A web site that appeals to everyone's inner artist
April 09, 2009 8:42 AM EDT
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- TV 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 blip.tv. But until
now, there has been no dedicated place on the Web for art videos.
ArtBabble (artbabble.org), which went live this week, 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 said. 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 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
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. 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
(getty.edu) and a YouTube video of the gardens.
"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, one of several partner institutions. "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
Mr. Anderson said the goal behind ArtBabble 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
(imamuseum.org) 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 that have been sold or are, for other reasons, no longer a
part of its permanent collection.
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, tate.org.uk, 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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