Despite their reputation as repositories for the past, many regional museums are embracing technology to adapt to the 21st century.
“One of the things that museums are challenged with is to assert our relevance in a modern era," said Betsy Feathers, the Research and Grants Officer at Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield.
The historical village is launching a new website to make information and more than 22,000 artifacts from the Shakers more accessible. The site includes an interactive map, a virtual tour of the village with games for kids, and a genealogy database where you can find out if your ancestors were Shakers. People are also able to watch and hear Shaker dances and songs to better understand how the community functioned and what its sisters and brethren believed.
Visitors will be able to access computerized kiosks set up at key locations inside the village, rent iPads for the day, or use their own mobile device as a personal digital tour guide. Feathers says these tools will allow people to learn at their own pace in their own way while walking through the village or sitting in the comfort of their home. She says the museum incorporating technology parallels Shaker communities during their most influential times.
“That sort of essential connection with the society around them, even though they were making an effort to have a community that was apart from the world," said Feathers.
The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge is also using technology to enhance visitor experience. In its current exhibit, Happily Ever After, people can use their mobile device to connect to a website available through a Q-R Code, similar to a barcode, that will enable them to learn more about Rockwell’s paintings and see more than 600 reference photos he used. On some paintings, you are able to click on highlighted faces to learn more about the models, who were often friends and family of Rockwell. James “Buddy” Edgerton modeled for Rockwell’s Boy Scout calendars and his grandmother is depicted in the painting “Going and Coming.”
"Everybody wanted to model for Norman Rockwell," Edgerton said in a video on the site. "Whether they were little guys, or big guys, or grandmothers. Every time a Saturday Evening Post cover came out it was loaded with local people."
Mary Whalen Leonard was the model for the painting “The Day in the Life of a Little Girl.”
"The one with me jumping into the water, I sat on the edge of the chair and he posed me, " Leonard said in an interview on the website. "So he certainly thought about how we were going to do all of this."
Jeremy Clowe is the Manager of Media Services at the museum. He says visitors often take the time to learn about the paintings even before they visit the museum.
“That’s become the new norm, no pun intended," Clowe said. "Using your own device, you’re instantly transported to another realm. The family tree picture that Rockwell did, you can actually go back home and hear Rockwell's voice talking about the painting."