For my digital history project I created an alpha version of a website that allows both scholars and non-scholars to explore past, current, and upcoming art exhibitions in Washington, D.C. It provides users with three different means to search exhibitions by and they are: institution, location or artists. Additionally, the search bar at the top right corner of the site allows the users to find exhibitions by artistic style, time period, or medium. This early version of the website provides general information about two institutions, a summary and suggestions for further reading for 42 exhibitions, and a list of 18 artists. It also includes a CartoDB map with the locations of 54 art museums and galleries in Washington, D.C. and an up to date calendar of exhibitions currently on view.
The inclusion of past and present exhibition in Washington, D.C. invites both a scholarly and non-scholar audiences to access the site. This website can be helpful for art historians who are interested in the history of a particular art institution or artist. Since each exhibition has a summary and additional readings for the artists and exhibitions this website can be an easy beginning point for undergraduates or younger scholars research projects. Also, looking at the different exhibition offered in Washington, D.C. over a particular period in time can also be useful for historians, art historians, or cultural studies scholars researching topics such as collective memory or shifts in museum practices.
This website is beneficial to a variety of non-scholarly users as well. The most common non-scholarly users would be tourists, art enthusiasts, or museumgoers wanting to see current or upcoming art exhibits. As of currently, if this group of people were trying to find an art exhibit that interests them can either check a specific institutions’ website or look at a local newspaper or magazine’s website. One problem with this method is that they must already know the name of an institution or local publishing first, in order to find out what exhibitions are being offered. If they do not know, then they could also “Google” this information, but often times only the names of major art institutions will come up as immediate options. In conclusion, currently there is not an efficient method for art museum and galleries visitors to find exhibitions in Washington, D.C.
There are websites that list all the art museums and galleries in Washington, D.C. such as Wikipedia, Artcyclopedia, Washington.org, Yelp, dcist.com, and US Museums Explorer. However, these websites just give you general information on the museums like its address, contact information, and social media sites. On these websites users cannot see what is currently on exhibit at the museum and in some cases these sites do not tell what type of art the institution focuses on. If a non-scholar is trying to find an exhibit in the Washington, D.C. they can use the website Evenetbrite. Eventbrite is helpful because it can show you current art exhibits in Washington, D.C. but it only focuses on current events, includes thousands of other events such as concerts or sporting events that a user may have to shift through, and does not provide users with additional scholarly reading about the exhibit or the artist in the exhibit. These features are important for my site because the purpose of this website is not only for non-scholarly users to more easily find art exhibits and scholars to find research material but also to help those people working in museums and galleries to better engage with their visitors. With each exhibition description there is space for users to add comments or post to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. For museums and galleries this could be a great space to gather feedback on an exhibit. Allowing users to link the exhibition information through their social media accounts can help spread the news about an upcoming exhibit or provide the visitor with information about the show before they see it. This also gives smaller art institutions exhibitions more exposure. In the edited collection Digital Technologies and the Museum Experience Peter Samis writes an essay titled “Exploded Museum” where he argues that integrating technology into exhibitions is important both for scholars and non-scholars. He states:
“The promise of these new technologies, then, is dual: if they can be made effortless and transparent enough, they can help art ideas to penetrate more effortlessly into visitor’s lives, to aid visitors in processing and digesting these ideas and images in their own personal terms. Conversely, new technologies can also open museums to the multiplicity of meanings that our objects trigger in the community of views—meaning we haven’t yet dreamed of and which stand to be richer and far more diverse than the art historical discourse that is our stock-in-trade.”
I think Samis’ point about creating a more diverse art historical discourse by including visitor’s perspective is something to be more seriously considered by scholars. By exploring the visitor’s perspective from their social media account or website reviews one can see the power an art institution has to create knowledge, or not.
In order to engage both a scholarly and non-scholarly audience this website needs to not only have valuable art historical information and resources; it also needs to be well designed. This was the most difficult part of creating this website. I reorganized my data in about a hundred different ways until I came to the point I am at now. The reason I kept reworking my data is because I wanted my site to be easily navigated and I felt like the only way I could do that was to keep trying it out on my friends and siblings to see how it was being used. To be honest I’m still not sure if the layout that I have right now is the best option, but I do think that a person could use the website without me telling them what to do. Yet, like I said to get to this point I did a lot to changing and reorganizing.
In my original plan I stated I wanted to build this website on Omeka, however as I began to think more about my project and audience I reconsidered this application. My understanding of Omeka is that it is for organizing items into collections and exhibitions online. This was difficult for me to work in for my website because my “items” were exhibitions and artists, the art institutions were “exhibits”, and the years were “collection”. Ignoring the mixed up naming system, this was hard for me because there were multiple “items” (exhibits) that lasted more than one year and a collection only allows an item to appear in one collection.
Although Omeka was not workable for me, throughout the course of this semester I saw some really great websites built on Omeka, such as Histories of the National Mall. This site guided the organization of my site into its three search options, “Museums and Galleries”, “Location”, and “Artist”. I decided to use WordPress because it allowed me use a plug-in to make exhibitions into events. These events could then be added to any page, as many times as I wanted. My website needs to stay updated on when exhibitions begin and start throughout the year. The plug-in I ended up using to organize exhibitions on a calendar was Time.ly. I thought using a plug-in like this would make it easy to maintain the site in the future and if I wanted to pay the extra $30 I can important a CSV of my events. Since most art institutions have their exhibitions planned years in advance, if I want to continue with this project I could gather their exhibitions lists for the upcoming year put them all on the calendar at one time and then just monitor the site until the following year. I also added Time.ly as a widget to my sidebar so users could quickly view current exhibitions.
In addition to being easily navigated a well designed website also has to be visually appealing to your audience. Doing personas for our project helped me not only decided who my target audience would be, but also how to visually appeal to them. From my personas, I came to the conclusion that the majority of the people using my site were going to be very familiar with the Internet and would have been exposed to contemporary visual designs. With this in mind, I found it important to choose a theme that was not overused or outdated. I probably spent more time on visual appearance of my website than most people, but I thought that since I was using this website to provide current information, my website can have an immediate validity if my visual design is contemporary. However, I understand that this idea could work the opposite way for some scholars, but since this website is targeted to a non-scholarly audience and a scholar audience that is very comfortable with the Internet, visual design carried more weight.
Although I was able to figure out an easy way to easily maintain my website in the future, another obstacle that I face is how to get people to visit and use my website. I think creating a Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook account for the website might be a one answer to this problem. On these accounts I could make posts about an upcoming exhibition or share published reviews. I could also create post that share past exhibitions by doing the cliché “on this day in 19??”. Another solution to this problem could be to reach out to the art galleries and museums I have on my website. I could ask them if they wanted to contribute any information, make a guest post about one of their exhibits, or ask them to mention me on their social media accounts.
Ideally, I would like this website to cover all the art museums and galleries in United States. I think the history of exhibition themes in a particular area or during a specific time period is an understudied and interesting topic in art history or other fields. In 2010 Erika Doss wrote the book Memorial Mania were she argues that memorials show Americans’ obsession with memory and history and the need to publicly promote these issues. She also explores the political and personal agendas that drove and still drives “memorial mania”. I think similar research into exhibitions in the United States would present new perspectives on museums and the effects of their exhibits. For example, from 1942-1945 the National Gallery of Art had 4 shows exhibition artwork by members of the United States Military and 12 exhibitions on the topic of war. This is unusual in an art museum and could bring up some interesting questions. Did they do this because they were just opening and did not have a strong collection? What was visitors’ response? Was there a change in the museum field and these types of exhibitions were moved to military museums? Do any museums today show either these works together or new works on this topic?
Again, in addition to prompting interesting scholarly research this website is also useful for a non-scholarly audience simply because it makes them aware of art exhibits without having to check twenty different websites. Connecting with visitors and giving them an opinion in art exhibitions may not seem like academic work for some art history scholars, but if we ignore their voices and rely on only scholarly published art reviews we create silences in the future academic field.
 Peter Samis. “The Exploded Museum.” in Digital Technologies and the Museum Experience. Ed. Loic Tallon and Kevin Walker. (United Kingdom: AltaMira Press, 2008), 13.
After taking this class I feel like I have learned a great deal more about digital scholarship in the humanities and how to create. Honestly, it was tough at first because I came into the class with no real idea as to what digital history was or could be. My head was spinning after week 9, but now looking back at my blog post I noticed that the confusions I had when I wrote them is now gone. I can credit this to a few things my classmates’ blogs, class discussions, and the realization that this is a relatively new field/method (I still haven’t made up my mind on this) and that because of this is going to be confusion, but there is also excitement and people eager to help you along.