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New Podcast Episode! Virtual Reality + Soul of a Nation

Museum Way Podcast

Our second episode is available now! We meet Shane Richey, Creative Director of Experimentation and Development, to talk about museums in the digital age, and we talk with Curator of Contemporary Art Lauren Haynes and Senior Museum Educator Moira Anderson about Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power and its opening Symposium that was streamed online by nearly 10k viewers.

Read this episode’s transcript

 

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First Up: Shane Richey on Museum Virtual Reality

Shane Richey, Creative Director of Experimentation and Development

 

As Creative Director of Experimentation and Development, Shane’s role is about turning ideas into a reality. On the cutting edge of art and innovation, this role is important in allowing the museum to react quickly to new technologies and advancements as they are happening.

One of the museum’s latest projects is CBVR: Crystal Bridges Virtual Reality. This new experience lets you immerse yourself in the stories of American art with unique virtual reality videos. The museum is developing a series of videos on its collection, offering you an in-depth look and the opportunity to experience and interact with artworks like never before.

Journey inside “Kindred Spirits” by Asher B. Durand in the video below:

 

Next: Lauren Haynes and Moira Anderson on Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power

Lauren Haynes, Curator of Contemporary Art

Moira Anderson, Senior Museum Educator

 

In the second half of the episode, we talk with Curator of Contemporary Art Lauren Haynes and Senior Museum Educator Moira Anderson about Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power and its opening Symposium. The exhibition shines a bright light on the vital contribution of Black artists to an important period in American history and art. Featuring the work of 60 artists and including vibrant paintings, powerful sculptures, street photography, murals, and more. Soul of a Nation is on view through April 23; get your tickets here!

Watch the Symposium livestream (featuring artists in the exhibition!) with the video below:

 

Episode Transcript

Stace Treat:
Welcome to Museum Way, the podcast of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. We’re sharing all the ins and outs of the museum, from the galleries to the trails, the architecture, and more. You’ll learn the Museum Way of Crystal Bridges. On today’s podcast, we’re exploring museums in the digital age. We will meet Shane Richey, Creative Director of Experimentation and Development, and we’ll talk with our Curator of Contemporary Art Lauren Haynes, and Senior Museum Educator Moira Anderson, about the Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power exhibition and its opening symposium that was streamed online by nearly 10,000 viewers. So let’s jump into Museum Way.

Stace Treat:
We’re here with Creative Director of Experimentation and Development Shane Richey. Shane, thanks for being on Museum Way.

Shane Richey:
Hey, thanks for having me.

Stace Treat:
Let’s start with your title. Your role is Creative Director of Experimentation and Development. Sounds mad scientist-y to me. What are you doing? What’s this all about?

Shane Richey:
Yeah. We’re looking for ways to pursue those big ideas, those big projects that in the past would have been too big for what we had going on, and identifying those opportunities and looking for ways to take them from ideas and actually turn them into an achievable project that we can work on and bring through.

Stace Treat:
Okay, so you’re looking to play around, experiment, literally, innovate, looking all over the spectrum, yes?

Shane Richey:
Yeah. All those things. The things that in the past we thought of that we really, really liked, but we just didn’t have the time or the resources to go after.

Stace Treat:
Or maybe something you’ve seen at other museums and different things.

Shane Richey:
Yeah, for sure.

Stace Treat:
All right. Well, can you give us an example of what you’re working on now?

Shane Richey:
Yeah. We’ve recently launched our Google Arts and Culture page. That’s a part of our partnership with the Google Cultural Institute, where that the page is basically just a place for us to upload content, our collection and build what they call stories, which is just really nice, really interactive bits of content that will enhance what else we’re doing at the museum.

Stace Treat:
Yeah, I’ve seen this. This is like where you can go and look at virtual images of places from like the Met, the Louvre, all over the world, yes?

Shane Richey:
Yes. They’ve come and shot our collection at ultra-high resolution. They’ve gone through our galleries with their gallery view cameras, which you’ll be familiar with if you know of the Google Street View on Google Maps. It’s just like that, except it’s in the galleries where you can walk through any of the spaces now.

Stace Treat:
Wow. So Google was here.

Shane Richey:
Google was here. Yeah. They’ve come here several times. Once with, like I was saying, the Street View or the Gallery View cameras to build a virtual walkthrough of the museum. They’ve also come with what they call the Google Art Camera, which is essentially a robotic camera that uses really impressive software lasers to kind of measure the image, the painting, and then shoot dozens or even hundreds of smaller tiles of the artwork in high resolution, and then combine them all into one just gigantic painting that allows you to zoom in and view the painting in just incredible detail.

Shane Richey:
When you’re literally getting down to like the brushstrokes and the grains in the canvas.

Stace Treat:
Oh wow. And did I get you right? It’s a robot with lasers.

Shane Richey:
That’s a robot with lasers. Yeah.

Stace Treat:
You are a mad scientist. So this sounds like we can actually kind of take a virtual tour of the galleries, the grounds?

Shane Richey:
Sure. Everything that is accessible to the public is now available on our Google Arts and Culture page. All the galleries, lobbies, even the Frank Lloyd Wright house and the Buckminster Fuller dome are available on there and look great.

Stace Treat:
Wow. So I hear that you’re working on virtual reality.

Shane Richey:
Yeah. We’ll be launching CBVR, another project, Crystal Bridges Virtual Reality, around the time that this podcast airs. And see what CBVR is, it’s the umbrella term for a couple of different projects. First we’ll be publishing a webpage. It’s crystalbridges.org/vr/. That is just a place for all of our virtual reality content to live. And then we will be just producing lots of VR content. The first thing that we’ll be launching with is a VR version of our painting Kindred Spirits.

Stace Treat:
By Asher B. Durand?

Shane Richey:
Yeah, yeah. Durand’s Kindred Spirits will be on loan and not available in the museum this next year. So what this video will allow you to do is to kind of enter into the painting and be taken from spot to spot in the painting with a voiceover that’s kind of explaining the finer points of the painting. But the video really will let you kind of enter in and stand there on that cliff side next to Thomas Cole and William Cullen Bryant and look at the view that they’re looking at in the painting.

Stace Treat:
So on the edge.

Shane Richey:
Right on the edge.

Stace Treat:
I’m feeling vertigo.

Shane Richey:
Absolutely. Yeah, I was looking at some early test of the video and yeah, if you tend to be afraid of heights, you’ll want to be sitting down for this one.

Stace Treat:
That’s so cool. So all of this content you’ve been describing, is this something I can actually access from home in my pajamas?

Shane Richey:
Sure. Yeah. Like I was saying earlier, everything is going to be available on the website through crystal bridges.org/vr, where we’re also producing a cardboard VR viewer. I’m sure you’re familiar with those that Google released them several years ago, people have been using them a lot. It’s essentially just a low cost, high quality cardboard, essentially an origami set that when it comes to you, you unpack it and fold it up into a VR viewer that you stick your phone into and it turns your phone into a virtual reality headset, basically.

Stace Treat:
Oh yeah. It’s like a high tech View-Master for those people that remember those great things.

Shane Richey:
Exactly right. Yeah. It works the same way.

Stace Treat:
Wow. You know, it’s funny hearing all of this and thinking I can do this from home in my pajamas. It actually makes me think I’d rather… It would want me to visit the museum, because then you get a sense or a taste of what’s and what it feels like.

Shane Richey:
Absolutely. At the core of everything that we’re doing is, not just me, but everybody at the museum is giving people access to the art. And we found that a lot of the projects that we do, a lot of the digital content that we produce, actually makes people more interested and wants to get them here to the museum quicker.

Stace Treat:
Okay. That’s really great. So what are some upcoming opportunities that you’re most excited about?

Shane Richey:
There’s several projects that I have on my list. I’ve been building this list for several years, so there’s lots of things that we’re getting to, but even more exciting than that is the unknown, what’s coming next. The whole point of what we’re trying to do with experimentation and development, but then also as an entire museum, is just to be better at recognizing opportunities and be in a position to pursue those opportunities in the future when they come up. So that new huge advances in technologies aren’t a crisis for us, they’re an opportunity and there are things that we can now go after.

Stace Treat:
Right? So the idea is we don’t have to say idea anymore, yeah?

Shane Richey:
Ideas are now reality.

Stace Treat:
All right. That’s really awesome. Thanks for stopping by. Shane Richey, he is the Creative Director of Experimentation and Development. Thanks, man.

Shane Richey:
Great. Thanks for having me.

Stace Treat:
Art connects us. And Crystal Bridges strengthens these connections through programs that bring people together, spark conversation and inspire creativity. Get inspired to expand your world and build your community by becoming a Crystal Bridges member today. Benefits include free admission to our temporary exhibitions and discounts on classes and programs. Join now to take advantage of our upcoming concert series in the north forest. Learn more at crystalbridges.org.

Stace Treat:
We’re here with Curator of Contemporary Art, Lauren Haynes.

Lauren Haynes:
Hello.

Stace Treat:
Hey. And Senior Museum Educator, Moira Anderson.

Moira Anderson:
Hello.

Stace Treat:
To talk about the symposium and opening weekend of the Soul of a Nation exhibition. So welcome.

Lauren Haynes:
Thanks for having us.

Moira Anderson:
Thanks.

Stace Treat:
So glad you’re here. So let’s talk about this really exciting exhibition. How did Soul of a Nation come about Lauren?

Lauren Haynes:
Soul of Nation is an exhibition that was organized by Tate Modern in London, and it looks at works of art created between 1963 and 1983 by a group of primarily African American artists. And really what the exhibition does is look at art created in this important moment in our nation’s history that is tackling and trying to answer this question. Is there such a thing as Black art? And really what the exhibition does is prove that there’s no one answer to this question.

Stace Treat:
So how many artists are featured?

Lauren Haynes:
There are about 60 artists in the exhibition total and we were extremely lucky to have 14 of the artists from the exhibition here at the museum for the opening weekend.

Stace Treat:
Wow. So we had what was called a symposium. So I want to ask you, what is a symposium first of all?

Moira Anderson:
Well the symposium that we had was about 14 of those artists in conversation, with moderators from around the country. And it just featured about eight hour long conversations throughout the day, that took a deeper look at the artworks that they created in the exhibition, but also a look at the artworks that they’re continuing to create today. Some of the context and the historical significance in which those works were created throughout the ‘60s, the ‘70s, and the ‘80s, and gave the public the opportunity to watch not only here inside of the museum, but also at home.

Stace Treat:
So, yeah. I was going to ask, this podcast is about the museum and the digital age. So tell me a little bit about this live streaming opportunity.

Moira Anderson:
So one of the wonderful things that we had the opportunity to do for the symposium, was live stream it, and live broadcast it in real time, not only to the viewers that came here to the museum that might not have been able to get a seat, because the symposium was sold out, at about 400 guests.

Lauren Haynes:
Very quickly.

Moira Anderson:
Very quickly.

Stace Treat:
Well, yeah.

Lauren Haynes:
Yeah.

Moira Anderson:
But you could by clicking a link, tune in anywhere from your couch in your pajamas, or go and visit one of the sites that was hosting what’s called a watch party. And we had about 11 sites around the country, some on universities, some independently organized, with other people who actually opened up their venues and allowed others to come and watch and discuss the symposium as it was happening-

Stace Treat:
So, how many people watched?

Moira Anderson:
Oh, 10,000 so far and continuing to climb.

Stace Treat:
That’s amazing. Wow. So tell us a little bit about the opening weekend and having all of those artists here. I’m curious how, how did you reach out to them and how did all that come together?

Moira Anderson:
So in the beginning, we never really anticipated that there would be this large of an opening weekend on the symposium. When we were first thinking about opening exhibition programming for the weekend, we started looking into how many of the artists were still living and still speaking, and then what we did is we reached out to all of them, which is a general inquiry, “Would you be interested in participating in some programming during the time, a lecture, a talk, a workshop?” And we received overwhelming responses from them. And naturally a symposium was a good fit.

Lauren Haynes:
Yeah. And we were able to really make this symposium even greater things to funding from the Ford Foundation and Christie’s. So in order to bring all the artists here and bring all the moderators, and have such an amazing opportunity to live stream it, it was really with the support of both of those places. And I think one of the things that I loved best because it was a way not only to bring the artists here to meet with our guests and visitors and to hear them speak firsthand, but to see how excited they were to see each other, was really fantastic.

Stace Treat:
Wow. So, a lot of them knew one another, yes?

Moira Anderson:
Yes. It was a large reunion for many of them. I got to witness firsthand. So many of them are old friends, but there was a moment when artists Randi Williams saw Linda Goode Bryant, founder of JAM, in the hotel lobby. Neither of them knew that they were both going to be here at the same time, and they just ran and embraced each other. And yeah, very special.

Stace Treat:
So during the symposium you have all these amazing people. How did you decide who would speak with each other? How did those programming choices work out?

Moira Anderson:
So initially when we started getting the responses, what I did is I reached out to each of the artists individually, after they got back to me with their programming preference. And asked them really what they wanted to speak about. Many of them of course for like the artists from the AfriCOBRA collective for instance, they were going to be here and it seemed really natural to put them in conversation with each other, and then of course there were some that really wanted to speak on in a solo conversation, and take a closer look at specific artworks that they were creating. And then Lauren and I of course sat down and looked at the artists a little bit and placed them with the moderators, from around the country too, which we were incredibly fortunate to have in conversation with these artists as well.

Stace Treat:
So did any artists choose for themselves where they might like to go?

Moira Anderson:
There’s the conversation that Lauren moderated with Mel Edwards and William T. Williams. Originally when we first started discussing with Melvin, you wanted to do a conversation, but then they both discovered that they were going to be at the symposium together and they decided they would love to do a conversation. They’re best friends.

Lauren Haynes:
And it was very much, I was completely unnecessary in that conversation because the two of them have been talking about their work, talking about each other’s work together for a really long time. They even shared a studio space at one point, so hearing them talk from that perspective, not only about their own work but to hear Melvin Edwards talk about how important he feels William T. Williams work is to hear, William T. Williams talk about how important Mel Edwards is and on and on. It was a really amazing thing that I don’t think we’ve yet to see really how fantastic it was.

Stace Treat:
So what do you hope guests will actually take away from this exhibition and this experience of meeting or hearing from the artists?

Lauren Haynes:
I think it’s really immeasurable. I think it’s something that we’re going to see the results for a long time. Being able to have the artists here and have our visitors hear them, but also meet with them. They were walking around in the galleries and talking to people, talking about their work. I think that’s something that guests are going to have stick with them for a long time and really give them a new understanding about art and the art that they’re looking at in the museum.

Moira Anderson:
And many of the artists were here throughout the entire weekend participating, of course not only in the symposium, but they also had the opportunity to interact with guests and workshops. Ming Smith on Sunday led a photography workshop in downtown Bentonville guiding our guests through some street photography techniques. Randy Williams did a lot of programming while he was here – professional development for our museum educators and then led a Sunday workshop for our teen council since he helps to create some of the teen programming for the Met. So being able to participate in experience learning with an artists in more intimate educational aspect was an incredible opportunity for our guests with the exhibition.

Lauren Haynes:
Yeah, and we were able to have so many people here who had never been to Crystal Bridges before, who had never been to Bentonville. So it was also for us to start of some conversations with artists, we’re hoping to do a mural in downtown Bentonville with William T. Williams. And really just this idea of the symposium and the Soul of a Nation opening weekend being the start of so many conversations, is something that I think we’ll take away and think about for a long time.

Stace Treat:
Yeah, I would think in the context of ‘Black Lives Matter’ recently that revisiting this period in American art is real valuable.

Lauren Haynes:
Let us see how artists are really great at responding to things that are happening, and really can be a beacon for us to think about really important times.

Stace Treat:
All right, well I’m really excited about this exhibition, I want everyone to come see it. Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power is on view at Crystal Bridges through April 23 – don’t miss it. Moira, Lauren, thanks so much for dropping by Museum Way.

Moira Anderson:
Thanks for having us.

Stace Treat:
Celebrate Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power with Art Night Out, on March 24. All ages are invited to join us for an action-packed experience that brings the galleries to life with theater, poetry, games, and more. Kicking off the night are popular Memphis hip hop dancers, G-Nerd and Dra’em, followed by Philadelphia’s DJ King Britt. The night features free admission to the exhibition. Learn more at crystalbridges.org.

Stace Treat:
Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Museum Way. We’ll have new episodes out each month. Head over to our Facebook page. We’ll be sharing this episode there and comment to let us know what you’d like to hear on the podcast or ask a question you’ve always been curious about. You can also ask us on Twitter with the #museumway, check back next month to see if we answered your question. I’m Stace Treat and I’ll catch you next time right here on Museum Way.

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