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Interacting with the Tang on the Web

Posted: 04/06/2010

Assisted by a $200,000 grant from the Getty Foundation, the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery recently implemented a major upgrade of its award-winning Web site. It’s another step in the Tang’s goal to become a national model in making exhibitions easily accessible via such digital approaches as video commentaries and walk-throughs, panoramic 360-degree photography, and Web streaming of live events. In particular, the Tang’s efforts are aimed at capturing and preserving the teaching value of its exhibitions and collections, in keeping with the museum’s central mission.

The Getty grant— with additional support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Henry Luce Foundation—enabled the Tang recently to hire Victoria Riley, an experienced video and web producer, as its new digital resources producer. The grant also has funded the development of new Web features by designer Doug Lloyd and his team at Flat, the New York-based Web design firm that created the Tang’s site and has been working with the museum since 2005.

“We are tremendously excited by the capacities of the new site and how much more fully it allows us to reflect the nature of what happens at the Tang,” according to John Weber, the Tang’s Dayton Director. “We focus on new ways to share what our exhibitions really look and feel like, and we are bringing the voices of artists, visiting speakers, students and faculty to the site in a range of ways.”

So what’s new on the site? Barbara Melville, staff writer in the Office of Communications, recently spent a few hours on the site. Here’s her report on what’s coolest.

Interactive exhibition panoramas

These are at the top of my list. To test-drive the new feature, select Current Exhibitions on the menu bar and pick Amazement Park: Stan, Sara and Johannes VanDerBeek, then select “Installation Panoramas” from the “See Also” menu. (You’ll need broadband access to play.) Read the instructions below the image (and maybe jot down a few of the how-to’s), then click on the tiny green + in the navigation bar at the top of the image. Hold down your mouse and move it around. Voila! You virtually spin around the gallery, panning left or right, up or down. To zoom in for a closer look at an object or artwork, just press the “shift” button. To pull back out again, press “control.” You can virtually stroll through the exhibition, walk up close to an artwork to check out the brushstrokes, then step away again to see it whole and in context with the artworks on either side of it. This is exactly the experience the Tang is seeking to achieve.

Living artist videos

As a museum whose forte is contemporary art, the Tang shows many living artists. They not only provide works in a dazzling array of media to stock the galleries for exhibitions but also visit campus, take part in discussions, deliver illustrated talks, and sit down for video interviews like the three that appear on Brooklyn artist Fred Tomaselli’s exhibition site. To be able to hear the artists talk freely and informally about their art, their times, their artistic influences and how they go about their work —priceless. The artists tend to be honest, eloquent, and generous, offering illuminating details about their work and insider insights into their practice. (More videos can be found by selecting “Resources” in the left-hand column.)

New exhibitions pages with slideshows

For a good example of the newly beefed-up exhibition slideshows, go to the Fred Tomaselli exhibition site and look for the little green words “prev/next” at the top left of the navigation bar above the image of the artist’s spectacular painting, Untitled (Expulsion). Press “next” and up comes a detail of that work. Press “next” again and again to flip through 20 more images from the exhibition, each accompanied by the artwork’s title, year, and media information. The new slideshows offer an abundance of visual riches for students and art-lovers alike. To view an enlarged version of the slideshow press the green + in the upper right-hand corner of the image.

A new ‘Resources’ section

Tang director John Weber best explains this one: the new section, he points out, features “recently added content and direct access to streaming-video clips of events, audio features with artists and faculty, interactive features, and much more. As with the Exhibitions section, you can search past Resources postings by type, using either the right hand navigation or the green category listings at the bottom of each resource item.”

A new ‘Faculty and Teaching’ section

Here you can find examples of how Skidmore faculty use the museum as a resource for teaching, right down to the actual assignments given to Skidmore classes for particular exhibitions. An enterprising teacher anywhere on the planet could conceivably adopt one of these assignments, illustrate them with images from the related exhibitions, and build a complete lesson from it. For instance, a teacher in Peoria could say, “I want to teach my sixth-graders about penicillin”—and obtain a wealth of source material from the Tang’s Molecules That Matter exhibition, which is archived online. There may be no telling how often and how far a Tang exhibition might travel, or how many classrooms it might illuminate long after the actual exhibition has closed.

A new ‘Students and the Tang’ section

This section highlights Skidmore student involvement in the museum, from work opportunities to the projects and exhibitions organized by students to slideshows of past Thursday-night student events. “The Tang staff is working with Skidmore students to imagine how this section will grow in the future to fit the needs of the college crowd,” says Susi Kerr, the Tang’s senior museum educator. “The inclusion of a section for and about Skidmore students sends a real signal to our visitors about our respect for and appreciation of the involvement of Skidmore students at the Tang,” Kerr adds. “It’s common to find web resources devoted to K-12 audiences on museum websites, but not so common to find them for college students.”