Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More Lessons from the Outside

Why limit the lessons to games and TV? Across the hall from Steven Johnson at the session "Eye on Design: Inspiration from Outside the Museum," speakers also discussed learning from spaces and pastimes beyond museums' walls—from public gardens to baseball games. Emily Sloat Shaw of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden cited her favorite place, Boston's Fenway Victory Gardens. Within the busy city, Bostonians cordon off private sections of the garden to plant flowers, socialize or quietly sit and read. Shaw challenged museums to create such personal spaces within their public institutions.

As the hardcore "Lost" fans have done, "Eye on Design" focused on creating communities. The minor league Albuquerque Isotopes makes Jennifer Atkins of Andrew Merriell and Associates, an interpretive planning and design company, think about museums. Before each game's first pitch, the announcer introduces the team as "YOUR Albuquerque Isotopes." This sense of community ownership is enhanced by a local flair—the stadium serves slices from an area pizza joint, for example—and a laid-back, sociable setting. How, Atkins asked, can we make visitors see our museums as THEIR museums?

And how can we bring in visitors that wouldn't normally enter our doors? Nina Simon, chair of the session and creator of the Museum 2.0 blog, suggested museums can form communities that draw in non-traditional audiences as well. Nike and Apple recently teamed up to produce Nike+, a sensor that slips into your sneaker and connects with your iPod to track how far and fast you've run. Users then upload and share this information with an online community of runners, who challenge each other to run further and faster. The sense of fellowship has inspired even those intimidated by running to hit the track.

"They took an activity that can be unpleasant and isolating and created a product that creates a virtual community," Simon said. "You get motivation from other people without having to watch them run faster than you."

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