Interactive Surface technology offers museum visitors a new way to look at archived art

Topics: College of Fine Arts, College of Communication Information and Media, Emerging Media, Immersive Learning

March 16, 2011

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Students work on the concept and design for the Museum of Art Collection Portal, an interactive computer that will allow users to search the museum~~~s collection by artist, medium, period and subject.
Giving visitors to the Ball State University Museum of Art the opportunity to view pieces of the museum's collection — and more of them — in a new way was a key principle in developing the Museum of Art Collection Portal.
 
For the past year, students, faculty and industry research fellows in the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts (IDIA) have worked to create an innovative, touch-based application that allows users to navigate through the museum's collection. A reception and gallery talk with a demonstration of the portal will take place at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 20, at the Museum of Art. The event is free and open to the public.
 
The portal bridges the interface of the 30-inch tabletop Microsoft Surface computer with the museum's collection database, the Digital Images Delivered Online (DIDO), hosted on the Digital Media Repository of Bracken Library. The portal will allow its users to search the collection by artist, medium, period and subject.
 
John Fillwalk, associate professor of electronic art and director of the IDIA, said this application of emerging media addresses a dilemma faced by most art museums. "Many museums, ours included, can display only about 10 percent of their collection at any given time," Fillwalk explained. "The rest is in archives, and so you are presented with the challenge of creating a connection between what is seen and what is not. With this portal, we give people the opportunity to explore more of that collection, to dig down and learn more about the artists and the work presented."
 
The portal's development was an immersive learning experience that brought together students majoring in computer science, art, architecture and music. The project was developed in partnership with the Museum of Art and supported by a Provost Immersive Learning Grant.
 
Jonathan Strong, a junior majoring in art and computer science, said the project felt "tailor made" to his interests. "This is essentially what I want to do in my profession — to take a project from a client and see it through from prototype to delivery, so in that way, this venture has been great," Strong said. "I hope that people who make use of the portal will find something interesting about a piece of art at the museum, something that will inspire them to learn more about it."
 
As more of the museum's collection is digitized through the DIDO project, Fillwalk said more art will be added for viewing in the portal interface. The IDIA director noted students participating in the project also presented their work on the portal to research fellows at IBM Interactive, industry professionals interested in learning more about how the students built the application.
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