With more high-profile museum exhibitions integrating the use of technology and digital tools to enhance the visitor’s experience, Tula Giannini, dean of the recently renamed School of Information, addresses the challenge of how to maintain the integrity of the exhibition and fulfill the need to create a compelling user experience.

What is an example of an exhibition (past or present) that has been successful in marrying technology and entertainment while maintaining the integrity of the work?

In today’s world of exhibitions capturing global audiences, the digital realm is increasingly invading gallery spaces with the goal of enhancing user engagement. Undeniably, there is a growing visitor expectation that exhibitions are designed around the user experience and education. Lacking this approach, exhibitions risk seeming dusty and “old school.” Museums that embody this new direction and have done it remarkably well as exemplified by the reopened Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, which introduced digital media into the gallery as a means of engaging visitors, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London—in particular, the Alexander McQueen exhibition, Savage Beauty, which was first shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Through the use of digital media from photography, film, and video to music and lights, the McQueen exhibition was not only digitally curated but also in effect choreographed through gallery spaces and time. This subsuming digital framework no doubt was key to the show’s immense public appeal, placing it among the most viewed exhibitions of all time.

How do museums balance the need to attract a larger, more diverse audience through engagement and entertainment with the educational and curatorial objectives of the institution? 

Engagement and entertainment (or as some folks call it, “play”) are at the heart of the mission and goals of museums today. To have great collections is only part of the museum’s role in society, and bringing art and culture to the public with narration, context, and meaning has become paramount. Today, through digital strategies, we are able to link the vast store of museum information, which flows from database, to digital space, and then gallery place, for the delight of all visitors.

The integration of technology into museums and cultural institutions is growing significantly, how is Pratt preparing its students to work in this field that is advancing so rapidly? 

With this very challenge in mind, this fall (2015), Pratt Institute’s School of Information introduced a new Master of Science in Museums and Digital Culture, the first such program globally. It is designed so that graduates acquire the knowledge and skill sets that prepare them to meet the needs of museums in the digital world—a world in which digital tools and technology are being used across all functions and activities of the museum—including digital curation of collections, digital publishing, gallery displays, the museum website, the virtual museum, social media for visitor interaction, and building community engagement, physical and digital. Taken together, these technologies are creating a rapidly emerging digital culture that opens up new and exciting ways to innovate and imagine the museum experience.