Running a digital educational event in a museum or gallery
What is a digital event?
For the purpose of these guidance notes, a digital event is any activity where visitors use digital equipment to produce an outcome. It could be taking photos using digital cameras and printing them out or using photocopiers to create a piece of art work or a piece of digital art created using computer software. This could be extended to inputting information to the computer such as uploading a digital image to a computer and manipulating it.
This step-by-step guide offers advice on setting up and running digital events in museums and galleries and is targeted at museum educators and programmers who might not have had much experience of running digital events before. These notes start with general practicalities followed by examples of projects dealing with a small number of visitors suitable for museums offering digital activities for the first time or with very limited budget to much larger events attracting several hundred participants. The examples are based on events run at the V&A.
Why run digital events in a museum or gallery?
- New ways of engaging with the collections
Digital equipment offers opportunities for a range of different audiences to look at and experience the collection in a different way. Whether using digital photography to record images of museum objects to create a story, or manipulating existing images to create new art works.
- Skill development
For some activities skill development is the main emphasis, and the workshop or event can be sold on that. In other activities skill learning is implicit, with the participants not always aware of how much they have learnt!
- Creativity and freedom
Digital activities offer ways of producing creative ideas quickly. The ability to change, delete and manipulate designs gives a freedom that more conventional museum activities cannot offer. Depending on the activity, participants can complete the process from idea to a finished product within an hour. For visitors being able to create something using a digital image of a museum object has great motivational appeal as a souvenir of their visit.
Generally, digital activities are not messy events, which can enable them to take place in the galleries near to the objects that the event is linked to.
- Audience development
Offering digital events can attract people into the museum and galleries who might not normally take part in an event in the museum. For many, the idea of doing a digital event in a museum is exciting. It gives the opportunity for families or people who have never met before to learn together.
If staff have very limited experience of running digital events then there are several options:
- You could consider linking up with a local college, school or adult education centre that run digital courses and offer to facilitate a workshop. In discussions with the course tutor it might be possible to use the museum or gallery as inspiration for part of a project. The tutor would bring in the required digital equipment, such as cameras or laptops for the group. If possible you could offer something extra for the group such as free workshop space, or supervised access to a handling collection.
- Do you have a couple of digital cameras and access to a computer and printer or photo printer? If you do you could try a pilot project with a few people from a particular audience. Explain to them that you are developing the activity, their feedback will be invaluable, and the event will develop staff confidence. You could set a challenge of telling a story in four photographs using the collections as inspiration. The rest is up to the imagination of the participants!
- If you don't have equipment or no-one feels confident to run a digital event, but you have the funds, you could employ a digital workshop leader/artist to suggest an event to run. Some digital artists bring their own equipment which they will provide for participants.
- Aim to build in success for both the participant and staff, start simple (that doesn't mean less creative). Use digital applications that staff have some experience in, or be prepared to offer them training. Visit other museums and galleries that run digital events, find out what they offer, what they have found successful what the pitfalls are.
Once you have an idea for an event, and before you pilot it, you will need to work out the costs for materials and possible purchase of equipment, also staff time. Break down all the stages of the event and cost them. Do you have all the equipment you will need? If not how much will it cost for the 'missing' pieces of equipment? Estimate how much you will need to spend on consumables such as paper, photographic paper, inks etc.
Remember, you can set limits for participants on how many prints / printouts / final products they can have.
If you feel you have the resources, then develop your pilot event. After the pilot event you will have a clearer idea of costs and other resources. Once you have a figure and if it looks too expensive for your museum or gallery to support, you could consider looking for sponsorship.
Where are you going to run your event? Can it take place in the galleries? If so are there enough power sockets? Is there space for tables, chairs, equipment and materials if you need them? Who will be responsible for equipment? In a public space it is not always possible for the workshop leader to 'watch' all the equipment and lead the session, so more staff might be needed. Having the event in the gallery has the benefit of immediate engagement with the objects, and the workshop leader on hand to help.
If the event is not run in the gallery, how are you going maintain the security of the equipment borrowed by the participants? Have you provided them with all the information they need to do the activity? Have you explained how to use the equipment they might need? You will need to provide short notes on using the equipment and on the task.
Lending participants equipment and letting them go into the galleries unsupervised can feel daunting. If participants have booked onto an event, and have been sent tickets which they produce at the beginning of the event, you do have some security in knowing their home address. If the event is drop-in then participants need to give some form of security which will be given back on the return of the equipment. This could be in the form of a credit card or driver's licence. A harder issue to deal with is if the equipment is returned damaged. From experience this rarely occurs, though occasional accidents will inevitability happen. Smaller pieces of kit such as cables, memory sticks need to be counted out and in. If they need to be issued to participants it is worth numbering them, and noting who has which number. Laptops by their design are portable. In a classroom setting it is easier to monitor who has them, in a more public setting, it is worth considering laptop locks. These fit into the laptop and have a combination lock on a cable, which allows them to be secured to something immovable.
The number of participants at your event, their experience of using digital equipment and the complexity of the activity will be factors determining the number of staff. For example a booked group of 12–15 young people developing their digital photography techniques inspired by a photography exhibition could be managed by one workshop leader and an assistant. If the event involves using computer software such as PhotoShop, where participants might be at differing ability then the ratio of staff to participants will need to increase. For booked groups of a similar age and ability, one member of staff to four participants should suffice, if it is a drop-in family event then staff numbers will need to be worked out for the different stages of the activities, e.g. one member of staff should introduce the activity to each family and provide quick tuition in the use the of equipment such as cameras. Other staff will be needed to operate computers, printers and other equipment and also assist families in their creative work. Obviously, if the event has processes such as printing digitally generated images onto t-shirts, then additional staff be needed. As in all events involving digital equipment, it is essential that staff can troubleshoot any problems.
Once you have invested in a set of equipment, you can use it again and again, making it more cost effective. You don't have to buy state-of-the-art, basic models are usually easier to use for people at different levels of experience.
Events can be run using basic digital equipment, three digital cameras, a computer, relevant computer programme and a printer. With this equipment a session could be run for a few families or a small group of up to six people. A session could be run where the participants could take digital photos and print them out via the computer. The photographs could be used to create a small portfolio of images showing different photographic techniques, used to tell a story, or create a photomontage with different backgrounds (this could then be photocopied to produce a poster).
If you don't have any digital cameras then for small a sum (£20–40) you could buy a multi-card reader that will read a variety of memory cards from different camera makes. This way you could get participants to bring in their own cameras.
If you have access to several computers, and want to run a workshop that involves a specific computer software, then you can usually buy the software (or the licences for them) at a cheaper educational rate. Combining the use of images from a digital camera with the software allows for great deal of creative freedom. Some softwares are specific to PCs (personal computer) or Macs (Apple's personal computers); Most popular and useful softwares:
- PhotoShop Elements: this is not the full version of PhotoShop so it is cheaper but has all the functions you would need. It enables image manipulation and printing out in different formats
- Flash MX: an animation package
- Final Cut Pro: for video-based work (Mac only)
A useful source of information about programmes and projects is the UK media education website
Once you have run a digital event, and assuming you have a website, put up some digital images of the event with examples of the work produced. This could be used to promote future digital events. You could also consider running a competition where participants send in digital examples of their work, with selected winners work being posted on the web. Press departments might be interested in covering your new digital events.
Examples of V&A digital events
CD and Poster Design
Target audience: young people in year groups 11-13 year olds and 14-16 year olds
Paid and booked event, 8 young people, 8 computers with PhotoShop Elements, 8 digital cameras, and an A3 printer
One workshop leader and an assistant
The aim of the workshop was for the young people to use the collections as inspiration for a music CD cover and poster for a band. This workshop had broad appeal to young people because of the music interest, particularly from young people who were in bands. The session started with examining and discussing music poster design from the museum's collections.As this was a booked event, tickets had been issued in advanced, and we had confirmed contact details of the participants. This meant that security wasn't required before issuing equipment. The young people were each given a digital camera, to take pictures of objects, buildings and themselves. These images formed the source material for their design, and were down loaded onto the computer. Using the PhotoShop, images were manipulated, text and background added. By formatting their design on different printer settings, the design was printed as a paper insert CD cover, a round CD label that was put onto a blank CD and an A3 poster.
In this event both the workshop leader and assistants were digital artists, so had the expertise to give one to one tuition where the young people needed it. This is important where the levels of experience of participants in digital art may be very different.
- Loop-Based Digital Art
Target audience: young people 13–15 year olds
Paid and booked event, 6 young people, 6 laptops with Ableton Live and Arkaos VJ programmes, 6 digital cameras
One workshop leader and an assistant
The aim of the workshop was to create a two-minute video, using short loops of video, music and graphics, with the museum's collection as the starting point. This event was run by a digital artist and assistant who brought in the required equipment. Using the digital photography cameras on video setting, the young people recorded objects, and people within the museum. This material was downloaded on to the laptops. Using the Arkaos VJ video jockeying software on the laptops the young people were able to manipulate, edit the video material. Then using Ableton Live software they created and added sound, text or music to it. They could also change the backgrounds. At the end of the workshop there was a screening of all the short videos created during the day. The young people taking part in the event greatly enjoyed the creative freedom and multi-media aspect of this workshop.
Every Object Tells a Story
Target audience: families
Free, drop-in event (approximately 200 people a day)
20 digital cameras, 5 printers, 6 members of staff - could be done on a smaller scale
Average length of time taken for the activity - 1 hour 30 mins
The aim of this event was to get families working together to create a short story using four photographs of objects from the collections. Participants were given a sheet of paper with the outline for the four photographs to be mounted, and space for the story text. Each family were lent a digital camera. A short introduction was given about the activity and how to operate the camera. Before the camera was given out (one camera per family) some form of security was taken. Families worked on the project in different ways, some wanted to work collectively on the story, in others each member of the family wanted to create their own. Sometimes families would make up the story line before going into the galleries, others took photos of what they liked and then made up the story.
Once the family had taken photos of the objects they had chosen, they then returned to the activity area, and selected the four photos they wanted printed. The member of staff deleted the photos that were not needed, and the remainder were printed out. To print the photographs, the camera was link by a USP cable to the printer. Afterwards the memory card in the camera was then cleared so the camera could be re-issued. The participant then stuck their photographs on the paper, one photo in each square outline, and the text written underneath each photo, until the complete story was told.