Platforms for visitor superpowers with Sebastian Chan
Seb Chan, Chief Experience Officer at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) discusses the evolution of how we think about visitor experience in experiential spaces, going beyond traditional engagement to cross creative and infrastructural elements. Seb covers ACMI’s redevelopment, a unique approach to staff restructure, establishing the museum as a platform and its technologies including the Experience Operating System (xOS) and the Lens: the ingredients which set the ACMI team to make the most of a terrible opportunity in coping with the pandemic.
For more on the Lens, visit www.acmi.net.au/lens/
A pavlova recipe courtesy Seb’s Mum https://www.sebchan.com/never-fail-new-zealand-pavlova-recipe
Watch for more on The Lens at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) that Seb discusses in this episode.
Angie: Hello, and welcome to the Data Diaries. I’m Angie Judge from Dexibit and here with us today, we have Seb Chan, Chief Experience Officer at the Australian Center for the Moving Image, a big welcome to Seb.
But before we start, I’m going to get this out there. You could be forgiven for assuming that Seb is Australian: he’s based in Melbourne, he serves as the Adjunct Professor at the School of Media and Communications at the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT plus he’s on the board of the National Communications Museum in Melbourne and is the national president of the Australian Museums and Galleries Association. And I should add outside of Australia, also an advisory board member of Art Science Museum in Singapore, too.
And many of our listeners will be familiar with Seb’s earlier digital transformation work at the Powerhouse in Sydney. And of course, between Sydney and Melbourne, he then jetted to New York to lead the digital renewal and transformation of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, in New York, including the very well known ‘pen’ experience. But Seb is actually a kiwi like me from New Zealand and we New Zealanders are very sensitive about things that are mistakenly claimed as Australian, like Crowded House and Russell Crowe and Pavlova. So I just needed to get the record on that straight first.
So Seb, you pretty much invented the Chief Experience Officer or the CXO role for visitor attractions. And so many people have now followed in your footsteps, especially in this era of the experience economy. What trends in the sector brought about that need on the leadership team and how has the role evolved for you in the years?
Seb: Yeah, it’s interesting. When my role was called the CXO role, it was really an acknowledgement that museums and galleries were primarily experiential spaces. That now sounds ridiculous that we didn’t think they were before, but there was a moment I think when we were a little bit less sure about that, strangely enough.
And I think that sort of mid the early 2010s and certainly subsequent to 2015, it’s very rare to find senior museum people or boards that don’t feel that museum and gallery experiences are fully experiential things. Obviously we’ve got a long way to go with that in what that actually means in the production and the processes and your end curation.
But I think we were pretty clear. We operate as part of an experience economy and we don’t just need to follow in that sense too. The other thing that’s changed perhaps in my role, particularly, we did a restructure here in 2019 as a part of preparing to reopen, this was pre COVID. And that, restructure was a ground up restructure where the staff designed and voted for a new organizational structure. And it was interesting in that my role now pulls in a lot more teams than it did previously in that experiencing engagement division of the museum is one of the major divisions of the museum now.
And that means, the CXO role touches more of that visitor journey and more of the interactions visitors have, and also staff have with each other. And so that experience extends beyond the outward facing, but actually more seriously acknowledges the inward facing and the new opportunities that that brings. And that’s interaction, perhaps the more obvious end of things, around brand and communications.
Angie: I’m interested in coming back to this restructure a little bit later in our conversation, because it’s a fascinating thing what you’re doing with the team there, but I’ve never really thought about it like that, how you talk about this new age of the experience experiential space. I’ve certainly heard the argument played out: ‘are we here first for the collection or the visitor’, but I’ve never really had that takeaway that you’ve shone a light on for me about this shift and in the leadership space of visitor attractions and museums of there being a time when, regardless of which one of those things comes first, we even didn’t consider the experience of the space.
Seb: Yeah, it’s interesting isn’t it? I think part of the sort of realization and the way particularly museums and galleries have seen themselves as part of cities and have had stronger relationships with city governments, and then other, other levels of government too, and planning and urban planning and that sort of thing. Being part of the revitalization of cities, the whole ‘Bilbao effect’ and all of that was happening for years, decades, in fact. The experience economy phrase comes out of the 1990s, but at some point that that flipped over into the way museums work with curation and collections to, and perhaps it dates back to the period when there was that switch from visitors not being allowed to take photos in museums, and then suddenly they are, maybe it does date to really the birth of mobile and smartphones in museums that really seals the deal. I often also think in other media, the way that fan cultures and audience participation is now built into the way major film, feature, feature films, and other ‘IP properties’, for want of a better word, are designed and made now. So, you can sort of draw a line, I guess, between the pre fan designed media and the post fan designed media. If we think about Marvel films, the way that they’re almost structured to engage fans beyond the moment, you’re actually watching the film itself, the content of the film is a small part of your engagement with that, in their world, the Marvel cinematic universe, which includes all that stuff around the fans and the stories fans tell to each other and share and all of those things. That was kind of not a thing, but it’s hard to imagine that, it’s a bit like it’s very hard to imagine the world before Wikipedia or the world before Google, or even sadly, a world without capitalism.
Angie: And I know this sort of cultural equivalent of fandom and how the experience plays into that, before, during, and after the visit to a physical venue, plays a really big into your philosophy around what it means to have an experience in a museum. But I’m glad you mentioned this trigger around digital and smartphones for this change of where we are now.
How do you actually see the CXO role itself fitting with the CDO or the Chief Digital Officer role we saw so much attention to emerging in the years prior?
Seb: Yeah. It’s interesting question. I think the CDO and the CXO in many ways merged, because digital is no longer as a separate thing, digital is part of experience and it’s part of the mission and purpose. I think the fading out of the CDO role that sort of occurred around, I guess, between 2013 to 2017, was really an acknowledgement that there isn’t a museum experience, there isn’t a museum, without digital, in any way. And you know, in my group, we have the ICT and the infrastructure side of things in my remit as well.
It’s interesting, the different ways we have discussions inside the institution and outside the institution in the CEO digital mentoring program that we’re running in Australia, this sort of sense around digital having an infrastructural element to it, but also a creative capacity element to it as well, alongside the notions of digital literacy and digital fluency. The infrastructural side, much as the, the materiality of IT, hasn’t gone away. There’s still rare earth metals. There are still, you know, the cloud as a series of server farms in warehouses in cheap real estate parts of the world. You know, it’s all that sort of stuff. There are pipes, there are cables, there are physical things that materiality, I think it’s starting to come back and we’re starting to think about the interplay between what museums and galleries and make possible as being constrained a little by that material. And needing staff, technically savvy staff who are aware of what that materiality means infrastructurally, but also then also staff who can see it in terms of capability and possibility in terms of experience.
And that that’s something that the CDO role, I guess, as emerging out of a CIO, role: the CIO was all the info, the hard IT side of things. The CDO was sort of a softer version of that. The CXO tries to marry those two. Often I do see a lot of CXO roles, newish CXO roles, sort of foregoing that in that infrastructural side, even though it probably plays a more significant part now than ever before. And certainly technical literacies haven’t gone away. They’re very important, even more so now with machine learning, actually understanding the technologies is a key part of being competent in the emerging world.
Angie: I was going to ask this question a little bit later on, but we keep on coming back to the cross-functional nature of your team and the necessity of that for the CXO role to be successful. And I know at ACMI, in addition to going through a redevelopment these past few years, it also underwent a simultaneous, bottom up staff led restructure that the staff themselves had voted for, which sounds very unique. And essentially from what I understand adopting this notion of cross-functional teams. So what has that been like?
Seb: Yeah, it was exciting and challenging. Katrina Sedgwick, our CEO and Director instigated that change. It was really, I think her way of acknowledging that the institution before redevelopment and after reopening were going to be different. And the staff led restructure was a way of signalling that and buying in ownership amongst the staff of ‘this is a new institution now, how do we need to operate it?’ So staff formed groups and came up with different models for executives and teams, and the like, and then proposed a series that were then voted on. And then that was taken to the executive and the board and with some tweaks, implemented. But it was really a way of signaling change and signaling that, we’d been through physical change and for some of us, programmatic changes for the curatorial staff, and those who work deep deeply with the renewal project, this programmatic change. And obviously alongside that, the technological shifts too. But then opening the building was bringing out the lived reality to all the stuff. That it was going to be a different museum. And it wasn’t a different museum that was static, but it was a museum that was starting with new opportunities to do different things that people who worked on the renewal hadn’t imagined, but we’re setting the stage for that to be possible.
If that makes sense. So it was sort of like birthing a new world. And then rather than that being seen as a static thing; as some something that needed people to buy into and then further develop. Which I think was really exciting and it has been really exciting. It’s helped a lot of the subsequent process change changes that we’re still working through since launch, with some of the old practices, systems and processes, ways of doing things, have become clear that they’ve needed to adjust both as a result of the new building and new opportunities that brings and the more diverse audiences we were attracting and the different needs they bring.
But also then also with COVID, we’ve been able to use this moment of change to work comparatively well with the challenges of the pandemic. But I think for us, we’re in a rather privileged and unique base where we’re already going through that change process anyway. We were already closed. And so it was about adjusting and making the most of a terrible opportunity.
Angie: We’ve certainly noticed ourselves an almost organic move to more agility, more urgency, in the way that a lot of cultural institutions in particular working at the moment. You mentioned changes to your practices and processes in there. How has that cross-functional nature in adopting agile and so forth changed the practicalities of how the ACMI team approached things like a new exhibition versus what you would see a traditional museum doing?
Seb: Well, we haven’t adopted it across everything. I would make clear that we have, we still have a mix of different practices and processes. We have a new project management framework that has really only just begun. We’ve been working on this for quite a while with one of our university partners, which again, you know, it was about understanding that not everything can change at once, but sometimes what you arrive at requires further change and more things come into play there. Certainly as we’ve come to learn the building and its affordances, that’s become more clear. I guess the other, you know, we have a lot of legacy systems, I’m talking, talking about collections management, I’m talking about ticketing systems, those systems take a long time to change. And in many cases, it’s about how you work with them rather than what the systems actually are. So again, it’s been about shifting to a model. And I think the new organizational structure, it’s not really new since 2019, but the 2019 to now structure has more transparency across processes.
So the cross functional piece of the institution requires cross functional workings to be visible to all. And so, so certainly transparency has been key in that. And, you know, we used Slack and Trello and Confluence to show more things to more teams, if they’re curious, and certainly across the experience in engagement group, which is now really large, there’s lots of staff and lots of managers in that group, the cross-functional nature is supported by our systems rather than the systems getting in the way of that.
Angie: For our listeners out there, ACMI is about film games, TV, digital culture, and you’ve been undergoing a massive redevelopment in these past few years. The museum shut its doors in 2019 and reopened in 2021, really fortunate timing and in a way, given what the world was going through in 2020, albeit that we’re sadly still in lockdown in Australia with the Delta outbreak. How has the essence of the visitor experience atACMI shifted with both the redevelopment and then the pandemic, on top?
Seb: We were designing from the very beginning in the very early stage of the master planning for that redevelopment project, $40 million redevelopment: architectural, technological, and programmatic slash curatorial that, it was very much about creating the tools and the opportunities for a museum that does things, particularly film, TV, games, digital culture – we now say screen culture. Those are all screens. Screen culture is a field that is not exclusive to the museum, like in that the visitors b ring a lot of their own knowledge and have a lot of opportunities to both create and consume and participate in screen culture when they go home, which is quite different to a museum of fine arts.
Obviously it has things that you can’t experience at home. We have a museum of everything that you can and do experience at home. And in many ways, the purpose of the visit is to expose you to other things. And other ways of looking at, listening, watching, and playing things you are familiar with and perhaps things you are not familiar with.
So it’s that sort of sense of change, changing people’s perception that they then take away with them as well. So, in the technological side of the visitor experience, this was about building tools for that in a gallery experience, to extend into people’s homes. People get this thing, we call the Lens: a recyclable, take home device that they can go around their galleries and collect things as they move through. And then take home to watch at home later on various streaming platforms or on their PlayStation or other gaming platforms as well. Super exciting. And that in some ways creates a visitor experience, that’s quite interesting, but it also creates a curatorial experience that’s that’s interesting too, because allows the curators to connect the things that they have access to through our collection or through loans in our galleries to things that they don’t have, that they can point people to when they get home- they can connect TV and films and games to other things that the museum would never ever show, but has an interest in. In the early days, I would often talk about it gives the museum the opportunity to curate the world of screen culture, which I think is really interesting and exciting as an opportunity to do.
The second side of that was with the pandemic, obviously our reopening was delayed. We opened in February 2021 with the gallery experience and all of this. But before that, we launched a reboot of the main themes of the major ongoing exhibition we have, ‘Story of the Moving Image’, as a digital magazine experience with videos embedded and all sorts of stuff that really zoom down on the major curatorial stories of the exhibitions and programming.
We also launched Gallery Five, which is a web gallery for net art, which are new commissions predominantly that we’re doing now as well. And a thing called Cinema Three. So we have two physical cinema in our building, but Cinema Three is an online pay per view, rental streaming service, which is great too. And that’s allowed not only us to continue our programming, but also because the museum hosts film festivals for various other community groups and others, from human rights film festival, the environmental, the queer film festival, to the Japanese film festival and many, many others, that Cinema Three platform is offered to those festival clients for them to use, which again, allows them to do things that they couldn’t do if they were just using our physical cinema. So that allows them to have a film festival on our platform that actually reaches all of Australia potentially, which is very, very different when you’re thinking about that from a programming perspective, a festival within a building, within Melbourne itself, where the audience is primarily Melbourne, Melbourne people. So again, using the opportunities of the museum to end the infrastructure of the museum as a community platform.
That’s been really exciting, continuing to grow in ways I don’t think we had suspected we would do as quickly prior to COVID.
Angie: I certainly enjoyed a lot of screen culture during my lockdown. I’m going to have to check out this Cinema Three to get me through the last bit, but this is a really fascinating thing to me that as a cultural institution, this isn’t just a program, this is a platform that you’re enabling these partners to deliver new experiences to their communities.
Seb: I think that is the role of infrastructure projects. That was always the role with the redevelopment of the museum was to use that capital investment to create new opportunities, not just for ourselves, but for others, to our communities that we work and serve, artists that we work with and other creative, practitioners too, but also in a digital sense that we can provide other supports. We are a museum of screen culture. We have skin in the game and we have stakes in that too. And so we need to be, to think beyond just the venue as both the physical and digital space. What does that enable? It creates an enabling museum, which I think is very important, particularly in increasingly fractious times.
Right back to the very early days of the master planning, which we did with David Hebblethwaite, a New Zealand based museum designer. David had this beautiful phrase of ‘visitor chemistry’ and he would describe that as really great museum experiences where visitor chemistry is created and that allows people from different families or cultural groups visiting a museum to talk to each other when they don’t know each other. And I just felt that that really encapsulated what a public museum should should be doing is creating those spaces where people talk to each other. That’s something, in these difficult political times, and economic times, we need more spaces where that’s possible, and they need to be designed to enable that rather than designed without trying to do that.
Angie: And speaking of that early advice, I really enjoyed one of your recent blog articles. You mentioned some words from, was it Elaine Gurian, on operating models for new or refurbished venues, which was ‘always design for three levels of visitation: extremely busy, busy, and almost empty’. You referred to that as ‘fallow periods that are part of every cultural institutions operating reality’. How did you achieve that? And how has that come to fruition in these days of lockdowns and reopenings?
Seb: Elaine said that to me when I was still at the Powerhouse Museum. Elaine spent most of her career building and reopening and launching museums. She had done the NMAI for the Smithsonian the Native American museum there. It’s been such an important voice in the museum community. I always thought it was really interesting, this sort of challenge of designing for the very busy days, but then the reality that a lot of days there’s no one there. There’s always a time, maybe it’s Tuesday at 10:00 AM, when the galleries are super quiet and if they don’t work well, then it’s not a success. Similarly, if a visitor visits when it’s really busy, how are you going to manage that?
For us, we’ve been fortunate. We’ve had some really, really busy days when we’ve been able to be open, but we’ve also realized that, since COVID, the visiting pattern to the city and people’s leisure time have quite significantly changed. And certainly without, for many months, domestic and international national tourism in Australia and in Melbourne, border closures and other things. The weekdays have been very quiet for us, but the weekends have been enormously busy well beyond what we’re expected. And that’s created this very lived reality of that. We actually changed out our hours to cope with that. So we now open from 12 o’clock to five during the week. And from 10 o’clock to six on weekends, but for school visits, we opened from 9 o’clock to 12 during the week for booked school visits, which is something we didn’t previously do. In the before times school visitors would be going through the galleries in the mornings during the week at the same time as tourists and other visitors would. And there would be that tension that is created between groups of school kids, and tourists coming in wanting to have a quieter gallery experience. And it’s been interesting that by adjusting with COVID realities, we’ve been able to cater for both groups. And our visitor experience staff too. They really do prioritize a great visitor experience for all, but the operating model now supports that better. And I guess, linked to that too, the sense that we were able to be more nuanced around how we sort of support visitors with different kinds of needs. So we have low sensory times slots as well for visitors with sensory requirements, where we have the lighting up higher, and we have less sound and all of this.
The pandemic coupled with our redevelopment, coupled with the organizational shift around thinking, and the prioritization of that visitor experience has allowed us to achieve some of those things that I think we always wanted to achieve, but the building and the operating model got in the way.
Angie: I’ve seen so many attractions change their opening hours to the post COVID world, that being one of the most impactful changes that they’ve made in reopening… but that’s genius to bring in the schools separately because it really helps the experience of both the kids and the other visitors, neither of which sometimes do well at the same time.
Seb: Also for, for teachers too, they really love this sense that the schools get a special experience too, and also in a COVID world it makes it easier for parents to feel that their kids are safe and they won’t be with anyone else who isn’t part of the school community.
Angie: Behind the scenes, I’ve heard a few whispers of what your team have been building out, what you’ve dubbed as an ‘experience operating system’ or xOS. What is the vision for that?
Seb: Yeah, the xOS is something that came from when Greg Turner was working as our CTO on the renewal. And it was really about giving a name to quite a disparate set of middleware, the different back of house systems to connect to each other. So a lot of legacy systems systems in terms of collection management and ticketing, particularly, but also legacy websites and the xOS now connects those systems to each other, but also to all the new gallery infrastructure. And has spun out some things around temperature and condition monitoring, IP and license management, all sorts of things that were never in the original scope, but became necessary as part of that. If everything is connected up in a lightweight way, there are all these other benefits if you connect these other adjacent things up.
The xOS continues to grow, but it’s a network of interconnecting bricks to connect other Lego blocks together. And it’s, you know, relatively unique to us in that we couldn’t just give xOS to another museum, it’s more a philosophical approach.
There are of course productized units of that. So the temperature and condition management suite is available for other museums to use and similarly, some of the connectors to proprietary systems. And also of course the infrastructure that sits around the Lens. So the way the lens works, as NFC device has a series of readers, which are physical microcomputers with software running on them. Those are also productizable as well. So it’s a mix. The xOS has sort of a a brand umbrella to cover a complex network of little things.
Angie: Seb, you mentioned the Lens earlier, this physical disc shaped souvenir that deliberately looks like a ViewMaster slide, that visitors receive when they come to the museum and they then tap to collect these things that they’re enjoying to take ACMI home with them, maybe pin it on their fridge and come back to what they enjoyed later and share. What lessons did you take from the ‘Pen’ at Cooper Hewitt and your strategy forward for the Lens and ACMI?
Seb: The ‘Pen’ at Cooper Hewitt was constrained by the technical realities and production realities of that period of time. And the specific context of Cooper Hewitt, very early on in that, that we did originally want to give visitors a pen to take home with them. But of course the manufacture, the physical reality of that costs, the manufacturing and all the other things meant that was never going to be possible. But it was always the idea, that if you could give something to someone that they took home, that would be much, much better than giving them something to borrow that then they took a proxy home, like a code on a ticket for. And so when we did the one that could have a travelling exhibition, to New Zealand, to Te Papa (the National Museum of New Zealand) to Art Science in Singapore as well, a local design and art company came up with a thing called the map, which we used in that exhibition. It was a take home folding piece of paper that did magical things with technology. And we found that that worked really well. And visitors really excited about getting this souvenir-able thing, and the Lens then evolved from a much more optical device as was originally in the master planning in 2016, 2017 to this ViewMaster style souvenir piece. It’s really the size of a compact disc or a DVD. And there’s that Blue-Ray disc, I guess now even physical media is a bit weird, but yeah, this points to the physicality of visual of screen screen culture too. So it’s got nice messages built into it.
It’s a beautiful thing, but it works similar to the ‘Pen’, except it doesn’t have batteries. So the battery, the power is in the walls. Something we couldn’t do at Cooper Hewitt rather (the power was independent at Cooper Hewitt). So it really extends that. And I think the other thing that we’ve done that the experience of doing Cooper Hewitt definitely attuned me to, the production realities that manufacturing physical products is really hard, particularly in any sense of scale. And that was something in the early days of Cooper Hewitt, we were working with Local Projects and we were all at that moment, you know, we’re talking 2012, there was that big boom on Kickstarter where everybody was doing physical, small round manual manufacturing projects, lots of artists, a lot of designers, a lot of creative people were like, ‘wow, we can actually do physical menu manufacturing now’. And 3D printing was hype and all of this sort of stuff, but actually it turns out that making things and shipping them to people as physical things is really, really hard. And we saw through 2013, 14, and 15, that a lot of those Kickstarter projects blew out or didn’t ship at all. You know, manufacturing is really hard, but the Cooper Hewitt experience, my team there and working with all our collaborators there it was such a great experience in understanding or beginning to understand the challenges and the opportunities of bespoke manufacturing in the museum space.
Also the absolute criticality of on boarding and the visitor experience in integration around bringing something new in to a museum experience. That sense that a museum visitor arrives at a museum, not expecting to be given a pen or map or lens, they don’t expect that to be a key part of what they do nor do they necessarily get how it works.
And so certainly the importance of designing user journey around that product, it’s super important. And that’s something we worked really hard on with the teams that at here with the Lens and Lucy Patterson’s team has done a huge amount of evolution around that and thinking around ‘How does that work? How do we communicate that to visitors? What a visitors doing with it?’. What we learned from Cooper Hewitt, the effort pays off many times over because people remember it. And even when it only partially works they’re are excited about ‘this is different from other museums’.
I got a lovely message from a museum colleague who works at AMNH New York, the natural history across the road from Cooper Hewitt, who had been doing some visitor research and was speaking to some teenagers in New York last year. Some of them actually mentioned, ‘I went to this amazing museum where you got this pen thing and it did all this stuff, it was so cool’. And I was like, wow, that is success because that is the thing the kid remember remembers and associates with that museum experience. And it’s something that if we’re going to diversify who visits museums and who is inspired by your museums, we need to make museums feel special and different from each other. And it isn’t just what’s in the museum, it is the experience of them. Part of the museum also has got to be unique and useful and usable.
So the Lens really leans in on that and pushes hard around this sort of sense of you’re in a museum of screen culture, you should be able to take things home to watch. Of course you should, you’re at a museum of film, TV and games. If you come to the museum, you should expect that you are going to go home and watch or play more things on screens. That’s the point. And I think the Lens does that pretty well, you know? It’s evolved a lot from the complexity of the ‘Pen’ and it’s very simple and works very well.
Greg Turner and the team did a huge amount of work on getting the feedback when you touch the Lens to a label, to be very snappy. We’re talking shaving microseconds off an interaction, but when you’re doing that 40 times in a day, those microseconds add up. And it’s been really interesting to see how that last 10% of design finesse pays off.
Angie: It is the ultimate challenge, isn’t it? This new CXO era, when faced with these new generations coming through of bringing these two things together, the hybrid: the physical visit and the digital experience, whether you’re having a digital experience during your physical visit or coming back to your physical visit through your digital connection.
Seb: The obvious thing everyone asks is ‘why isn’t it just on people’s phones’. And that was a question we were asked in New York, too. All of the time. ‘Why isn’t this just an app, can’t I do that with my phone?’. I’ve often come back to that question and I would always say, ‘but you do that on your phone, in the rest of your life’.
It is not special. The phone is no longer magical. And in fact, what we want to do is create experiences within museums when everything else is accessible and should be accessible, you want to create unique experiences within museums that are memorable and different from the outside world.
I was talking way back in 2016, again, during this master planning phase. There’s some drawings of some of the meetings that we had in those early days. And you know, this sort of sense of the museum as a magic circle and visitors attaining superpowers, when they come into the museum that they don’t have in the outside world. When you come to the museum, what is the special thing that gives you superpowers while you’re there that then changes your life when you leave… and just putting things on a phone , it doesn’t do that. That’s just like work or school or hanging out, like, that’s fine, but it’s not different. That really changes how people perceive the difference of the museum to the rest of their lives. That difference is important and that difference matters because that’s what helps museum visitors achieve, boost their curiosity or engage them with whatever the museums try and get to them.
Angie: I love that. It’s the ultimate bullet to the question of, ‘doesn’t digital take away from the fact that the visitor wants to visit?’. I love that giving them super powers is the thing that makes that visit special and not. What’s next for you and the team at Acme? Where to from here?.
Seb: I think COVID, it’s obviously changed a lot of the, the realities of the future. The other thing I should’ve mentioned in the redevelopment was the significant new focus on first nations storytelling and self representation. Telling local stories has been even more critical now. Those local stories and the nature of those stories and who gets to tell those stories has also accelerated during COVID and it’s brought out many of the social inequities in our society. And is very well-placed now with technologies. It’s new programming, for the affordances and the architectural affordances of the physical space itself and of our digital spaces in Gallery Five. It’s really well set up to continue to allow different and new and emerging things to be experimented with. Quicker and more cheaply than ever before.
And I think that’s really where we’re at now, where we’re taking stock of how things have been and how things are being used. And we are evolving those for all the future exhibitions and all the future programming. So you’ll see when Lens integration with all of the ex exhibitions we have coming in and we’re building ourselves over the next couple of years and also evolving. I’m doing a lot of work around accessibility: what are some of the accessibility affordances that the Lens brings, which was some stuff that was originally planned in the redevelopment.. But we did quicker solves for those, so automatic captioning and things like that. But what we can now offer again with the Lens, which needs further software development for a lot more synchronization to people’s own devices for accessibility reasons. And also this greater extension into what Katrina calls multi-platform museums. So the development of Gallery Five and Cinema Three, these initiatives that really sprung out of COVID and the need for us to deliver infrastructure and content and programming through purely digital channels. Those will continue. And of course the integration of that into how we program and how we think about things, is that multi-platform? This is now baked in. It’s still a little way to go, but when people are thinking about a talk series or commission or whatever it is, how is this going to work across the national regional international reach that – network delivered program brings but also deliver specifically within the building too. And it’s that hybridness that I think is interesting and is challenging. We know from the music world and music streaming and the infinite Zooms, we’re on every day still that there are different challenges there, and there are different levels of visitor tolerance.
If I’ve spent the day on Zoom as I have today, I’m not interested in going to a talk on Zoom at seven o’clock, but maybe that I can watch that talk on the weekend. That will be great. So, you know, there’s lots of new things emerging. I’ve talked for more than, more than a decade now about the time wallet visitors engaging with museums and anything really has. So a visitor leaves their house with a certain amount of time in their wallet. And it’s how they spend that time. That matters and the return that they as a visitor get on that time matters too. And I think that’s the same with these multi-platform experiences as well.
And trying to figure out the affordances and the boundaries of those. And of course, all of the other stuff, digital arts, going through a pretty exciting moment now. And there’s a lot of questions about how hard it is to get paid. And again, there’s a lot of questions and it’s difficult to imagine a different world at the moment, but we need to, because COVID is really the trial for climate change and climate crisis.
We need to get better at collectively working together and at a global scale, distributed and synchronously as well. There’s lots of stuff in there. And what does that mean for museums? They’ve got to play a huge part in that or contribute in some way.
Angie: It is the perfect charge for us to finish on and thank you much for that incredible walk through all the amazing things that you have accomplished with your team and the redevelopment and reopening and wishing you all the best for that secondary opening now and November.
Seb: It’s been great to chat. This has always been the work of large teams and many other people. None of this is my work, it’s always collective.
Angie: And I’m going to go and find your mother’s pavlova recipe.
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