Art History, Computer Science major
2018-19 Lora Bryning Scholar
Recipient of the 2018 AHSS Summer Research Award
Faculty advisor: Kriszta Kotsis
Project Title: “Digital Media Technology in Art Museums” (2018)
Project Abstract: This study investigates why art museums utilize interpretive digital technologies in their exhibitions, focusing on how digital strategies impact visitor engagement. To answer these questions, I visited seven art museums in the United States—in Washington, Oregon, and California. At each location, I collected observational and qualitative data through interviews with members of staff, including curators, interpretive media specialists, and museum educators. Additionally, I toured each site and reviewed any related online content. A comparative analysis of the seven museums revealed a diverse number of digital strategy approaches, even amongst similar institutions, with a greater digital integration level in special exhibitions. This trend is indicative of the economic realities that force museums to pick and choose where they integrate digital content, as the process of producing in-gallery technology is time-consuming, labor-intensive, and costly. The concentration of efforts in special exhibition galleries suggests a hierarchy of digital integration, privileging special exhibitions over the permanent collection within the physical space of the museum. Although most museums in the study have websites that allow virtual visitors to engage with the permanent collection, the striking lack of digital interpretive materials for permanent collections in the physical gallery spaces de-emphasizes the importance of these works to visitors who enter the museum without prior knowledge. This leads to notable differences in access to information where visitors with less knowledge of art history are disadvantaged, entrenching pre-existing social and educational divisions.