At the end of Beautiful Data, the summer workshop on digital art history run by metaLAB with the support of the Getty Foundation, we asked participants to report back in a few months, to let us know how their experiences here at Harvard were working their way into their practice over the long term. It’s great now to have posts like this one from Chelsea Kelly, who manages school and teach programs for the Milwaukee Art Museum. At ArtMuseumTeaching.com, Chelsea ponders the work participants did to reflect on the various definitions of “openness” in galleries and museums:
We all want our collections to be open to the public. We all want to give visitors opportunities to engage with objects. All that said, the devil’s in the details, as they say, and, as I learned from fellow participants at Beautiful Data, “openness” might mean different things in different contexts, or to different people within our institutions. For a museum technologist who’s part of the OpenGLAM movement, it might mean creating an API for her institution’s collection. For a curator, it might mean presenting art with minimal labels to allow visitors to bring their own thoughts to the work. For an educator, it might mean hosting a monthly “slow art” day, facilitating a one hour conversation about a single work of art. For a visitor, it might mean taking a selfie with a work of art to share with friends on Instagram—or perhaps having a life-changing, transformative moment with an object—or maybe exploring the collection online even though they live halfway around the world from the institution itself.
Much of the work of participants in Beautiful Data consisted in taking these definitions and experiences of openness and putting them into dialogue with each other, in ways that opened the experience of art to improvisation, play, and the aleatory. (Chelsea’s own Flickr set documenting her Beautiful Data project gives a full sense of the richly improvisatory inquiry she suggested). Chelsea reflects further on the back-and-forth between her experience of the workshop and the work she does at the Milwaukee Art Museum:
When my teen program started up again this fall, I brought my students into the Milwaukee Art Museum galleries to look at a single work of art for an hour…. As usual, I noticed the high schoolers opening up to each other, to new ideas, and to finding ways that art relates to their everyday life—whether a photograph of Milwaukee or a landscape by a Baroque Italian painter…. [A]s I watched the students unfold these pieces and their own thoughts every week, and as I thought about my own project at Beautiful Data, I started to realize how intimately connected my discussion-based teaching style and experience-based project are to the big ideas behind the open collections movement.
That’s the dialogue we had hoped to provoke through Beautiful Data. The same kind of enterprise and application can be seen in some of the work of Neal Stimler, another BD alumnus (and digital asset strategist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Neal is incorporating the rapid-prototyping and collaborative design methods we exampled in the workshop into his own outreach work. It’s great to see our participants making Beautiful Data their own—for ultimately, they were the ones who made it—and passing it along.