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Museums modernize with connective technology

By Max Burkhalter
October 27, 2016

In recent years, museum attendance rates have dropped significantly, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. Now, only 21 percent of American adults visit these institutions at least once a year. Why? Most art and culture lovers experience their favorite works via electronic devices. In fact, more than 70 percent possess these uniquely modern art engagement habits.

Sadly, this trend has forced museums to auction off their collections or pass up exciting new exhibitions to save some money. Now, many are on the brink of collapse, hungrily looking for ways to get younger generations through the door and stay afloat. Some have even turned to the web-enabled technology that threatens to destroy them.

Warhol meets Wi-Fi
In 2014 the Brooklyn Museum in Brooklyn, New York, embarked on an effort to install hundreds of Bluetooth-enabled beacons in its exhibition halls, according to a blog post published by the institution. Museum goers can connect to these stone-shaped devices via mobile apps and get location-based notifications that deliver essential information - including audio and video clips - on nearby artwork. These beacons not only allow patrons to engage with art via their preferred medium but also offer rich supporting content that wall labels simply cannot provide. Plus, they make it easier to navigate large institutions like the Brooklyn Museum, which boasts 560,000 square feet of exhibition space and contains more than 1.5 million works of art.

For enthusiasts from younger generations, this capability is crucial, as most prefer focused, fast-moving viewing experiences as opposed to plodding tours.

Beacons also benefit museums, enabling them to reallocate funds normally reserved for designing and printing wall labels to other projects, The New York Times reported. On top of that, they keep exhibitions fresh, enabling viewers to scroll through up-to-date information on the works they encounter, including applicable breaking news stories.

"The time required to compose and print graphic labels makes it impossible to be of-the-moment," Elizabeth Merritt, founder of the Center for the Future of Museums, told The Times. "Now you have the historical echo."

"Web-enabled devices will not only allow museums to succeed in a technology-driven world but also enrich the art viewing experience."

Of course, installing and supporting this technology is no easy task. Museums with their sights set on beacons must first expand their data-based infrastructure, which requires fundraising and implementing trial-and-error adoption workflows.

Selfies in the salon
In addition to adopting beacons and other wireless devices, cultural institutions are also embracing selfie culture, the Los Angeles Times reported. For instance, the Getty Center in Los Angeles is aggressively pro-selfie. Its administrators and gallery attendants encourage patrons to snap photos as they explore exhibitions. This stimulates web-based conversation and allows art lovers to participate in the creative process. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan has a similar stance. Though, its officials aren't fans of the selfie stick.

The museum selfie has become so popular that art lovers and professionals celebrate the act every year on Museum Selfie Day, CNN reported. The unofficial annual holiday takes place January 21.

Many in the curatorial field have come to realize that web-enabled devices will not only allow museums to succeed in a technology-driven world but also enrich the experience of viewing art in person.

"I think it's been proven over time that the use of technology in museums doesn't really detract from the experience of a work of art," Amy Heibel, vice president of technology for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, told the Los Angeles Times. "It's optional, but a lot of people are already doing it - posting selfies and starting conversations on social media. It's what they're using, and we want to meet them there."

Key hardware components such as fiber media converters help facilitate the wireless networks that make such activities possible. Perle offers a variety of managed and unmanaged fiber media converters that can extend copper-based Ethernet equipment over a fiber optic link, multimode to multimode and multimode to single mode fiber up to 160km.


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