Sunday, April 26, 2009

Making Art Accessible

What a cool idea! Story from The New York Times ArtBabble Site Opens Window to World of Museums By KATE TAYLOR Published: April 6, 2009 For old television shows, there’s Hulu. For college lectures, there’s iTunes U. And now, for videos about art, there’s ArtBabble, a Web site created by the Indianapolis Museum of Art that offers videos from sources including the Museum of Modern Art and the PBS series “Art:21.” In the last few years, as museums have tried to take advantage of the Internet to connect with young audiences, they have produced an increasing number of online videos, from artist interviews and time-lapse shots of exhibition installations to short profiles of curators, art handlers, and even museum guards. Most institutions feature these videos on their own Web sites, as well as uploading them to sites like YouTube or But until now, there has been no dedicated place on the Web for art videos. ArtBabble (, which goes live to the public on Tuesday, is intended to change that. For the roll-out the Indianapolis museum invited a handful of institutions, including the New York Public Library, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, to take part. In the long run, it hopes to add more institutions, so that ArtBabble becomes “the destination for art content online,” Daniel Incandela, the director of new media at the Indianapolis museum, said in an interview. On sites like YouTube, an artist interview can get lost among the “music videos, blooper videos, and sort of more viral, edgier content,” Mr. Incandela added. There is also no easy way to browse content from multiple museums, and, until recently, videos weren’t available in high definition. On ArtBabble the majority of videos are in high definition. The design of the home page is clean and is clearly meant to draw in nonspecialists, with speech bubbles featuring punchy quotations that, when clicked on, jump to the relevant videos. (A mock dictionary entry defines “ArtBabble” as “a place where everyone is invited to join an open, ongoing discussion — no art degree required.”) The most unusual feature of the site is the “notes” that accompany each video. The notes run down a window to the right of the screen, offering links to related material on the Web. For example, in an interview with the artist Robert Irwin, when Mr. Irwin mentions the sculptors Mark di Suvero and Richard Serra, the notes offer links to the Wikipedia entries for each artist. A reference to the gardens that Mr. Irwin designed at the Getty Center in Los Angeles provides links to the Getty Center’s Web site ( and a YouTube video of the gardens. Representatives of several of the partner institutions said that they were most excited about the notes feature and its potential. “We can give an online viewer the opportunity to take countless tangents,” said Joshua Greenberg, director of digital strategy at the New York Public Library. “It fits the core premise of librarianship, that it’s not just about putting something in someone’s hands but contextualizing it.” The hosting fees and other expenses of ArtBabble are being covered by the Indianapolis museum, with the help of a $50,000 grant from the Ball Brothers Foundation. (ArtBabble is free to users.) If the site becomes popular, the museum will look for corporate sponsorship, the museum’s director, Maxwell Anderson, said. Mr. Anderson said the goal behind ArtBabble, and the museum’s own video production, is to allow visitors to “experience the life of museums,” whether through employee profiles, studio visits with artists or videos of conservators restoring objects. The advantage of making the new video site a collaborative one was obvious, he said: “The strength and potency of this as a shared site is much greater than one museum at a time.” The Indianapolis museum has been a pioneer in using the Internet to provide greater transparency about museum operations. A section of its Web site ( called the Dashboard offers current information about the value of the museum’s endowment, the number of visitors and its average daily energy consumption. The museum also recently created an online database of works it has deaccessioned. Mr. Incandela acknowledged that the ultimate success of ArtBabble will depend, at least partly, on what other institutions the Indianapolis museum persuades to join. Internationally, one museum that has devoted substantial resources to producing videos is the Tate. In collaboration with British Telecom, the Tate has put hundreds of videos on its Web site,, from studio visits with Jeff Koons and Gilbert & George to archival interview footage with Francis Bacon. Reached by phone, Will Gompertz, the director of Tate Media, the branch of the museum that oversees its video production, said that he had not previously heard of ArtBabble, but based on a description, he thought it was a great idea. “Tate would be delighted” to put its videos on a site like ArtBabble, Mr. Gompertz said, adding, “Nothing in this new world can be achieved alone.”

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