by Beth

Last fall, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) reached out to Stamen to help with an exciting project: imagining the future of their museum collection API, which was in it’s very early stages. The ask was twofold: to do some initial experiments with the API to see what kinds of walls we hit, and to host an event bringing together artists, designers and museum staff to do some imagining of their own.

Our initial pingings of the API resulted in works that were practical as well as experimental data art, like this representation of the lifespan of artists from the collection:

The event, which we called Art + Data Day, took place at the new Gray Area Art and Technology Theater in San Francisco on Oct. 30, 2014. Facilitated by Chacha Sikes (above), the event was formatted as a participatory design workshop, focusing on collaboration and problem solving (rather than competition and speed) as a way of testing the alpha API. The event brought together museum administrators and staff – like their Head of Digital Keir Winesmith – as well as artists, technologists, and designers – like Scott Murray and Micah Scott (shown below) – to explore what they could do with that iteration of the data.

The group broke into four teams, each with a different focus based on skills and interest:

  • Team #Selfie explored how images taken by museum visitors could provide new information about the relationships people have to an artwork and how it’s perceived.
  • Team Context investigated how the SFMOMA API might be paired with external data sets to deliver related content that would provide greater context about artworks and artists.
  • Team PixelMasher thought about what could be learned from the visual context and pixels within the images represented in the collection.
  • Remotely, John Higgins, SFMOMA's information architect, submitted a project that inquired whether artwork titles convey a specific emotion, revealing the sentiment of an artist across all of his or her works contained in SFMOMA's collection over time.

At the end of the day, everyone walked away feeling like they had contributed to something exciting, which they had. SFMOMA also had some clear takeaways around both the abilities and limitations of the API.

To get all the juicy details about Art + Data Day, the teams, and what they created, take a look at the full report on the SFMOMA Lab’s blog and be sure to watch this Art + Data Day video.

This week we will be presenting this work at Museums and the Web 2015 in Chicago, and we couldn’t be more excited to meet others working at this intersection of art, design, and data.

Do you want Stamen to help with a participatory design workshop? Get in touch!


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