Tuesday, 6 January 2015

THE BEST ONLINE EXHIBITIONS

EXHIBITION REVIEW

BY: MEAGHAN DALBY

Welcome Back!! I hope you all are full of turkey and chocolates, and are ready to tackle a new semester.

Sadly, my holidays did not include any trips to museums, so I thought I’d take a crack at evaluating some online stuff. I did some research, and made a (small) list of the 3 Best Online Canadian Exhibitions.

Since the internet is literally limitless, and there are thousands and thousands of museums online all over the world, I thought I’d create some criteria to narrow down my list. I decided I wanted to look at exhibitions that are solely created for the internet, and do not have a physical component in any museum. And then I thought I’d just look at Canadian exhibits, just for kicks. This narrowed the field considerably. Here’s what I came up with:

# 3. MAVERICKS: AN INCORRIGIBLE HISTORY OF ALBERTA

Screen Shot of the landing page to Mavericks
Credit: http://www.glenbow.org/mavericks/

This exhibit was created this year by the Glenbow Museum in Alberta. I chose it for a couple reasons. 1: it uses the word incorrigible. I couldn’t help myself, and 2: It’s an example of good intentions not QUITE hitting the mark. Right off the bat, they have a fancy intro video, and I’m getting all excited to learn about Alberta (which is rare… I apologize to a certain Musings writer). But the whole exhibit is on this weird pop-up screen, which is pretty small. The icons are great, the photos are beautiful, but the text is tiny. And every time you hit the home button you have to watch that damn intro video (I was excited, now I’m annoyed). However, not all is lost. The information IS interesting and I did learn about Mavericks in Alberta, but there are little things that made the site not-so user friendly. Also, there weren’t any interactive elements… bummer. Hence, the #3 spot.

#2. CANADA AT PLAY: AN ONLINE EXHIBITION OF TOYS AND GAMES 

Screen Shot of the home page
Credit: http://www.historymuseum.ca/canadaplay/introduction/

This online exhibit was created by the Canadian Museum of History. There is no copyright date that I could find, but I would guess that it was created within the last 5 years or so. Canada at Play explores how playtime and toys played a role in development and socialization for Canadians from past to present. Visually, it’s quite compelling, using well-known themes from retro toys and packaging to draw the audience in. While retro on the surface, underneath, the website is quite modern, and has the interactive elements contemporary users are looking for. It’s also very visual, and doesn’t rely too heavily on text. What I really liked (because I’m a giant kid) was the “Play!” section. Here, games tested your knowledge learned in the exhibition. Yes, I played them. Yes, it was awesome. Another component in the Canada at Play exhibit was a Teacher’s Corner, which had lesson plans and work sheets for grades 1-7. I think it’s a nice inclusion, but I wonder, in practice, how much that actually gets used.

#1. BURGESS SHALE

Screen shot of the home page
Credit:http://burgess-shale.rom.on.ca/en/index.php

This is exactly the kind of website I was looking for, when I started this little quest: a truly autonomous, on-line exhibition. This exhibit was created in 2011 through a partnership with the ROM, UNESCO and Parks Canada. As a result, it has more of the up-to date visuals, layout, and interactives (some cool virtual videos) I am used to seeing/was expecting.

Online exhibits can easily give the reader MUCH too much information, since they are not hampered by space constraints, but I think that the Burgess Shale Exhibit does a nice job of not overwhelming readers.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Ok, so obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list, but I learned a few things from scouring the internet (well, the Canadian internet…is that a thing?):
1. A really well put together online exhibit that is visually pleasing, interactive, and informative costs a lot of money and time. My favourite websites were from large institutions, who (presumably) have the resources. So, while an online exhibition may SEEM like a cheap and cheerful way to reach your audience, once you get down to it, it might not be. 
2. An online exhibit is NOT (I repeat not) simply links to your collection page.
3. Online exhibits get old fast. Even exhibits from 5 years ago can seem outdated.

What do you think? Are there some fabulous exhibits that I’ve missed? Share them in the comments below!

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for the post, Meaghan! I think you raise some fantastic points about the issues which online exhibitions pose, some quite similar to the issues which physical exhibitions face (especially in terms of the visuals and texts which need to be contemporary in order to avoid that dreaded "outdated" look). And you are so right to state that online exhibitions require as much knowledge and care of regular displays (with of course the constraints but also the benefits posed by the plasticity of the virtual-verse). An truly exceptional online exhibition is not easy to find!

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  2. Meaghan, your points are very thoughtful and useful, especially as my group and I are developing a virtual exhibition for our exhibitions project. We'll consider them as we proceed!

    As for further "fabulous virtual exhibits": This isn't a Canadian virtual exhibit, but it's a great one nonetheless. It's called EveryBody: An Artifact History of Disability in America (http://everybody.si.edu/) from the Smithsonian. It covers very complex issues but with very readable text -- and, as you've noted, not TOO much text. It also makes an effort to make its site accessible to as many users as possible (and makes it known), aligning with its objective to "raise awareness and sensitivity about disability" through the exhibition.

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