation and brand development. The Children’s Museum of Richmond recently developed a “branching strategy”, opening two satellite locations to better reach their audience and foster increased attendance. Finally, they may want to look at for-profit partners or non-profit/for-profit hybrid models as ways of generating revenue. Through Cincinnati’s Community Supported Art (CSA) program, The Carnegie Center invites artists to create “farm boxes” of small art pieces, which are then sold to collectors. The Carnegie pays the artist up front for their art and receives a share of each sale. While The Carnegie is non-profit, it adopts a traditional gallery model to fund this and other programs, rendering the institution more sustainable in the long term.

New Museum's Business Incubator Space

Whether through innovation, collaboration, or diversification, museums must address the rise of impact investing, social entrepreneurship and the ability of for-profits to deliver cultural services. Museums ignore these trends at their own peril, risking obsolescence and squandering opportunities for revenue generation, visitor engagement and community benefit.



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