Saturday, May 31, 2008

Technology in the Arts Conference, Waterloo ON

I spent May 8-10 in the city of Waterloo, Ontario. This conference was very different from the two in April in that it wasn't just for museum people. There were attendees from all aspects of the Arts field, from the film industry to visual arts. Having the opportunity to hear about other groups' projects and how they use technology in their work had everyone frantically taking notes and exchanging business cards.

During Ken Coates’ (Dean of Arts) opening address and welcome to the University of Waterloo, he reminded the group that “what you do, that no technology can offer, is life”. While it can and should be used to enhance our activities, there will always be a desire to experience things firsthand and in living colour.

I attended a session on podcasting, as this is something that PEI has done with their community museums and CHIN is eager to fund more projects like it. We got to play around with recording & editing sound clips, and while this may sound complicated or intimidating, it was surprisingly easy to do.

Embarking on this kind of a project obviously means that you need to buy a microphone. While some people would suggest that you buy the most expensive and high-quality microphone you can afford, the session instructors took a different approach. If it sounds good when you play the clip back, it works fine. That said, Belkin and Samson are two brands that come highly recommended.

If conducting interviews it is a good idea to buy two microphones, one for the interviewer and one for the interviewee. By using Skype you can conduct interviews online and use the plug-in called “Pamela” to record the call. While this may slightly diminish the quality, it is a great way to access experts and other long-distance people for free.

If you have the time and resources, you can release regular podcasts and have them show up in the ITunes store by submitting the url feed. This can help to build a subscriber base to your organization, and therefore more interest, but only if you can generate more podcasts on a regular basis.

Social Networking
Facebook, MySpace…what is it with the obsession over social networking sites? As I mentioned in the CMA update, museums are starting to get on the bandwagon and use these extremely popular sites to their advantage. The fact is that Canadians spend more time online than any other population. Statistics also show that people tend to visit between 7-10 websites each day, which means that building a big site for yourself won’t grab your audience as much as embedding yourself on a major utility site. Not to mention the fact that every time a site links to your main website, it makes you site look more important to search engines.

Social networking should never replace your own website, but it can definitely help to augment your online presence. As Michele Perras stated, “Media are not extensions of ourselves but interfaces with experiences”. These sites can provide you with the opportunity to engage your audience and find out what they want to see in museums in new and exciting ways. Instead of using visitor surveys, you can facilitate discussions online. Your community and audience will then feel more connected and involved, increasingly the likelihood of real visits to the museum.

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