March 29, 2008 / 12:11 AM / 11 years ago

Museums exhibit high-tech appeal

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Paintings and sculptures long stored away are finding a new audience as museums strive for mass appeal with high-tech Web sites packed with video, podcasts and interactive elements.

A screenshot of the Chicago History Museum's Web site, taken on March 27, 2008. REUTERS/chicagohistory.org/planavisit/exhibitions

Moreover, these institutions are finding that rather than diminishing the number of museum visits, the Web is actually boosting in-person attendance.

“All museums, especially art museums, realize the Internet is a way to drive visits,” said Ford Bell, chief executive officer of the 6,500-member American Association of Museums.

“Some museums now let people go online and download tours ahead of time on their iPods,” he said.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art offers a podcast series (here) that includes audio and video interviews with artists, curators and visitors as they explain or react to works on display there.

Visitors can also save $2 on admission if they present their MP3 player loaded with the current podcast of Scottish video artist Douglas Gordon describing how he filmed an elephant in the middle of the night for his work “Play Dead: Real Time,” which was recently featured at the museum.

The Chicago History Museum allows visitors to download three tours, including two of permanent exhibits and one of a special exhibition.

A recent national survey by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) found that Web site visitors were inclined to more than double their frequency of museum visits. “Internet users visit museums in person 2.6 times more often than non-Internet users,” said Mamie Bittner, deputy director for the IMLS.

“Of the adults interviewed, 45 percent visited both in-person and remotely, while 5 percent visited only remotely and 50 percent visited only in-person,” she said.

The number of in-person visits by adults reached 701 million in 2006, the first year the Institute tracked national museum attendance, while 524 million adult remote visits were logged.

In total, there were 1.2 billion visits to museums.

Following two years of market research and hours upon hours of manpower, the Indianapolis Museum of Art last fall launched a fully loaded Web site featuring links to Flickr, YouTube and Facebook. The site puts around 65,000 pieces of its collection online for public access.

“We’d done a good job historically of using the Web to tell people where we are and where to park. But now we’re focusing on being a content resource,” said Robert Stein, chief information officer of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

“There’s a whole new realm of social networking and interaction online and we’d like to engage people in this kind of sharing related to art,” he said.

Stein also noted that the Web site allows people who otherwise may not be able to visit the museum to still see its treasures. “People who may never come to Indianapolis can experience some of the works of art we have here,” he said.

Additionally, it is a great way for people to see art that is not readily viewable at the museum.

“There are about 65,000 objects in our collection but only a small percentage of those are displayed at any time. The Web is a great way for people to see what we have to experience,” he said.

A screenshot of the Chicago History Museum's Web site, taken on March 27, 2008. REUTERS/chicagohistory.org/planavisit/exhibitions

Reporting by Sue Zeidler; editing by Gunna Dickson

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