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Hacking the Museum
November 21, 2013


Luce Hackathon

Last weekend, the Smithsonian American Art Museum opened up its doors and its data to a group of enthusiastic hackers. We were looking for help re-imagining the digital interpretation in the museum's visible storage facility, the Luce Foundation Center for American Art. The Luce Center displays around 3,000 artworks from the museum's collection in floor-to-ceiling glass cases. Visitors can currently access information about the artworks and artists through ten computer kiosks in the space. These kiosks are now several years old and in need of a refresh. They were developed before social media and mobile technology were widespread, so there are many opportunities for improvement!

The weekend began with a tour of the Luce Foundation Center and a demonstration of the existing kiosks. Then, after lunch, the hackers got to work. Museum staff and Smithsonian IT experts had created an API (application programming interface) that allowed the hackers to access and build applications on top of our collections data. Most participants worked in groups, combining programming skills with expertise in design and user experience to brainstorm and build prototypes.

Late on Sunday afternoon we asked everyone to wrap up and present their work to the group. There were nine submissions in total, and all of them were incredible! One team had imagined what the Luce Center would be like if every surface was a screen, and created an inspiring video that illustrated this idea. Several had built innovative mobile websites that searched the collection in unusual ways or allowed visitors to contribute their suggestions. Some groups had developed art-based games. You can explore all of the submissions and see the videos that each group submitted on our website, and see photographs from the event in our Flickr group.

The Luce Foundation Center plans to use some of these ideas to develop a new digital experience in the museum. Is there anything that you would like to see us do? Do you have a favorite submission? Let us know in the comments.

Posted by Georgina on November 21, 2013 in Museums & Technology


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