VanGoYourself: One year on

This is an except of an interview about VanGoYourself on Europeana Pro, you can read the full text here.

Q: The project is now over a year old. Taking a moment to look back, what have been your main highlights during the year?

The biggest buzz has actually been seeing the recreations coming in from all over the world and realising that people have been inspired enough by the idea to actually take action and be creative. Sometimes people go to a lot of trouble, you can see that they have really thought about it and that makes me happy as it’s what the project is all about – connecting emotionally to art in a personal way.

Being invited onto the BBC’s Breakfast TV is also one of the high points. I was interviewed at the start of the show and we asked people to send in their recreations – and they did – dinner ladies, students, couples, all ages and all sorts.  I also managed to get the two presenters to have a go with a rather good result.

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Q: Can you tell us about some of the influential supporters you’ve attracted since you started out? How have different organisations and individuals reacted to the idea?

We now have 29 different museums from 13 different countries and more joining all the time –  from big nationals like the Rijksmuseum, National Gallery of Denmark and National Gallery of Ireland to smaller ones such as Royal Pavilion Museums, Villa Vauban and Stadtmuseum Simeonstrift Trier.  The key thing is that all the paintings from these different collections must be open licenced so we are restricted in what we can take and it is a slow process to convince the museum and gallery community that taking a more open approach to their content is the right one.  But I do think we are helping to shift peoples thinking in this area and people are realising how the possibilities for the reuse of collections can be really exciting and engaging. I’m really proud that in our own way we are helping to make the case for this kind of open approach and my belief is that this is only a temporary problem. In five to ten years the benefits of openness will be well understood and there will be more institutions allowing people to get creative with their content than not.

Q: What advice would you give to a creative or other similar kind of project starting out? What do you know now that you wish you’d known in May 2014? What might you do differently, if anything?

It’s hard work trying to build something new from scratch, grab people’s attention online and convince them to go and do something (in our case recreate a painting). Having an idea that you genuinely love, that you enjoy working on as the producer and that you have a connect too is really important. If you are going to pour your soul into something it has to be something that really moves you or going the extra mile just won’t happen.

Q: What were the biggest technical challenges to overcome when building the tools and website?

The biggest challenge was not to over complicate it. There is always a tendency to think we could add this and that and link to this information etc.  But all of this just complicates the core idea and often confuses the user. The need to add more is often about meeting the needs of the organisation making the thing, and not the needs of the audience.  I am really pleased that we managed to fight off this urge and keep the ideas really simple and focussed.

Q: There are all sorts of people on VanGoYourself, from the very young to the more distinguished. Do you gather any statistics about who is using it, where and when?

One of the great things about the project is that you can literally see your audience in the recreations they submit and there really is a broad range of ages and types of people – teenagers, kids, hipsters, groups of friends, business colleagues, couples and of course the many selfies!

Each month the site gets around four thousand visits and other than those that just come in from somewhere to view one page and leave, the rest on average stay for five minutes and look at four to five pages each. The percentage of people who then go on to VanGoThemselves is about 2% which is kind of average percentage for this high level of engagement required.

Q: What does the future hold for VanGoYourself? What’s in store for it next?

Our ambition is to get 100 more paintings onto the site from across Europe and to champion the value of releasing cultural content on open licenses. We want to create a shift in how museums and galleries think about their digital collections and show them that they can have more value if they are open to reuse.

But most of all we want to get more people VanGoing themselves and would love to see the project become synonymous with having fun with art. I’d like to see museums all over the world holding their own VanGoYourself events and inviting the public to recreate their art in any way they want to.

Q: Last of all, there are almost too many brilliant recreations to choose just one, but if you had to pick, which is your all-time favourite?

I love the ones that I have been a part of, either helping to direct a big group into a complicated scene (I’ve done quite a few of these a different events) or being in a recreation myself, in particular the one I did in Rome of the Sarcophagus of the Spouses. It really is a lot of fun to recreate a painting, play around with the meaning and put yourself into the picture.

Sarcophagus Of The Spouses, Unknown vanGo’d by Jane and Frank

But if I had to pick one out of the others that I haven’t been part of it would be the Dying Adonis vangod by Jordan Assi. I love the contemporary twist on this and the comment  “This is a modern day “Dying Adonis”. He is surrounded by all the technology available in today’s society and it has consumed him.”

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Epic Fail at Museums & the Web 2012, San Diego

Seb Chan (Cooper-Hewitt) I are hosting the closing plenary at Museums & the Web in San Diego this year. We’ve called it Epic Fail and we’re going to be shining a light on the failures that we individually and we collectively have had as project teams, institutions, and maybe even the sector as a whole.

Inspired by the valuable lessons we’ve learned personally from over-sharing our own failures on our blogs, and the growing trend in the non-profit and social enterprise sectors to share analyse, and learn from failures – we think the time has come for Museums and the Web to recognise the important role that documenting failures plays in making our community stronger.

Failure?

Well, taking a cue from FailFaire, there are many common reasons for failure in the non-profit sector –

1. The project wasn’t right for the organisation (or the organisation wasn’t right for the project)
2. Tech is search of a problem
3. Must-be-invented-here syndrome
4. Know thy end-users
5. Trying to please donors rather than beneficiaries (and chasing small pots of money)
6. Forgetting people
7. Feature creep
8. Lack of a backup plan
9. Not connecting with local needs
10. Not knowing when to say goodbye

Sound familiar? we thought so.

So . . .

We’re doing a call out for ‘failures’ to be featured in our closed door session (that means no tweeting, no live blogging).

Each Fail will present a short 7-10 minute slot followed by 10 minutes panel and open-mic discussion. Each Fail needs to be presented by someone who worked on the project – this isn’t a crit-room – and we want you to feel comfortable enough to be honest and open. We want you to explore the reasons why you thought the project was a failure, diagnose where it went wrong, what would you do differently, and then collectively discuss the key lessons for future projects of a similar nature or targeting similar people.

Maybe, like Seb, you did an early project with QR codes that didn’t take into account the lighting situation in your exhibition, not to mention the lack of wifi? Or maybe a mobile App that you forgot to negotiate signage for the exhibition space? Or an amazing content management system that failed to address the internal culture and workflow for content production and ended up not being used?

In fact neither Seb or I can think of a project we have worked on that hasn’t had its own share of failure. But in most cases we’ve been able to address the problem and iterate, or, if necessary, as they say in the startup game, ‘pivot‘.

The more significant the failure, the better is its potential to be an agent of change.

So, if you are coming to Museums and the Web in San Diego in April this year, get in touch to nominate your project for a spot! We promise to create a safe environment for sharing these important lessons and end this year’s conference on a high.

Get in touch with the Fail Team – epicfail [at] freshandnew [dot] org

On a related note, here is a different kind of Epic Fail that can happen if you get caught out being a tourist in a Glasgow park without an umbrella!

Who are we? WeAreCulture24

I’ve learned a lot in the last year. A lot about how we could do what we do better at Culture24 and crucially how confusing what we do can be for others.

Are we a website? Are we journalists? Are we data crunchers? Are we data aggregators? Are we Museums at Night champions? Are we researchers? Are we producers? Are we strategists? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

All of these and more but if you looked at our main online presence www.culture24.org.uk you would never know half of this. The site has evolved from our early incarnation as the 24 Hour Museum and was always triple headed. One face looking to the public offering them news, venues, listings and more. One face looking to the sector offering them information on how to work with us and how we can help them. One face looking to teachers offering them curriculum tagged cultural resources.

As our activities and the online world became more diverse, complicated and interrelated, this website had started to become confused and I believe became unclear to all it’s audiences exactly who we were or why they should bother.

So who are we? Well www.WeAreCulture24.org.uk is our new company website. The online presence of the nonprofit business that publishes culture24.org.uk (amongst other things) and is now home to details of all our projects, services, knowledge and our team.

The site also carries our new branding and logo which was developed with CRUSH creative agency in Brighton. It takes the forward slash from our original logo and moves it into the physical world – literally through placing it in a range of photographs but also by making it 3D in the logo itself.

The thinking behind is meant to reflect how we bridge the physical world of museums and galleries with the digital online space. Clever I think and also rather beautiful. By placing the forward slash in a range of different architectural settings (museum, gallery, library, heritage site, street etc) we also indicate the broad reach of our services across all these different parts of the sector.

Much of the learning from this year has in fact fallen out of my role leading our action research project on how to evaluate online success. Principally, to be confident to admit that we haven’t got things completely right and allowing for that ‘failing forward’ to shape change, iterate and define new directions.

The new site is live and growing and I hope you like it (or at least understand who we are and what we do).

Changes are also underway to refine, tweak and improve culture24.org.uk as our flagship site for culture lovers.

Hallelujah for failure.

Notes and take homes from the Museums Computer Group spring meeting Culture24 hosted in Brighton in June 2011

Looking at the range of sectors, specialisms and interests of those who signed up for the day convinced me I had pitched the day right. My idea to split the programme so we’d spend the morning looking at the Arts Council world, and the afternoon exploring commercial collaborations was devised to consider, reflect and challenge the way museums currently work – and hopefully suggest new ways of doing things.

Andrew Nairne, Executive Director of Arts Council England and a very articulate and sensitive man, kicked off with a clear understanding of digital issues that came from the heart. I didn’t want him to just give a policy position (although obviously this is important), but to share more of his own thoughts and ideas about the morning theme.

He talked about how ACE are framing the user at the heart of all of their thinking, and linked the notion of a ‘user’ to that of a citizen. He talked about how digital solutions – what I might call infrastructure – can be used to support more than one agenda. This idea is not new, but it is progressive … and if ACE could find ways to support this with policy, it could be very powerful.

Inevitable, he tracked the framework for all ACE activities to their little strawberry pink book Achieving Great Art for Everyone – if you haven’t read it, you need to. It is very sensible and hard to disagree with. It sets out five clear forward-looking and sensible priorities for next ten years. Andrew talked about the work Estelle Morris is doing to explore the language and scope of this book and how/if it needs to change following the MLA integration. He suggested that with a little liberal interpretation of what ‘art’ might be, that the essence of the book translates well. To this effect, ACE are working on a companion book that will focus on the museums and library worlds more specifically, which will be duck egg blue. A reassuring colour I think.

Honor Harger, Director of Lighthouse (an established ACE client and a NPO) shared with us her thinking on digital culture involving a lot more than just technology, such as emotions, concepts, learning and touch. This comment got a lot of tweets and retweets, and I loved it. It’s very simple and human but helps to keep us rooted in concerns beyond just websites and databases.

She talked about the many ways that the scope of organisations is shifting:
– broadcasters are putting on exhibitions
– galleries are becoming broadcasters
– social media channels are delivering the news
– artists are making feature films

‘We have moved beyond convergence” she said, adding that “collaboration should take outside your comfort zone.”

The discussion that followed raised some good stuff:

– How can digital accelerate shared missions?
– In making strategy, you need to start with the actual mission of the organisation, or start with people – not the digital.
– Organisations need a holistic strategy for engagement.
– There are certain issues as a lot of different collection data, such as Europeana, were made for different purposes other than public publication online

– In developing new services there is a need to move beyond the museological perspective (e.g. historical) and tell stories with data, to take down the walls between institutions.
– Create spaces for mucking around.
– Digital is a mindset that has no walls – and cultural data needs the same priorities.

Last speaker of the morning was Kevin Bacon, Digital Development Officer from Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. He shared the museum’s thinking about the ways they have been trying to open up commercial exploitation of its data and assets.

“Copyright is a disreputable term,” he said: he likes to refer to it as image supply. He said he felt that the secure copyright model was bust. I cheered in my head.

They have established image sales, plus good distribution and customer service, but he pulled out the key role of the curator as a person bringing deep knowledge of a subject to managing data.

He talked about the fact that he saw the business model for image sales as being based on the questionable legal status of copyright of photographed images, which as objects are out of copyright. Discuss!

After a visit to Brighton Museum and lunch we reconvened for the afternoon.

I had brought together four *very* different commercial people who worked at *very* different organizations. What they all had in common, however, were established working partnerships that form a key part of their own business model. In other words, they are all passionate about culture and need to work with cultural organisations in some way to thrive.

Chris Thorpe, ArtFinder
Chris is a skilled developer, with a deep understanding and experience of commercial online development. He is a founder of the new cool art site ‘ArtFinder’ and he talked about the things he thinks are important to remember in developing a service:
– Users don’t care about what you care about.
– Size is a key issue in developing a service/platform: What am I (a small phone, a large phone?)
– How long will I last? – short-lived can be good.
– Finish-ability? Focus and scale your ambition and scope.
– The Human factor! – John Peel was the greatest serendipity machine ever.

Andy Budd, Clearleft
Andy talks about user experience all over the globe and is a seriously respected player. His company Clearleft know what they are doing when it comes to understanding user needs, behaviour and journeys. He is very straightforward in the delivery of his opinions and that is why I wanted him to speak at this event. Some people don’t appreciate this kind of bluntness but I do. Key things he said:
Designers (like him) *love* what they do. They are passionate about it in the same way as curators.
He is personally interested in problem solving first and foremost, and he sees problems online everywhere – in interfaces, booking systems, everywhere!
He sees most museum sites as focusing internally (inside the museums) with hardly anything looking outside the institution – maybe as much as a 95/5% split.
He would like to see this switch, but recognises the need for trust in the process to do this.

Laura Scott, EMEA External Relations, Google
Laura’s job at Google is to work on external partnerships. She sees the cultural sector as key in helping Google understand content, engagement and subsequently develop its own technologies more intelligently. She talked about:
– Google’s massive work on translating between different languages, and how important that is to culture.
– The mass digitisation of books that Google has undertaken.
– Their work with archives and the humanities, in particular the online preservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls using image recognition software
– The seriously amazing ‘Life In A Day’ film that has just been released
– The new Google Cultural Institute in Paris – opening in 2012.
Google’s work with Culture24 to support the cultural sector in better understanding how to measure success online.

Alyssa Bonic, Arts Manager, BSkyB
Alyssa has watched over Sky Arts’ shift to working very actively with a variety of cultural partners. Although Sky Arts is a subscription service, it is still a seriously impressive, intelligent and unique route to audiences, and as a business they recognise the value of the cultural sector very keenly.
She talked about:
– Their 2 million subscriber base.
– Their audience development work across their channels.
– Their work at the Hay Festival.
– Their 3D dance production.
– Their new Ignite scheme of commissioning new work for production.
SkyArts sponsorship of Museums at Night.

The final discussion brought together all the speakers to talk about collaboration with commercial companies. I titled the session ‘Can you make money and not be evil’ to be deliberately provocative. I wanted to challenge what I often perceive as a negative feeling about working with commercial companies, with muttering of ‘they just want to make money’. Well yes, I say. Of course. But this should not be a problem – and in fact, this is increasingly exactly what cultural organisations are also trying to find ways of doing.

My big take-home from the day is how much the cultural and commercial worlds are coming together. You may see this as good or bad, but I feel it is inevitably true. For me, this is one of the last remaining boundaries to shift and integrate, and follows the long line of profound integrations that are already underway between sectors, technologies and media.

For further thoughts on the day check out Rhiannon Looseley’s guest post on the Culture24 Museums at Night blog.

Museums at Night training workshops: what would you like to learn?

Thank you to all the venues who helped to make Museums at Night 2011 the most successful yet.

352 venues staged 467 events, in 169 different towns and cities across the UK. More than 120,000 visitors attended an event, and the media coverage the campaign received was worth over £1.1 million pounds – an extraordinary result, based on direct funding of £95,000!

Check out the latest Culture24 e-newsletter, where we are asking venues to let us know who’d like a Museums at Night training workshop in their town.

‘Go Collaborate’: MCG Spring Meeting in partnership with Culture24

Friday 17th June 2011
10am to 5pm (arrival from 9.30am)
Lighthouse, 28 Kensington Street, Brighton, BN1 4AJ
Map here

Book your place

Now – perhaps more than ever – is a moment for the museum sector to look outwards and see the opportunities for collaboration.

At a time when the sector’s governance is being re-shaped, the funding landscape re-formed and individual services and institutions restructured, the drive for joint ventures and partnership have become more relevant than ever. In particular it is co-operation with the wider arts sector and with the commercial world that seem to demand attention and offer exciting possibilities for everyone.

Alert to this, Culture24 have brought together professionals from across the creative industries to reflect upon and share their experience of working digitally with cultural sector partners. Through a series of roundtable discussions, this day-long meeting will explore some of the evolving models for online collaboration and discuss the existing and perceived barriers and divisions between different sectors and the public/private worlds.

Those in conversation will include:

Andrew Nairne: Executive Director, Arts, Arts Council England
Gill Johnson: Director, Broadcasting & Digital, Arts Council England
Honor Harger, Director Lighthouse
Kevin Bacon, Digital Development Officer, The Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove
Spencer Hyman, CEO & Founder, Artfinder
Andy Budd, Director of user experience, Clearleft
Laura Scott, Laura Scott: EMEA External Relations
Freya Murray, Senior Arts Executive, BSKYB
Alyssa Bonic, Arts Manager, BSKYB
Jane Finnis: Director Culture24

There will also be a special trip to Brighton’s wonderfully unique Royal Pavilion and Museums site.

Lunch and refreshments will be provided.

Become an MCG member now (for FREE) and save 50% on registration for this meeting:

Latest details and programme for ‘Go Collaborate’:

GLAM WIKI UK

In case you missed this acronymn GLAM stands for Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums and has got to be my favourite way to describe our sector….

This two day event at the British Musuems brigns together the Wikimedia community and GLAM sector for the first WIKI of its kind in the UK. Blogger and author Cory Doctorow will open the conference on Friday November 26th with a presentation provocatively entitled “Being a beloved institution will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of being an irrelevant one”.

Tom Morgan, Head of Rights and Reproductions at the National Portrait Gallery will also for the first time express the NPG perspective on the conflicts that erupted between his organisations and Wikimedia last year. His talk is suitably entitled “Wikipedia and the National Portrait Gallery – A bad first date? A perspective on the developing relationship between Wikipedia and cultural heritage organisations”.

The evening of Friday 26th will see a lecture given by Kenneth Crews, Director of the Copyright Advisory office of Columbia University. Following this presentation will be responses and discussion of the issues raised by a really interesteing panel including: director of DACS Gilane Tawadros; Director of Europeana Jill Cousins; Head of Digital at the BFI Paula Le Dieu; Presenter of BBC’s Digital Planet Bill Thompson.

Over the two days of the event there will have presentations by a variety of GLAM institutions from five European countries about how they are working with Wikipedia. I will be doing my own sesssion on Friday afternoon about the opportunites for smaller GLAM venues.

For more information about the conference