• Type: Whitepaper
  • Topics: Av Industry; Live Events;
  • Date: August 2016

By Dan Daley, Special to AVIXA

Museum Event AVMany museums commemorate events. Nowadays, they also host them. It’s not hard to find museums of all types that offer their spaces for event production, from the National Museum of American Jewish History in New York City, to the Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville, Tenn., to the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles. Museum spaces provide a unique environment for events, lending the kind of authenticity, gravitas or novelty that the local VFW hall can’t. They also often come AV-ready for the task.

“All the museum projects we design and work on we do with an eye toward supporting live events at some point,” observes Brian Edwards, Chairman and CEO of Edwards Technologies, whose portfolio includes the National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Ga. “The audio and the video systems we put in for the museum exhibits are also often a big draw for event producers. The interactivity we design into those exhibits will often be used by attendees at events, so we have to plan for that in the interfaces and the execution.”

Neal B. Johnson, Chair of the Media and Technology Professional Network at the American Alliance of Museums in Washington, D.C., says that many museums have come to rely on outside event production for revenue, particularly non-profit institutions. AV technology, he says, plays a part in attracting that business.

“Technology in museums — especially the kind that creates immersiveness and deep engagement — is growing by leaps and bounds,” he says. AV systems, when done artfully, help museums “create their curatorial voice,” he explains. “At the same time, technology can personalize the experience for visitors,” including those at events hosted in those environments.

Where’s The Line Between Museum and Venue?

Museums have become aware of their desirability as event-production sites. Jeff Peden is Director of Sales and Marketing at Anode, an exhibit-technology developer and fabricator in Nashville, which has nurtured a specialty in music museums, such as the huge Country Music Hall of Fame, which they helped though a $100-million, 210,000-square-foot expansion in 2014 that more than doubled its size. Peden says there’s always a “tactical” point in discussions around exhibit technology that seeks to determine where the line between museum and event rests for each platform.

“When does the museum go ‘off’ and the event start?” he asks. “We need to know that so we can program exhibits, such as interactive tables, accordingly.”

What they will often do is set up alternate inputs that event clients can use to load their own digital content into an interactive exhibit. In some cases, says Chris Lee, Anode’s Vice President of Technology, it requires tweaks to the exhibit software. A recent example is a software enhancement that added a PowerPoint mode to an interactive display, allowing event producers to simply plug in that widely used program. These are adjustments that museum clients may not either have thought of or permitted even a few years ago, even as they were letting their spaces out for event rentals.

The difference, says Lee: “Museums, especially non-profits, need the extra revenue,” both to pay for more sophisticated exhibit technology and to keep up with other museums that are doing the same.

Immersive is Important for Multiple Purposes

In general, the keyword today in museum AV design is “immersiveness” — the ability to envelop a visitor and engage them on tactile, visceral and intellectual levels simultaneously. Such an effect has been achievable with interactive platforms, such as touchscreens and beam speakers that produce highly focused audio. But Edwards says the next iteration of immersive platforms will involve the Internet of Things (IoT).

“Millennial visitors are only going to give you a few minutes to prove if [an exhibit] is worth their time,” he says. “Networked components are what will give you the flexibility you need to change and adapt an exhibit to make sure it’s as engaging as possible.”

A high degree of flexibility isn’t just for supposedly fickle Millennials. The two most popular types of museums today — those predicated on science and history, according to the Themed Entertainment Association — are the ones most susceptible to radical changes in their foundational tenets. For instance, the realization that many dinosaurs had feathers — they are the predecessors to many bird species, as it turns out — is expected to have museums scrambling to change the look of key exhibits.

“They discover something with the CERN supercollider in Switzerland and suddenly a whole museum has to be rethought,” says Edwards. “Networks will help us change exhibits to reflect those changes and keep the museum up to date, by building flexibility into the AV design.”

Denver area-based integrator Mode Systems has designed immersive interactivity into several recently-opened music and sports museums. These range from virtual-reality headsets to be used for Major League Baseball’s “Baseball Hall of Tour,” which will be opening in July, in Davenport, Iowa, to the 8-foot-by-8-foot interactive dance floor that singer Ne-Yo uses to virtually teach visitors his dance moves at the Grammy Museum in Cleveland, Miss., which opened in March.

Mode Systems Owner Marc Headley says systems like these and the performance stages that museums are installing are not only being used for live-event applications, they’re being purposely included to attract and accommodate them. The entrance-area stage at the new Grammy Museum was intended by management to host shows put on by third-party event producers, while curators of the new Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Okla., went back to integrators barely a week ahead of its opening to ask that its projection system be updated to accommodate other users. Headley says such conversation are happening with every museum project.

“The ability to change the content of the video, audio and interactive systems in the museums is the key thing,” he explains. “The systems’ main mission — to set up the visit to the museum for visitors in the orientation theater, for instance — always has to come first. But after that, it’s a matter of including as many different format interfaces — VGA, HDMI, iPads, etc.— as they and you think they may need for events.”

The trend of museums and their AV systems used as event-production platforms has, in some cases, created an entirely new dynamic. Citing the new Mississippi Grammy Museum’s location on the campus of Delta State University, Headley notes that the school’s students are already planning events there as part of classes.

“They’ve never had anything like this in Cleveland, Miss., before,” he says. “The AV gives them possibilities for doing things they’d never dreamed of. Without the museum and these systems, it never would happen.”