Tales of Things

January 3rd, 2011

This seems like a good post to start the new year because it is filled with possibility. Last year, an Oxfam charity shop in Manchester, England did an interesting experiment with RFID tags and QR codes. They allowed people donating goods to record the stories (or histories) of their items. These recordings were then made available in the store through a hacked iphone that read the item-associated RFID tags, but they were also accessible to any device that could read QR codes (those barcode looking squares available in many smartphone apps).

The project was part of a larger effort by several UK universities to create a site, called Tales of Things, for sharing personal and social histories.  While there are several obvious ways these kinds of tags can be used in museum-type settings, it is interesting to ponder other uses as well.  Imagine buying a product that has been tagged in every step of the production and transportation process.  Relatives passing down stories of family heirlooms.  Or, as this article in the NY Times pointed out, your tagged tennis racquet updating your location on Foursquare.  The future is scary and awesome.

Enchanted Palace

December 30th, 2010

Receiving lots of end of the year love from Nina Simon and Peter Linett.  Nina was kind enough to list Poesy & Praxis on her list of new blog discoveries, (thanks Nina!).  For newcomers, Poesy & Praxis is a studio that does freelance curatorial work and ideation around participatory/engaging cultural experiences.  If you have questions or thoughts, please email!

Also, Peter Linett invited me to post about the Enchanted Palace exhibition, currently on show at Kensington Palace.  You can read the full review here.  Out of a full year of visiting museums and shows in London this was one of the highlights.

For more museum related links you can also follow me on Twitter (@designklub).  I also do freelance writing about modern design so Tweets are usually mixed topics.


December 30th, 2010

Collectish is a website developed by Museum Victoria that allows people to share their collections.  The site is simple, clean and has user friendly options like rating, commenting and organizing.  While Collectish still seems to be in its infancy, it looks like it could be a great resource for both collectors and the curious visitor.  The website Micurio is similar in spirit; a place to catalogue all your collections in one spot.  These websites could be a dream for people like my father who have so many collections they can’t even keep track (we’re talking everything from decoys to glass canes), and who want to connect with other collectors.  Could also be an interesting resource for museums looking to create exhibits or expand their own collections.

Golden Hook

December 14th, 2010

It seems like more and more people want to know the story behind the products they buy, not only for environmental concerns but also to feel personally connected in a sometimes anonymous virtual world.   After reading books like The Mesh and Collaborative Consumption, these kinds of business ideas make so much sense to me.

The Golden Hook is an example of a business capitalizing on this craving for personal interaction.  Customers choose from a variety of hat designs, which they can customize by color and yarn type.  Then they go on to select the grandmother they want to knit their design.  Golden Hook has an arsenal of grannies that are expert knitters and are also looking to earn some extra income.  It’s a mutually beneficial relationship; the kind that I think so many businesses are trending towards.  I also like to ponder how these types of projects can be applied to our cultural institutions.  I’m having visions of stories about museum acquisitions and personalized curatorial stories…slightly different than dancing sugar plums.

Save Our Sounds

December 9th, 2010

The BBC has a website called Save Our Sounds, where users can upload a sound clip from anywhere around the world.  I just uploaded a sound (you can listen below) from my recent visit to Venice, Italy.  While staying in the monastery at the Madonna dell’Orto (a 14th century church), I recorded a short clip of the choir practicing.  The BBC’s aim is to save the world’s endangered sounds for future generations.  I just love this project, the website was really easy to use and anyone can listen to sounds from around the world.  The British Library has launched a similar version just for the UK.

Madonna dell’Orto Choir Practice

The Johnny Cash Project

December 4th, 2010

I just came across this project while preparing for an upcoming presentation for Denver museums.  Director Chris Milk decided to create a special tribute to Johnny Cash when making a video for the song “There Ain’t No Grave.”  Milk launched a website that allows users to select a frame from the video and create a drawing of the scene.  The user submitted images are linked together to create a complete film.  As of October, the website collected over 250,000 submissions (it launched in March) and it is still collecting contributions.  Just watch the video above, so beautiful.

Karolina Sobecka: Digital Tiger

November 17th, 2010

As part of the recent exhibition Decode, the V&A in London commissioned artist Karolina Sobecka to create a roaming projection.  Her digital tiger ran through the streets surrounding the museum for a period of three nights.  A sensor attached to the car allowed the projection to keep pace with the vehicle; as it moved, the tiger ran faster and when the car stopped, the tiger also rested. What I like most about this project is that there are no tag lines, logos or ads attached. While it was clearly related to the show at the museum, onlookers may or may not have ever made that connection. The artist and the museum took a piece of the exhibition to the outside world, perhaps peaking the interests of some while just providing enjoyment for others.

Hatch Show Print

November 16th, 2010

During coffee today with Charles from the AIGA, I was introduced to the amazing Hatch Show Print workshop.  Started over 100 years ago, Hatch Show Print is one of the oldest letterpress shops in the US, specializing in posters for theater and music productions.  In the 1980’s the shop was purchased by Gaylord Entertainment (owners of the Grand Old Opry).  After reviving the historic workshop, Gaylord gave over operations to the Country Music Hall of Fame.  The result is a fully functioning print press (turning out 600 jobs a year) that is part of a museum.  The shop’s motto, preservation through production, celebrates country music history while still taking an active role in the industry today.   This kind of partnership is unusual in the museum world, but has so many possibilities.  It is supporting an important business, while showcasing its historic roots.  Perhaps there are other museums that could benefit from this form of active partnership.  Ideas?

(photos via bangback)

Imagination Station

November 2nd, 2010

I have a growing fascination with Detroit.  Once considered a shining example of US industry and American products, it is now mainly known for its high crime rates and abandoned neighborhoods.  But it is also a city with amazing potential.  More and more frequently I am reading inspirational stories of re-building and community collaboration.

One such endeavor is the Imagination Station, a new non-profit founded by Jerry Paffendorf and Mary Lorene Carter, but made possible through the work of many many more in the community.  When two run down buildings in the Corktown neighborhood went up for auction, Paffendorf and local resident Jeff DeBruyn bought the structures for $500 a piece.   One is burned out and slated for demolition, but will be transformed into a public outdoor meeting/art space.  The building next door will be renovated to create a new community center, with room for artists in residence and other activities.

The Imagination Station successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign for initial funding and they are now working on the next phase.  But in the meantime, they are using every opportunity to document, create and share their work.  Before the burned structure is torn down, artist Catie Newell has made a stunning installation.   The organizers will be sharing their entire process, from fundraising to building, on their website with the aim of inspiring others to replicate the process in their own neighborhoods.  This concentrated community effort and support has resulted in a nimble operation that can make its own rules.  As quoted by the Metro Times, “If major foundations and nonprofits were involved in the Imagination Station, as they would have to be in a city like Chicago, there’d have to be 6,800 meetings before anything got accomplished,” Debruyn says.

When I created the Denver Community Museum I had the same feeling.  As an individual there were no grants to apply for and partnering with a local institution may have delayed the project (by several years).  I am intrigued by people/organizations who are making things happen using new models.   The Imagination Station is one amazing example.  Founder Jerry Paffendorf is also undertaking another project called Loveland, a micro financing platform that is both innovative and inspirational.  More to come on that one in my next post.

Evaluating Progress

October 19th, 2010

In the weeks leading up to the election, the Democrats have cleverly unveiled a simple, yet powerful tool to demonstrate the work they have done for the past two years.  Users to the PROGRESS website can type in their zip code and immediately see the impacts the Obama administration has made on their community.  Sources are listed, links provide more information – not only showing what has been accomplished, but also explaining  the challenges our government has faced.

Seeing this website made me wonder how it could be applied to cultural institutions.  What have you offered your community over the past several years?  Increased programming? More lesson plans reaching more students?  Digitizing X number of artifacts?  I think this would be an interesting area for a museum or other cultural venue to explore.  I could imagine a simple tool like this could accompany annual reports, being updated quarterly.  But it could also be a very effective way for museums to share their efforts with the public; not only to prove their worth, but also share in a straightforward way all the programs they offer.  The public may be surprised at the resources that are actually available right in their own community, which could lead to increased attendance and revenue.