The Future of Interactive Media: Re-Establishing Place and Community

January 29, 2015

The #dBcube at the Experience Music Project in Seattle

The #dBcube at the Experience Music Project in Seattle

Yesterday, we revisited Part One of Clara Rice's TEA Future Legends presentation at the 2014 IAAPA Expo.  Today, we re-cap Part Two, an investigation of the latest trends in interactive media.  For years, interactive media (and particularly mobile media) has been seen as a solitary pursuit, an avenue for isolation instead of interpersonal communication.  But several museums are seeking to break that trend, using media less for person-to-device interaction and more for community building and collaboration.

Visit InPark Magazine for a transcript of Rice's presentation, as well as photos and videos of some of these groundbreaking museum projects.

Next week, we'll investigate another theme park trend, the rise of the VIP Experience, and its implications for the everyday visitor.

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Telepresence Robots: Facilitating Access, Enhancing Education

January 28, 2015

As mentioned in Shawn McCoy's Trends in Design presentation, telepresence robots are creating new avenues for the differently abled to enjoy museum experiences.  They are also having groundbreaking impacts on education, particularly distance learning.

In her TEA Future Legends presentation at the most recent IAAPA Expo, JRA's Clara Rice explained how the technology works and how it is enabling folks like Henry Evans, a mute quadriplegic, the opportunity to "walk" the floor at the American Alliance of Museums Expo, visit museums and parks, and in general live a higher quality of life. She also shared how telepresence robots are enabling students on one side of Australia to tour museum galleries at the other end of the country.

Thanks to our friends at Blooloop, you can read a transcript of her presentation here, and you can learn a little bit more about Henry via the TEDx talk below:

Next week, Clara's back with the second of her three Future Legends presentations, this time discussing how the latest trends in interactive media technology are actually creating human connections instead of digital divides.


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Trends in Design Conclusion: Busting Social Barriers by Creating Connections

January 20, 2015

Through our examination of the 2014 trends in design, we’ve learned how giving guests a curatorial voice can eliminate role barriers and drive museum attendance. We’ve also discovered how various technologies are dissolving physical barriers by offering new avenues for education and access. For our final post in this series, we’ll uncover how new programming methods are breaking down social barriers for children and adults alike.

Providing Opportunities

Breaking down social barriers is really about providing opportunities. More and more museums, especially children’s museums, are staging sensory nights. One example of a sensory night is where the museum reduces stimulus levels such as lighting and noise so that autistic guests can better enjoy the museum. Registration is required to limit crowds, and quiet spaces are made available to allow autistic guests the chance to take a break. Another example is Lincoln Children’s Zoo’s Sensory Safari, in which guests with visual impairments have the opportunity to touch, feel, hear and smell at interpretive stations located throughout the zoo.

Photo credit: Lincoln Children's Zoo

Photo credit: Golisano Children's Museum of Naples

But breaking down social barriers isn’t just kids’ play. One of my favorite examples of breaking down social barriers is the brainchild of one of JRA’s clients – the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples. After the museum opened, staff kept on encountering adults in the community who had heard about it, saying, “I don’t have kids, but it sounds really cool. Can I visit?” So, the museum created a series of Adult Nights, where for a $26 admission fee, adults can explore all of the museum’s exhibits, eat, drink, dance and basically re-visit their childhood. The program is great for outreach, helps to educate the community about the museum and also generates a bit of funding.

Another example of how museums can break down social barriers with older guests is “Dialogue with Time”, developed by the curators of the famous “Dialogue in the Dark” exhibit. The goals of the exhibit are to help dispel stereotypes about old age, promote empathy toward the elderly, provide new perspectives about the aging process and reduce guests’ fear of aging. The exhibit is hosted by guides, all of whom are between 70 and 90 years old, so the exhibit provides work opportunities for senior citizens. The guides lead guests through each gallery, while sharing their personal stories. The experience is designed to immerse guests in what it is like to age.

For example, in one gallery, visitors wear weighted shoes to stimulate muscle loss as they walk up and down stairs. There’s also a device that visitors strap to their hand, causing it to shake – stimulating tremors – while they try to thread a key through a keyhole to open a door. Guests also take a picture of themselves at the beginning of the tour and are given a necklace with a timer. Toward the end of the exhibit, guests are led to a gallery and see their image morph into what they will look like when they are older. The elderly hosts “welcome them into the club” and escort them to the next room, where all the guests gather around to play a series of games. Suddenly, a guest’s necklace blinks and he or she is “forced into retirement” and must sit away from the group and watch them play. Slowly, other members of the audience join, as they listen to audio recordings of elderly people talking about how they feel isolated and invisible to society. Their host them leads them to two doors, one featuring personal stories of regret, and one featuring stories of embracing life to the fullest, and asks them to make their choice. The exhibition ends with a roundtable conversation with an elderly host.

The final project I’d like to discuss beautifully symbolizes how exhibits and programs can break down social barriers, even barriers within oneself. The program, called Meet Me, recently closed its run and was created by the Museum of Modern Art in New York as a way to make art more accessible to people with Alzheimer’s. The program was very simple: once a month, the museum invited Alzheimer’s sufferers and their caregivers for an after hours event. Trained museum educators educated the participants in conversations and analysis of artworks and provided art-making opportunities. While MoMA has closed their own exhibition, they have created a variety of materials online, which outline how other institutions can start their own program. Here are some of the participant comments:

So I think that’s a nice way to wrap up our look at projects and trends that can help break down a variety of barriers. Here are what I think are the key messages from the case studies presented:

But what’s really important is what can you do with this knowledge? How can you take what you’ve learned in this series back to your institutions and try something new. Well, here are my Top 10 Ideas that can be implemented for relatively little to no cost:

If anything, I hope that you are inspired to look at your audiences in new ways and to take steps to communicate and collaborate with them, for that is the way in which you can truly connect with them in a meaningful manner.

Thanks for reading.

- Shawn

Tags: Blog N Learn , JRA Team

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Trends in Design Part 3 - Physical Barriers: Elimination Through Access

January 18, 2015

Welcome back to Part 3 of 2014 Trends in Design: Breaking Down Barriers. Whereas in the past two posts, we’ve examined how role barriers are being dissolved, today we’ll discover how technology is breaking down physical barriers, completely re-writing the guest experience in terms of accessibility.


By breaking down time and space barriers, Marriott is exploring the future of travel. Specifically, the hotel chain is currently touring a fully immersive, 4-D sensory experience featuring Oculus Rift virtual reality technology. Their Touring Teleporter looks a lot like a phone booth. Once guests step inside, they put on an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and wireless headphones. They then virtually travel to the beaches of Hawaii and the streets of London. The effect is produced through 360-degree, live-action video, mixed with photorealistic computer imagery developed by the effects firm who provided the special effects for the film Gravity. To really make it immersive, they added 4-D elements such as heat, wind and mist. “Travelers” to Maui feel the warm sun on their skin, the breeze in their hair, the rumble of waves underfoot and ocean spray on their face.

Telepresence is another way that technology is helping to break down physical barriers. Telepresence robots are basically mobile robots that are placed within an environment and can be controlled by an individual or group from a remote location. The robot has a screen, so that people can see the face or faces of whoever is controlling it, allowing for conversation or interaction, just as if they were in the same physical space. This past year, quadriplegic Henry Evans visited the AAM MuseumExpo in Seattle via a telepresence robot. He has also visited a number of museums around the world and participated in a TED Talk. But telepresence isn’t just a tool to help the physically challenged. It can also be used to remove geographic barriers. For example, the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium has a resident telepresence robot named VGo, which enables school groups to visit the zoo remotely. The groups use VGo to walk through exhibit galleries, watch demonstrations and lectures and interact with museum instructors.

For more information on telepresence robots and their various uses, be sure to check back Thursday for “Telepresence Robots: Facilitating Access, Enhancing Education”, an excerpt from Clara Rice’s TEA Future Legends panel presentation at the 2014 IAAPA Expo.

Perspective Shifting

Technology can also help for you and the public to see your facility from a different perspective, which can be used for marketing and fundraising for capital projects. For example, some museums have used drones to showcase the conditions of their exterior for fundraising efforts, while the New York Public Library recently used a drone to showcase the institution from a birdseye view:

 Extending Content

Technology can also help you extend your museum’s content beyond your facility walls. For example, the Museum of London created an augmented reality app, "London: A City Through Time", allowing guests to use their phone to superimpose historic images from their collection over the same geographic location in modern day.

You can also extend your content without the use of technology. For example, Art Everywhere is a national outdoor art exhibition, which takes place every summer across the UK. The first US version was held this August and ran for a month. Five of America’s top art museums selected works of art that represent American history and culture and asked the American public to vote for their favorite pieces. The final selection of 68 works of art was featured on billboards on city streets and rural highways, bus shelters and subway platforms, airports, health clubs, in movie theaters and more. In all, over 70,000 digital and music displays were displayed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia – making it the largest outdoor art show ever conceived.

We’ll conclude our study of the 2014 trends in design with a look at how simple outreach, programming and old-fashioned, interpersonal communication are breaking down social barriers.


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Trends in Design Part 2 - Shifting Roles: The New Curators

January 16, 2015

Welcome back to my 2014 review of design friends. While yesterday we looked at examples of museum’s crowdsourcing content, today we’ll visit with some museums that are actually letting their visitors create content. Let’s begin by defining Folksonomy, which is a relatively new term used to describe user-generated descriptions of art.


One of the earliest examples of folksonomy is the Steve Museum, which is a program where groups of museums post their collections online and invite the public to create new searchable keywords, or socially tag, each piece. Once the Museum’s staff approves these descriptive words, they become part of the collection’s database. This program has not only created databases with more intuitive searching, but has also increased the public’s access and appreciation of each museum’s collection. So, it’s a win-win.

Photo credit: Art Hack

Audio guides are other great examples of folksonomy. For example, Audio Tour Hack is a group that creates alternative soundtracks to traditional museum audio tours, in order to redefine the way people see art and their surroundings. Their first exhibit was at the Guggenheim in New York, where they re-interpreted the modern artwork of artist John Chamberlain. Given the collection’s use of bended metal, Art Tour Hack re-interpreted the exhibit as a collection developed by Decepticons (the bad guys of the Transformers cartoon and movies), celebrating their destruction of the good guy Autobots. Their next target was New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), where they developed the MoMA Unadulterated audio tour, which is an official audio tour created by kids. Each piece of art is analyzed by children aged 3-10, as they share their unique perspectives on such things as composition, the art’s deeper meaning, and why some art just looks weird.

Photo credit: Art Hack

Creating Content

Image credit: Minecraft

One very ambitious project is asking the public to build a museum, digital brick by digital brick, as London’s British Museum is currently being recreated in the video game, Minecraft. For those unfamiliar with Minecraft, it is basically a video game version of LEGO, where users can create and navigate their own worlds, or recreated worlds, in a digital universe. For example, the Minecraft community recently worked together to create all the key places from Game of Thrones. It’s a very popular game, so much so that it was purchased by Microsoft this past September for $2.6 billion. The British Museum project is part of the institution’s Museum of the Future Scheme, which aims to expand the Museum’s appeal. The Museum posted details of the project on social media site Reddit, asking for volunteers to get involved, and they received a flood of responses from Minecraft fans around the world. The hope is that the project serves as an effective educational tool for a younger demographic, while attracting them to the Museum. 

James Peterson. Photo credit: History Colorado

Back in the US, History Colorado literally took to the streets to gain inspiration for their next project, as they gathered ideas and artifacts for a proposed exhibit on the homeless. Recently, their Assistant Curator James Peterson walked through Downtown Denver hunting for artifacts, especially the signs homeless people display asking for help. For example, Peterson met with a homeless man named Jeff Goldberg and gave him $20 for the sign and his story. The Museum then displayed all of their collected artifacts, such as 30 cardboard signs, at an event for young professionals, and asked visitors for their reactions, including what the word “home” means to them. All of this is part of History Colorado’s new approach to building exhibitions by involving the public. The feedback gathered during this process is being used to help the Museum decide what projects will move forward and how each exhibit will be designed and developed.

Photo credit: History Colorado

The Portland Art Museum also reached out to the public to help create an exhibit called Object Stories. The Museum invited visitors to record their own narratives about personal projects that they brought in – whether a piece of clothing, a toy, or a family heirloom. The program was developed to attract new audiences by demystifying the Museum, making it more accessible, welcoming, and meaningful to a greater diversity of communities, all while highlighting the inherent relationship between people and things. During the exhibition’s run, over one thousand people from the area, most of whom had never set foot in the Museum before, participated as storytellers in the project.

Photo credit: History Colorado

Online Crowdsourcing

Museums might also take inspiration from online crowd-sourced exhibitions. Two of my favorite online exhibitions in recent years include the Johnny Cash Project and The Burning House. The Johnny Cash project is a global collective art project, where guests work together to create an ever-changing music video. Guests visit the website and are invited to draw upon a single frame of film. The work is then combined with art form participants around the world, to create a haunting music video for Cash’s last-recorded song, “Ain’t No Grave”.

Another online exhibition is The Burning House. Featured on Tumblr and Facebook, the exhibit asks a simple question:

If your house was burning, what would you bring with you?

Photo credit: The Burning House

The user-submitted photos offer a power insight into what different people determine is practical, valuable and sentimental.

So, we’ve seen how role barriers are being dissolved, and a lot of that has only been achievable through our use of technology. But how do we break down physical barriers? Check back Monday to find out.


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Trends in Design 2014: The Art of Breaking Down Barriers, by Shawn McCoy

January 15, 2015

Shawn McCoy

Shawn McCoy

Part One – Conquering Role Barriers Through Crowd-sourced Creations 

As we have for the past four years, this past November, Thinkwell’s Cynthia Sharpe and I presented on the latest trends as part of the 2014 IAAPA Expo Museum Day. Whereas in previous years I’ve provided a whirlwind tour of recently opened (and incredibly cool) theme park, attraction and museum projects, this year, I really wanted to focus on case studies that were not only interesting, but could be more easily applied to museums in some way. While some of these projects are over a year old, they still represent trends that are continuing to evolve.

Image credit: Center for the Future of Museums

A big shout-out goes to the American Alliance of Museum’s Center for the Future of Museums and their Trendswatch 2014 report, which served as a resource for many of the projects I list below. Not only does it list many more projects and trends than you’ll find in this post, it all provides insights on how these trends can be applied to your museum. Be sure to check back on the JRA blog in March as we do our annual “deep dive” into each of the report’s 2015 trends.

As I researched my presentation, I started thinking about the relationship between cultural institutions and the public, and how much effort museums put toward having a better connection with their guests. Unfortunately, there are a lot of inherent barriers between museums and their audience, be they role barriers, physical barriers, or social barriers. The good news is that in the following four posts, I’ll offer a number of examples on how you can use exhibits, programs and technology to break down these barriers and make better connections with your audience.

Selecting Content

Let’s start by examining how traditional roles between the guest and curators are slowly starting to blur – where the general public is having a direct effect on the creation of exhibitions, from influencing their development to actually helping to create the experience.

We’ll begin with crowd-sourced exhibitions, which have been taking place over the past few years. As a reminder, crowdsourcing is where services, ideas and content are created by a large, non-traditional group, especially online, rather than by traditional sources (such as curators). To put this into context, as many of you know, a lot of times new exhibitions are planned without regard to what the public might actually be interested in, or might feature artifacts that they might not really care about. That’s where crowdsourcing comes in, as it can provide you with better insight as to what your audience wants. 

 Chicago History Museum recently organized a crowd-sourced competition, called Chicago History Bowl, where the public could suggest themes for the museum’s next exhibition. Thousands of responses were tallied and narrowed down to 16 topics (ranging from The Great Chicago Fire, to Chicago in Pop Culture to Chicago’s women, neighborhoods and labor). A bracket system (a la the NCAA basketball tournament) was created, and the list got narrowed down to its Elite Eight, Final Four and eventual champion, which was Chicago Authors. Based on this recommendation, the museum is now formally developing the exhibition. According to Gary Johnson, President of the Chicago History Museum:

You spend a fortune hiring people to help you figure out what people want. We live in a world where you can find out directly what they want. In the old way of things, museums were sort of about authority. The spirit of the age is different today. It’s a collaboration between our resources and what the public is interested in.

Image Credit: Chicago History Museum

The public can also be called upon not only to suggest themes, but also to select specific content. For example, curators at the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston recently invited members of the public to go online and vote for their favorite paintings from the museum’s Impressionism collection, with the top vote-getters earning a spot in a special exhibit called “Boston Loves Impressionism”. The crowdsourcing event drew a great deal of public feedback, with more than 10,000 people voting in the final round. The exhibition opened last February with 30 paintings selected by the public, 10 of which were marked as Boston’s favorite. While critics might deem this effort a simple popularity contest presided over by a largely uninformed public, the Museum’s director, Malcolm Rogers, noticed a deeper by-product: “the thing that interests me is it’s getting people to express affection, their love for objects. “They are choosing the way a curator would and finding out how difficult it is.”

Image Credit: Museum of Fine Arts Boston

So we’ve seen how the public can select exhibition themes and specify content. But what about the public actually creating content? We’ll visit examples of audience-created content in tomorrow’s post.

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Comedy, Discovery and Revelry: A 2015 Preview of JRA's Museum and Attraction Projects

January 07, 2015

The Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse in Louisville is one of several new projects

The Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse in Louisville is one of several new projects "on tap" for 2015.

Welcome back to JRA + Blog!

We hope you enjoyed a fun and restful holiday season and rang out the year in style. While we’ll continue to reflect on the attraction designs, trends and milestones of 2014, today we’re offering you a sneak peek at what lies ahead for the new year.

One Flock of Birds Flies East, Another Flock Lands in Russia


As we mentioned in our 2014 Year in Review, the Year of the Horse could have been more aptly described as the “Year of the Bird” - the Angry Bird, that is. “Angry Birds Universe: The Art and Science Behind a Global Phenomenon”, began its journey in Dubai, UAE last year before flying off to Doha, Qatar. This year, the traveling exhibition, a collaboration between Imagine Exhibitions, Rovio and JRA, will be heading to China. Stay tuned for more details on its exact flight path!

Meanwhile, in Russia, the Birds will make a more permanent nest this summer. JRA is working with Rovio and FORTGROUP to develop the new Angry Birds Activity Park St. Petersburg within the highly anticipated Europolis Mall. The attraction will be a first of-its-kind family destination that blends the exciting world of Angry Birds with the rich history and culture of St. Petersburg. Through a combination of scenic environments, theatrical lighting, dynamic sound, media and special effects, guests will become immersed within the mysterious Piggy Island – home to the Angry Birds and their nemeses the bad Piggies.

And the Thea Award Goes To…

This spring will be a season of celebration, as the Grand Hall at St. Louis Union Station receives the Themed Entertainment Association’s Thea Award for Best Live Show – Limited Budget. Considered the Oscars® of the themed entertainment industry, the award will be presented in grand style at the TEA’s Thea Awards Gala at the Disneyland Hotel on March 21. As always, JRA + blog will be front and center, covering all of the weekend’s festivities. 

Worlds of Discovery

Starting this summer, children will be treated to a world of discovery at Beijing’s first permanent children’s museum. Lao Niu Children’s Discovery Museum of the CNCC will offer 26,000 square feet of interactive and innovative experiences. The museum’s five exhibit halls and fourteen galleries, themed to the Chinese zodiac, will enable children ages infancy to seven the opportunity to learn problem solving, embrace exploration and challenges, and understand the diversity of their world.

A Project with a Punchline

It will definitely be a laughing matter this summer, when the highly anticipated National Comedy Center breaks ground. The Center, located in Lucille Ball’s hometown of Jamestown, New York, aims to be a “national attraction based on the art of comedy, the craft and its contributors.” The project received a major boost when the New York State Regional Development Council granted the Center $1.5 million in Empire State Development funds. JRA has provided design consultation for the Center in partnership with interactive media firm, Local Projects.

On the Rocks (in a Good Way)

In 2012, JRA provided design and implementation for the Jim Beam American Stillhouse in Bardstown, Kentucky. In 2015, JRA’s Bourbon Trail heads north to Louisville and the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse. The new Stillhouse will offer bourbon enthusiasts the opportunity to tour a small working distillery and bottling line, sample a sample, and purchase Jim Beam merchandise. JRA Is again providing design and implementation for this brand attraction.

Where You Can Find Us

It wouldn’t be the JRA + blog if we didn’t include our annual Conference World Tour! This year, you can find us at the IAAPA Leadership Conference (March 10-12), the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) Summit and Thea Awards (March 19-21), the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting and Museum Expo (April 26-29), the Association of Children’s Museums Interactivity! Conference (May 13-15), the IAAPA Asian Attractions Expo (June 16-19), the IAAPA European Attractions Expo (October 6-8), the TEA’s SATE Conference (Fall 2015), the International Association of Children’s Museums’ Hands On! Conference (October 13-16), Alliance of Science-Technology Centers Conference (October 17-20), MAPIC (November 18-20), and the IAAPA Attractions Expo (November 16-20). But you never know quite where we’ll turn up, so don’t be surprised if you see us at other events, conferences and mixers throughout the year. We look forward to seeing you!

We’re excited to share our tips, tricks and inspirations for engaging and innovative attraction planning, design, and implementation, introduce you to some of our fabulous people and projects, and answer your themed entertainment questions. We’ll begin next week with Shawn McCoy’s annual trends review, and how the lessons learned from recent innovative projects can help lead museums on the path to success.

Best wishes for a successful and fun 2015!


Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio , Project Spotlight

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