InterCommunication No.15 1996


Conference Review
Hands on Hypermedia
and Interactivity in Museums

The 3rd annual "Hands on Hypermedia and Interactivity in Museums" conference held October 11-13 in San Diego, California attracted over 600 museum professionals who check in from all over the world--Japan, Korea, several Russian Republics, New Zealand, Europe and North and South America. The conference, in which participants shared information at over 28 workshops and mini focus sessions and demonstrations, was organized by David BEARMAN, Archives and Museum Informatics in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Peter SAMIS, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), likened the three-day conference to a trip around the world.
Perhaps one of the more important functions of the conference, according to SAMIS, is to provide a forum to create international standards for inter-operative abilities and to explore ways to provide models of interactivity for business and international collaborations.
SAMIS led s panel entitled "Team Work and the Museum Interactive," in which he talked about SFMOMA's unique approach in combining outside consultants with in-house expertise. "We operate in a hybrid model," says SAMIS. "We hire the best designers and programmers in the business and ask them to provide a template from which we do content and production." This, he says, allows the museum to leverage its limited budget.
Experimentation is the name of the game in these uncharted waters. Steve DIETZ of the National Museum of American Art in Washington D.C. spoke on Digital Imaging. He discussed the part testing and retesting ideas plays in the process and advised prophetically, "When you come to a "Y" in the road, take it."
Rob SEMPER is Executive Associate Director of The Exploratorium, a vanguard museum of science, art and perception in San Francisco, California. SEMPER reported that The Exploratorium welcomes as many visitors to its internet site as to the museum itself. The figure is an impressive comment confirming the ever increasing importance of developing excellence in museum interactive capabilities and programming.
Carol STROSHECKER of Mitsubishi Electric Research Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts talked about networked learning environments. The Cambridge lab pioneers the field, developing new ways for children of all ages to learn science concepts through interactive experimentation.
"Comfort and Comradery in Virtual Space" was a visionary session, breaking the concept of the computer box in the museum format, and exploring how the computer can become a platform for a collective experience. Futuristic scenarios took various forms, ranging from web-based, networked communities collaborating on certain learning projects to projected imagery in real physical space with a group of people interacting, as opposed to computer box imagery and one isolated user.
Some talk focused on developing ways to perpetuate an infrastructure over time to make interactivity an ongoing reality. To accomplish that, museums need infrastructure. Infrastructure necessitates institutional commitment and outside funding.
Jim HEMSLEY, one of the leaders in the European communities in developing multimedia, has been described as a visionary. HEMSLEY spoke on the forces and factors which negatively and positively impact interactivity in the museum setting. He listed positive forces such as younger generation coming of age, the growth of technology itself, increased ram storage, less expensive equipment, more and more international museum collaborations, and a new visual literacy. Working against innovation, however, he said are forces such as copyright concerns and government cutbacks to fine art institutions.


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