The COVID-19 pandemic has affected how cultural institutions interact—not just with their communities but with the spaces they inhabit. Suddenly, the capacity for digital innovation has become more critical than ever as museums try to find new ways to connect with the public. One strategy for responding to these changing dynamics is through digital adoption and adaption that builds audiences through inclusivity, creates innovative visitor experiences, and augments relevancy and social impact.
The Lowe Art Museum | University of Miami program GeoMuseUM is a new technological initiative highlighting over thirty public sculptures on the Coral Gables campus that responds to the changing needs of our community. Outdoor exploration and social interaction have become paramount activities in response to COVID-19 and that underscores GeoMuseUM’s agency and relevancy. The platform is used to learn about existing art, create new art, and as a stress-reducing activity that can provide healthy outlets for anxiety and feelings of isolation.
Central to the project are concepts of co-creation between faculty, students, and museum staff; integration of visual art and GIS (Geographic Information System) technology; and an iterative approach to development. Iteration is an approach that has fostered continuous improvement and expansion to the project while making the Museum more agile and responsive to the needs of our community. The iterative lens of GeoMuseuUM has also allowed us to go from being predictive and deterministic to running a continuous experiment that perpetually engages new partners for co-creation.
Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation CREATE Grants Program, the project began with Dr. Diana Ter-Ghazaryan and Professor Lien Tran who were working with a team of students to collect highly accurate GPS coordinates of University of Miami (UM) public sculptures. They prototyped an interactive map and app solution to enhance the discoverability of these sculptures for the UM community and campus visitors. Using technology platforms already available at UM, Dr. Ter-Ghazaryan and Professor Tran collaborated and led the design of geolocative, interactive solutions that created a virtual and updateable presence for the sculpture program.
Students also assisted with the initial development of GeoMuseUM. A diverse team of five UM students (Jacqueline Dubois, Alia Giolitti, Michael Leyva, Casey Lue, and Laura Miller) worked on data collection and (GIS) tasks as well as with branding, graphic design, and interaction design. The team collected highly accurate GPS coordinates for precise wayfinding of the sculptures and created a mapping layer that has been used in the prototypes. In addition to the core team of five student assistants, forty-eight students in two sections of Professor Tran’s and one section of graduate student Laura Miller’s Interaction Design courses prototyped key functionality of the app’s user experience (UX) and user interface (UI). For the final product, the team collaborated with William Jattin, a web and software developer in UM central communications, on a custom web app, using a CMS codebase he had already created.
This exploration led to the August 2020 launch of the GeoMuseUM geolocative web app and sculpture guide created in coordination with the Lowe Art Museum. Visitors to this online resource connect to the university campus through physical spaces; locate and learn about public sculptures and the artists who created them; and participate in art, health, and well-being while they explore the campus and its natural environment.
The project continues to attract new partners who experiment with how the project could inspire new creative works. Drs. Melvin Butler and Brent Swanson from UM’s Frost School of Music assigned their Experience Music course students to utilize GeoMuseUM for wayfinding and information. Each of the one hundred forty students selected a sculpture, studied it either in-person or virtually, and “sculpted” their own original musical composition in response. Students then recorded a short piece of this original music (between one and two minutes long) inspired by the sculpture they chose. The compositions could be solo, duet, or trio in format. Each student was also asked to submit a paragraph describing how the musical or sonic “sculpture” was inspired or informed by its corresponding visual art. These submissions were then curated by faculty, and some examples were added to the platform as a new immersive resource for users of GeoMuseUM.
From the outset, this project was meant to be inclusive and welcoming—not only to currently affiliated UM constituents but also to prospective students, their families, and campus visitors. In fact, we imagined the project as a tool for visitors to discover various areas of campus. For example, as art aficionados come to campus to explore the sculptures and learn more about them, they would also take in the rest of UM’s beautiful campus and learn about its legacy and history. One additional plan we have is an initiative to crowdsource items and creations inspired by artwork in the Lowe Art Museum’s collection, and to feature those geolocatively as well, thereby making room for a multitude of voices. These ideas have involved collaborations with community members, Lowe Art Museum staff, and university faculty spanning the fields of performing arts, fine arts, math, and science.
Creating GeoMuseUM was a highly collaborative and complex exercise that relied on the knowledge and experience of a wide array of contributors in art, science, interactive media, geographic information systems, music and more. This allowed us to lean into a model of co-creation and iteration that allows the program to continue to evolve. Moving forward we have visions to add more resources to the platform such as: a virtual guide with video component resources, 3D documentation scans of sculptures, and the inclusion of student memories of campus life. In addition, we hope to collaborate with UM dance faculty and students to use the sculpture program as inspiration for dance performance and add video versions of those dances to the platform. We also aspire to have the platform used as a model for other disciplines such as horticulture to map and document plant life throughout the campus. GeoMuseUM is an exciting tool that we will continue to expand and learn from as we move forward.
About the author – Mark Osterman, Lien Tran & Dr. Diana Ter-Ghazaryan
Mark Osterman is a museum administrator, researcher, technologist and artist. He has a Doctor of Education with a research focus in arts, literacy and technology. Dr. Osterman has worked for The Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Museum of Art and Design, The Wolfsonian-FIU, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and currently at the Lowe Art Museum | University of Miami. His museum work has focused on strategic thinking, interpretive technology initiatives, curriculum development, and developing evaluation and assessment tools related to museum practice. Dr. Osterman has volunteered professionally by serving as a Board of Director for MCN, Conference Committee Chair for AAM EdCom, a Member of the Museum Education Division Peers Initiative for NAEA and as a Grant Reviewer & Panelist for Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs.
Lien Tran, Assistant Professor of Games and Design at the DePaul University’s School of Design in the College of Computing and Digital Media.
Dr. Diana Ter-Ghazaryan, GIS Research Associate, Florida International University