Digital reviews - Museums Association

Digital reviews

A scroll through the latest websites, apps and social media from museums and galleries
Live streaming, video and Instagram | Operation Night Watch, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
I’ve always loved projects that have brought the unseen specialist work of museum staff out from behind the scenes and into public view. A particular favourite was the building of Charles Babbage’s printer at the Science Museum in the late 1990s. I never tired of watching the team of engineers beavering away on something so complex and intricate, bringing it to life, right in front of my eyes.
Fast forward 20 years and this time it is the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam that has brought a wonderfully intricate and complex museum project into full view of the public. And, of course, in our now fully connected world, that audience isn’t just those who have the chance to visit the museum in person.
In July, the Rijksmuseum unveiled Operation Night Watch, its largest research and restoration project ever (of Rembrandt’s most famous painting, The Night Watch), which will be carried out over the next two years. 
As I don’t have a trip to Amsterdam planned any time soon, it is wonderful to see the online access the museum is giving to this project.
In this era of 24-hour news coming from parliament, or Brussels, it was refreshing to watch news-style reporting covering something that makes me feel much less anxious. 
The Rijksmuseum has created a real sense of the importance of this project by live streaming key moments along its timeline. 
The announcement of the work felt more like a trailer to a Hollywood blockbuster than a museum restoration project, and the videos and updates posted to Operation Night Watch’s own Instagram account have hooked me into the project and its wonderful web content.
Online you can find a plethora of information about the painting itself and the intricacies of the research and restoration. Much of this is video based, including time lapses, interactive Q&A sessions and interviews with key team members.
The director of the museum tells us that it will carry out this historic project with the world watching, and I believe if it keeps creating such compelling online content, it really will garner an enormous audience observing its progress from across the globe. 
He tells us that Operation Night Watch belongs to all of us, and with this brilliant stream of updates and information, it makes you feel somehow involved and part of this artwork’s life and history.
To mark World Mental Health Day in October, London’s National Gallery launched a free audio tour that encourages an exploration of its collection through the lens of mental health. This audio tour is delivered via a visitor’s own smartphone using a Progressive Web App (PWA).
A PWA does not need to be downloaded or installed. Instead, it is accessed via your phone’s mobile web browser. It can also be used while you’re offline – so no need to be using wifi or your phone’s data allowance once it’s up and running. I did struggle to access the tour at first with the browser I use on my phone, but after some intervention by my accompanying teenage son, I got it up and running on Safari.
The tour lasts about 40 minutes and can be done all in one go, or by choosing specific steps as you walk around the gallery. 
It doesn’t need to be undertaken in a specific order, which is a feature that I liked. Each stop lasts about two-and-a-half minutes and is narrated by young people, some who have direct experience of mental illness.
I really enjoyed this audio tour. It’s the first time I have listened to one that isn’t interpreting the artwork in front of me. Instead, it uses the collection to encourage visitors to pause and think about their own mental health, as well as that of others. I would love to see a version of this produced that could allow people to also use the tour away from the gallery. 
Social media campaign | Museum of London’s Fashion Alphabet
The Museum of London’s weekly dose of stories from its fashion collection has me hooked. The museum’s curators are making 26 short videos, each inspired by a letter of the alphabet, and so far (at the time of writing, they are up to the letter “I”), the videos have collectively been viewed on Facebook a million times. 
Nobody in the museum world needs telling that our stories are everything, and this lovely social media campaign is a testament to that. I’m no follower of fashion, and have never visited the Museum of London, but these captivating videos (which are available on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram Stories and YouTube) have reinforced the idea that you can take a museum object and a great storyteller, mix it with video and a social media platform, and engage a new audience that will keep coming back for more. 

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