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The Museum Market

Feb 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Michael Goldman


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In this issue's cover story on the design and installation of a shining new AV infrastructure inside the California Academy of Sciences facility, we use terminology such as “cutting edge,” “eco-friendly,” and “highly functional.” They are appropriate terms, as the AV work at the facility represents some of the most sophisticated work of its kind in a museum environment — illustrating the power modern AV technology has to revolutionize exhibits and draw consumers in.

Indeed, high-end interactive museums are among the best places to see, hear, and learn about the wonders of AV technology. Yet, ironically, their complex technical nature, lengthy development and design cycles, and funding structures make museums among the AV-oriented entities potentially hardest hit by the rise of this beastly recession. Even one of the newest crown jewels on the museum landscape — Washington D.C.'s Newseum — has not been immune. That facility, as we reported in the June 2008 issue of SVC, was a $450 million project, with a large slice of that pie going toward AV systems. Yet by the end of last year, the facility announced it was laying off 250 employees — approximately 10 percent of its workforce at the time. And that was before the economy really tanked.

Around the same time, as 2008 limped to a close, newspapers, museum-industry trade publications, and the blogosphere were routinely reporting about lean times ahead for museums, public and private — as one prominent New York Times headline blared. That naturally begs the question: Are there many whiz-bang AV projects for museums being shelved right now?

Mark Roos — vice president of engineering at BBI Engineering — a company deeply involved in the museum market including the California Academy of Sciences job, says the general answer to that question is yes. But he emphasizes there is something of a time-space warp involved in terms of when, and how, the slowdown affects integration firms such as BBI and related AV entities.

“There is a lag time between an economic change and when we would be affected,” Roos says. “… Museums and big public projects have huge momentum, and once they start, they usually get finished. That said, there are obviously problems right now with the prospect of raising money for those trying to start up [new projects], so those problems happening now will affect our end of the business only later — maybe two years down the road.”

I hope you enjoy learning about the California Academy of Sciences' AV breakthroughs from this issue. Let's just hope such breakthroughs, the people behind them, and the rest of us can battle through the economic woes in the coming months.



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