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Doing Business in Museum AV

Some of the most innovative work in pro AV is happening at the nation's museums. And it's not just the exhibitions.



Design and Production installed interactive maps for the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.

Besides tourism, some museums also are competing for conferences and meetings by adding rooms, auditoriums, and other venues that cater to area companies seeking a place for off-site meetings. These events reduce a museum's reliance on donations and visitor fees by providing an additional revenue stream. One extreme example is Los Angeles' Skirball Cultural Center.

"Approximately 25 percent of the revenue of the whole organization was spun off from having events," says Rich Cherry, the former director of operations. "In order to do that well, you have to compete with the best of the best. But a lot of times, the AV side of it is not quite where it should be. For enlightened museum directors, there is a revenue stream to be had by improving the technology to a level that makes it an attractive option for corporate groups to buy space."

Besides rental revenue, museums also can justify AV upgrades if they help further cultural goals such as community outreach. For example, one room at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., has a Tandberg videoconferencing system used partly for communicating with schools whose students are scheduled to visit.

"The Tandberg system was purchased to do some of the initial, previsit things with teachers so they wouldn't have to come into the museum [twice]," says Brandon Wilcox, the museum's systems support specialist. "We could show them the presentation before they got here."

In other cases, museums use videoconferencing or streaming systems for distance learning, such as when a curator makes a presentation. Some museums have cart-mounted, wireless video systems that a curator can wheel around from exhibit to exhibit to discuss them with a remote audience.


Yet another potential revenue stream is digitizing archives and then selling access to them, as in the case of museums that specialize in broadcast history. That content also can be used within the facility, by streaming it to the museum's digital signage, for example.

"Customers like the Library of Congress are using our migration system, SAMMA, to digitize and save their videotapes, which degrade over time," says Susan Crouse, Front Porch Digital director of product marketing. "Museums might be able to start thinking about repurposing their video assets so they can raise money. [With] our DivArchive and DivaPublish systems, they could publish assets online and get advertising dollars."

Museums also seem to be increasing spending on AV gear that enables interactivity. Sometimes that's a touch table with ceiling-mounted projects that throw down an image when a patron's hand breaks an infrared beam. Other museums are using devices such as iPads to encourage interactivity between visitors.

"A map is cool, but being able to run an image of an army across a map against someone else's army is even cooler," says Cherry, director of the Balboa Park Online Collaborative in San Diego.

The collaborative is noteworthy because it's a rarity: a nonprofit organization created to help the Balboa Park facility's member museums with technology projects. Most museums don't have an extensive in-house team to handle AV, something that limits their willingness to invest in big tech projects. In other cases, they're looking for integrators to take on that task, creating a long-term relationship and revenue stream—one more factor that AV pros should be aware of when considering the museum market.

"Museums are well aware that they have to engage youth in a compelling manner to compete," says Dale Panning, D&P senior systems engineer. "The museums that are operating for profit put an even higher emphasis on the high-tech, big-impact experience to draw more people in the door."

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