On the Street with Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO

Posted by Penny Balkin Bach, Apr 11, 2011 0 comments

Temporary promotional signage at Three-Way Piece Number 1: Points (1964), Henry Moore

Temporary promotional signage at Three-Way Piece Number 1: Points (1964), Henry Moore

Public art can be one of a city’s most overlooked and under-appreciated cultural assets; but it’s also an ideal introductory cultural experience because it’s accessible “on the street,” visible at any time, free to all, and diverse in content – no tickets, no barriers, no time limits.

We created the Fairmount Park Art Association’s Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO program in Philadelphia to call attention to these works of art – always on view, but often unobserved.

We wanted to appeal broadly to culture seekers as well as non-traditional arts audiences by making engagement with public art fascinating, informative, rewarding, and fun.

Reaching the “spontaneous user” – our defined target group – represents an extraordinary opportunity unique to public art. This person typically has not planned ahead, paid a museum admission, or signed up in advance for a cultural tour.

The program so far has 35 stops for 51 sculptures feature nearly 100 “voices” from all walks of life, including: artists, educators, curators, scientists, writers, historians, civic leaders, and family members – all with personal connections to the sculptures.

We developed an “authentic voice” model, which distinguishes our audio program from others that feature a single guide, narrator or interpreter. Listening is almost like eavesdropping into a fascinating conversation.   

This is not a traditional audio “tour” – there’s no beginning or end, and you can listen to one program at a time or make your own sequence.

Given the rapid evolution of technology, our goal was to develop a conceptually sound, content-rich program that would take advantage of multiple platforms and be adaptable to new technologies over time.

Our current delivery method covers the full spectrum – from simply standing in front of a sculpture using a cell phone, to audio download, iPhone and Android mobile app, QR code, and streaming audio and audio slideshows on the official website.

On-site interpretive signage and printed maps complement the listening experience. Attention-grabbing 3-4 minute audio segments have been produced in collaboration with a team of award-winning independent audio producers.

The overall program explores personal and cultural connections to the art, while offering insights into the artists and their processes, what the sculptures represent, the histories surrounding the works, and why the pieces were commissioned and installed at specific sites in Philadelphia.

While this may seem straightforward on the surface, it is the richness and unexpectedness of multiple voices and relationships that make the stories come to life.

Renowned sculptor Mark di Suvero discusses the universality of the world’s most recognizable sculpture, Rodin’s The Thinker. The leading forensic sculptor in the country, Frank Bender, tells how President Garfield’s death mask was likely used for his memorial sculpture.

Samuel Hart Jones Jr, great-grandson of the African American State legislator Samuel Beecher Hart, conveys his family’s passionate involvement with the commissioning of the All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors in 1927. Artist Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds speaks about Stone Age in America and stereotypical images of Native Americans.

At the monument to Kopernick, listeners hear from Derek Pitts, Chief Astronomer at the Franklin Institute. And James “Jimmy” Binns, lawyer and former Pennsylvania Boxing Commissioner who played himself in two Rocky movies, gives his inside scoop on the “Rocky” statue.

Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO has been supported by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage through the Heritage Philadelphia Program and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The impact of the program has been both positive and measurable; and, for the first time ever, we have quantitative tools to track an otherwise elusive public art audience.

Amazingly, last summer the total number of visits to our websites increased 300%!

Note: PAN Councilmember Penny Balkin Bach will be presenting on the panel, Public Art | Public Awareness: Communication & Advocacy Strategies for Public Art at the upcoming Public Art Preconference, June 15-16.

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