The Indianapolis Museum of Art and The Indiana State Museum

12 Feb

When I began thinking about the two museums whose digital presence I would analyze, I decided to use this assignment as an excuse to finally visit the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA). I then decided that the Indiana State Museum would provide a decent comparison for the IMA as both institutions are large yet they contain very different artifacts. Moreover, given the breadth of the State Museum’s collections, I knew I would easily be able to compare the two institutions. What I discovered in my perusal was that both museums had relatively few digital interactives in the physical museums and a high degree of museumness overall.[1]

I expected the IMA would have a digital installation or something of that nature. However, as I walked around the museum, there was no digital presence in their halls. They do have a theater where they show old films, but that seemed to be the only digital aspect of the building. I still greatly enjoyed my visit. It clearly is a well-funded institution, and I always love observing a good Chippendale high chest.

When I went home, I discovered the IMA’s impressive website and realized I had missed the digital presence in the building. They have an awesome iPhone application. As I do not have access to that technology, I could not participate. However,the discussion about the more engaging environment it creates is intriguing.[2] I was happy to discover on the website that their collection is searchable and fairly high quality images are provided. Most notably, I learned that the IMA has a digital lab working on numerous cutting edge projects. The exhibit microsites, for example, are impressive and add depth the museum’s ability to interpret artifacts. These kinds of sites cannot be built for every exhibition but can add longevity to the life of important exhibits and increase the museum’s reach exponentially.

My re-exploration of the Indiana State Museum differed greatly from what I found at the IMA. I discovered the State Museum had a few digital offerings in the museum, including in the Amazing Maize exhibit. The games in Amazing Maize attempt to explain complex scientific theories on genetics in simpler terms. As Henry Jenkins, Eric Klopfer, Kurt Squire, and Philip Tan found in a study, students who played a science game tested, on average, 20% better than those students who did not play the simulation game.[3] The digital components in the other galleries were short videos on various important people.

The website for the Indiana State Museum is less interactive than the IMA’s and seems to be primarily an advertising platform rather than a tool to further engage visitors. This is also a valid use of a institution’s presence online. I found the site’s connection to other historic sites around the state useful. No doubt that feature helps build an audience around the state. My favorite aspect of the website was the trivia offered on the side of most of the pages. Nevertheless, I think there is opportunity for growth in the State Museum’s web design. The museum already paid to have the games and videos created. I think it would be helpful if some kind of platform could be created to make those things available on the web. Science classes could use the teosinte/corn game and social science teachers might be interested in the short clips the museum made on Tecumseh. Granted, this would require a larger investment in the infrastructure of their webpage, but as the institution already paid for the production of these resources, they could extend the experience for those people who did not want to take the time in the museum to watch the full video or play the full games.

Both the IMA and the Indiana State Museum had well constructed buildings and websites that allowed visitors to navigate with ease and maintained a professional and educational feel. The main aspect of maintaining a high degree of museumness is to emphasize learning over entertainment.[4] Both of these institutions valued imparting knowledge over “fun.” However, these two museums differed greatly in their use of digital technology. The IMA invested a lot into their presence on the web rather than interactive displays in the brick-and-mortar museum. The State Museum invested in games and onsite videos but uses their website simply as public relations platform. Regardless, it is clear that the digital environment is something that both institutions invested money and staff resources into creating.

[1] The term museumness is used to describe whether a site maintains the feel and stereotypical aesthetics of a museum. Angeliki Antoniou, George Lepouras, and Costas Vassilakis, “A Methodology for the Design of Online Exhibitions,” DESIDOC Journal of Library and Information Technology (accessed February 10, 2013).

[2] iPhone and iPad applications are becoming increasingly popular. My concern with this technology is that it limits a museum’s audience. Smart phones with data plans place income constraints on visitors and further alienate potential visitors who cannot afford those technologies. I realize the goal is to attract more technologically savvy visitors, but that comes at a cost if museums do not provide the infrastructure to use the applications onsite. The nice thing about the IMA’s Art Babble application is that it can also be accessed on their website even if their Tap application cannot be. Although, the following study is somewhat dated, it shows the general promise most professionals see in using the technology patrons are supposed to be carrying in their pockets. Matthew Petrie and Loic Tallon, “The Iphone Effect? Comparing Visitors’ and Museum Professionals’ Evolving Expectations of Mobile Interpretation Tools,” in Museums and the Web 2010: Proceedings (Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, 2010).

[3] Henry Jenkins, Eric Klopfer, Kurt Squire, and Philip Tan, “Entering the Education Arcade,” AMC Computers in Entertainment 1 no. 1 (October, 2003): 6.

[4] Antoniou, Lepouras, Vassilakis, 4.


5 Responses to “The Indianapolis Museum of Art and The Indiana State Museum”

  1. angelabpotter February 16, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

    I am glad you were able to visit the IMA, as it is a favorite of mine. I was interested to hear your perspective on their in-house digital environment as a non smart-phone user. I too was really irritated how a smart phone seemed to be necessary for interacting in the modern world until I got one. Using my phone/tablet all of the time now, it is interesting how quickly these former irritations are replaced by advocacy. The IMA used to have a very exclusive reputation but they have worked hard to increase the range of people attending the museum. It is interesting to think that they may have erected new walls while tearing down others. I think that there is not enough signage about the mobile aps, and I think they even have handhelds available to use at the visitor desk. There is always such a tug-of-war in art museums between aesthetics and information.

    I was also intrigued by your idea of different purposes of the website. After spending a lot of time on different museum websites, when am I a “virtual visitor” and what am I looking for in my visit. I would agree that you can recieve a richer virtual visit to the IMA than the ISM. When visiting virtually, I am not only looking for ace’s to information but many of the same amenities of visitation, “museumness,” that I find in the bricks and mortar museum. (Without the bathrooms.) While these virtual visitors do not add to the bottom line, I am sure that the increased incremental costs will significantly improving their educational mission. Providing visitation information is a “legitimate” purpose for the ISM website. In this time of reduced field trips, I would agree that a museum that purports to serve all 92 of Indiana’s counties would benefit from expanding their information for virtual visitors.

    I really appreciate the perspective that you bring to your blog posts.

  2. jkalvait February 16, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    Angie, I wish I would have known the visitor desk had handhelds. I can see why you like the IMA! It was a lovely institution. But, I can also understand why some people would feel uncomfortable there. My experience with navigating the space and interacting with the staff was slightly uncomfortable.

    Have you used the digital application while at the IMA? As I have played with other people’s iPhones and iPads, I know that they are amazing tools. But, I am also in the habit of watching others around me while visiting a museum. At the IMA I did not see anyone on their devices looking like they were partaking in a digital experience. If I had, perhaps I would have asked the desk if I could somehow access the fun. Thank you for your insights!

  3. ngoodlin February 18, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    Did you happen to visit the top floor while you were at the IMA? Where the modern art exhibits are? I argue in my post that some of the exhibits up there should be considered as digital enhancements to the existing museum. Several of the exhibits utilized electronic technologies like microphones or TVs, and encouraged the audience to actively participate with them. This is perhaps a less conventional style of digital media, but I think it is an analogous model that reflects the aesthetic style of the museum. There was also a row of iPads bolted to a wall that each had a different video interview with an artist on them–perhaps they were running the app, but I don’t know because I’m also not a smart phone user. It was definitely a limited stab at on-site digital technologies, but I think it’s an important evolution of the traditional design of art museums.

    • jkalvait February 19, 2013 at 3:22 am #

      Noah, I did see the modern exhibits. I will not lie to you though, that is where I spent the least amount of time. While I noticed the TVs, and installations that used certain pieces of media, that still was not quite the digital I expected. I walked into the IMA having just had a conversation about the C21 Hotel Museum in Louisville, where you actually interact with the digital art in a far more personal way. There is a piece with falling letters or numbers, and your mass is picked up and they do not hit where you stand. Meaning, they bounce off of you in the digital world. After hearing that described to me, the microphone did not do much to inspire me and as you saw in my post, I did not even think of it as being really digital.

      Your point about progress is well-received. Perhaps, I was a little harsh. However, I think more progress could be made to help those of us who are without a smartphone engage more. Moreover, I do not think the “digital” components should be kept only in the modern art areas. You have given me more to consider though. Thanks, Noah!


  1. Meeting the Needs of Museum Audiences: Can Digital Technology Help? « Digital History - February 14, 2013

    […] both institutions have room for improvement, although the functionality of each was fairly solid. I agree with my classmate Jenny Kalvaitis that the Indiana State Museum’s website is geared more towards public relations rather than […]

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