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The Edge Project is a Global Kids initiative funded by the MacArthur Foundation with a goal to expand the capacity of civic and cultural institutions to use new media as innovative educational platforms that engage youth in learning and promote youth civic participation. More specifically, the Edge Project is interested in civic and cultural institutions bringing cutting edge digital media into their youth educational programs.

1. Introducing Digital Media into Education Programming at The Noguchi Museum

An Edge Project Worked Example, the third in a series

Written by Rebecca Shulman Herz and Barry Joseph

Digital media is ubiquitous. According to The Pew Internet and American Life Project website, 35% of Americans own smartphones, and 47% of adults use social networking sites. Within art museums, patrons are often seen taking still and video images with a camera or phone, texting or sending a Twitter message to their friends, or listening to music while they view art. For each of these visitors, digital media informs and possibly transforms their museum experience.

Many museums use technology as well as print resources to “mediate,” or engage with the visitor in order to help them understand or appreciate the art on view. Museums often offer podcasts, smartphone apps, audio guides, or written and on-line information. This paper focuses on The Noguchi Museum in New York City, which offers visitors the opportunity to have an unmediated and individual experience with art, and places a high value on this offering. For example, the permanent display on the first floor does not include labels; the art is left up to the visitor to respond to and interpret. Few of the spaces include stanchions or glass vitrines, furthering the unmediated feeling of the space: the visitor can get very close to the art, with nothing between the art and him or herself. This is an unusual experience for a museum-goer, and one that The Noguchi Museum is wary of disrupting.

Noguchi Museum patrons carry cameras and cellphones, and expect to use digital tools to mediate their lives; many of them use these devices to play music, take pictures, share their experience with others, and look up information, both within the Museum and before and after their visit. This can be seen as an opportunity: how might the Museum build on the ubiquitous nature of these digital devices to attract and inform patrons? The Noguchi Museum maintains a web site and communicates via social media. Beyond this, however, how might the Museum use digital media to support and enrich the visitor experience without undermining the values of the Museum?

This question is even more immediate within the realm of youth programs, as teen use of and expectations for digital media use are high. Research from the Pew Research Center shows that 75% of teens own cell phones, nearly 80% own mp3 players, and nearly 70% use social networking sites. These statistics raise an intriguing question about teen expectations for digital experiences with in museum galleries, and in museum youth programs. Can a museum designed for “unmediated” experiences with non-digital art such as sculpture and design support youth to produce digital media projects that embrace and further the museum’s values?

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