The Making of a Museum

Today, there is much discussion over the roll of web-based technology in museums, and whether an exhibit can exist solely on the Internet. Other articles in this volume will examine that issue in depth. But from a formalist perspective, the answer is clear. The defining characteristic of exhibits is their physicality.
— Eugene Dillenburg

I recently read an article, What, If Anything, Is a Museum by Eugene Dillenburg, published in 2011 by the American Alliance of Museums. The article presents an overview of concerns to redefine the term museum to reflect the growing impact of technology in exhibits. The article asserts that one of the necessary conditions of an exhibit “is their physicality’, but arguments are being made to challenge that definition. It is important to remember that this article was published 6 years ago at the date of this post. It is also important to remember that rapid growth is occurring in technologies and the culture surrounding them. Even though there will be a longer form post soon, using more modern articles, I felt this was an important starting place to outline what the Scarborough-Hamer Collection is currently and what the goals are for its future.

Scarborough-Hamer Collection is a completely digital museum. A physical space does not yet exist to display all the pieces in the collection. All content, viewer interaction, and education is published and viewed online. In its current stage (March 2017) the Museum is a gallery with educational descriptions. The site is beautiful and highlights the pieces as well crafted works of art, but it is lacking in visitor engagement, which is a core component of any museum. There are plans in place to improve interactivity by using technologies that allow immersive user experiences. Interactive elements will hopefully roll out by the end of this year, taking the gallery style website and transforming it into a museum style interactive experience.

Completely digital spaces and exhibits are still rare in the museum space. Though technologies have arrived that allow better simulation of real life experiences, such as virtual reality headsets, they are not currently and never will be the foundation of digital exhibitions. Those technologies will remain tools as they are today to expand the story and provide a visitor an improved experience. The core component that digital exhibitions and museums are tapping into is a change in culture. The idea that the screen is a barrier to interactivity and experience is fading. Swiping through a gallery or spinning a 360 degree image of a piece is impacting viewers in a similar way as seeing the piece in real life.

The described cultural shift is what the Scarborough-Hamer Collection and other digital or virtual museums will be progressing and relying on in the future.

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by Nicklaus McKinney