Home Is Where the Art Is

Home Is Where the Art Is (HIWTAI) is the CMA’s response to the pandemic, temporary museum closure, and the resulting shift in focus from the physical to digital. Our integrated, flexible back-end, Open Access Initiative, allowed us to be agile and reactive to the changing needs of our audiences, from members to young families to college students and remote workers, releasing multiple new web-based collection toolsets using AI and live data, an interactive Slack app, 42 videos across multiple new themed seriesa plethora of live programs, and more in 2020.  

When the museum closed on March 14th , CMA’s digital innovation team needed to immediately pivot – on top of getting staff online and continuing our regular programming through virtual platforms. This gave us the opportunity to think differently and ask: How can art help people process this unique situation? 

We wanted to do more than just move the in-person experience online; rather, as we worked from home, we leveraged technology to bring works of art to those in similar circumstances, responding to changing needs in new, enriching, and innovative ways. We strove to bring our audiences moments of joy, levity, and thoughtful reflection through relevant discussions around art during a global pandemic  

Beginning the week of the closure, CMA’s cross-collaborative “Digital Innovation team,” made up of representatives from across the museum meets weekly to discuss digital resources and programming. This has given us the opportunity to work together to consider how audience and goals changed during this difficult period. 

Thanks to previous investments in our digital and back-end, we already had robust resources available such as our Open Access API, Integrated CCMS and DAMS. These allowed us to and put our energies into creating innovative toolsets to break the monotony of digital content during the early months of the pandemic. 

Beginning in March, the museum began to group these newly created digital resources together under the “Home Is Where the Art Is” umbrella in order to allow visitors to easily find relevant resources. 

The Home is Where the Art Is initiative includes:  

Takeover Homepage: Created around the HIWTAI theme, this page is a dynamic gateway into the museum’s array of digital offerings. This homepage is a direct response to our goals of making content available that fits the diverse needs of our members and public. With a single scroll, visitors can find a way into virtual events, educational toolsets, curatorial videos, our collection, and more. Unfortunately, the CMA’s main website is nearly 10 years old, and a major overhaul is scheduled for this coming year. However – in advance of this project, we wanted to create a takeover landing page that could help diverse audiences easily find the multiple engaging digital resources created during the pandemic.  

screenshot of a web page
CMA’s takeover home page, centered around “Home Is Where the Art Is”

ArtLens for Slack:  ArtLens for Slack was specifically designed for remote workers after our own team realized we were missing moments of connection and discussion over art during our remote workday. ArtLens for Slack is for teams working remotely that are looking for a moment of levity in their day. It is a Slack app that sends daily art prompts to individuals on a team, and together they “curate” daily exhibitions as a groupUsers select an answer to a topical prompt such as ‘If Zoom was unavailable, what alternative method of communication would you use instead?, then choose an artwork to go with their answer and can add a witty comment, which is displayed at the end-of-day exhibition. The app combines the traditional museum experience and those in-office watercooler conversations. 

A slack message, with embedded artwork
An example slack prompt

ArtLens AI – Share your viewOver summer 2020 as we continued to work from home, we found ourselves constantly sharing the views out our home office windows. Based on this idea and empathetic to students and teachers facing the start of a new remote school year, we created ArtLens AI. This Artificial Intelligence powered tool, using the AI engine Milvus and trained on CMA’s Open Access collection, recognizes shapes, patterns, and colors in user-uploaded images to works of art, offering a creative way into the collection, as well as surprising and delighting connections. ArtLens AI is available on the museum’s website and on twitter. With fun and surprising results, it was intended as a way to combat zoom fatigue by providing a new, creative, and low-life point of entry into the collection, providing a much-needed break from the plethora of available video and zoom lecture content. 

composite image; photo on the left and drawing on the right show the same building
An astounding match from ArtLens AI – this vacation photo in Venice returned a sketch featuring the same building!

Virtual Dashboards: CMA is committed to documenting all our digital projects and sharing what we learn to help other institutions, small and large, thrive. Since launching our Open Access Initiative in 2019, CMA has been asking “How is Open Access making an impact?”. In March 2020, we immediately saw an increase in visits to CMA’s collection online, which inspired us to create live virtual dashboards to visualize engagement on CMA’s Collection Online, Open Access API, and Wikipedia. It’s informative to see the difference in which artworks are most viewed between platforms, as well as the exponential effect Open Access can have on the reach of our collection. These are not only for other museum staff, but are publicly available to researchers, data lovers, and the public. 

a graphic dashboard listing artworks, titles, and view count
A screenshot of CMA’s dynamic dashboards

Video Series: 6 series, with a total of 42 new videos 

  • On My Mind (9 videos) Beginning in March 2020, this included our “On My Mind” video series – produced entirely from home, these videos featured CMA curators and staff speaking about one artwork from the permanent collection that spoke to them during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. Topics ranged from discussions of loneliness in relation to the isolated figure in Hughie Lee-Smith’s contemporary painting, Rooftop, to how a greek lekythos can remind one of the need for a haircut. 
a girl watching a video on a computer screen
A visitor watches Curator Seth Pevnick’s “On My Mind” video about a Greek lekythos figure cutting his hair.
  • Behind the Beat (7 videos): Behind the Beat is a series featuring composers and performers in the time of isolation. While the twin pillars of performing arts—global travel and gathering together for a shared experience—are impossible, artists are reflecting on their work, both past and future. For example, in an interview from home in August 2020, composer Courtney Bryan, whose work abroad on a prestigious Rome Prize was cut short by the pandemic, speaks on her music, including compositions concerned with social justice and responses to police brutality.  
screenshot of a video showing 2 people on a zoom call
Composer Courtney Bryan speaks with Tom Welsh, Director of Performing Arts, in a Behind the Beat video
  • Other video series include: On View Now (8 videos; ongoing)curators speak on current exhibitions. CMAConservation (5 videos): Dynamic videos introduce viewers to CMA’s conservation labs. Exploring the Keithley Gift (5 videos)introducing new artwork gifted to the museum in March 2020. Gallery Hangouts (8 videos)filmed on-site, CMA’s educators discuss collection favorites. 
Screenshot of a video shows a woman in front of frames
Chief Conservator Sarah Scaturro introduces a CMA Conservation video

Virtual Programs: 

  • Desktop Dialogues (20 events to date): Desktop Dialogues is a free, live conversation every 1st and 3rd Wednesday at 12:00 p.m. (EDT). Listen as curators, educators, community leaders, artists, and others offer new ways to look at and understand artworks, special exhibitions, and museum-specific issues. 
a live event screen showing 2 speakers and an artwork
Screenshot from a Desktop Dialogue: The Politics of Sound
  • Other CMA programs include the Close Looking at a distance series (8 events), regular MIX virtual dance parties, special public lectures, classes and other exhibition-related events hosted virtually.  

Instagram Filters: During the early months of the pandemic, the museum created topical Instagram filters using open access artwork as a new way to share art in our collection. These featured prompts such as “what’s my quarantine hairstyle” and “where will I go on my virtual vacation?” 

two selfies showing instagram filter
Two users try out CMA’s Instagram filter, “What’s my Quarantine Hairstyle?”

Exhibition Guide in the ArtLens App: The museum’s ArtLens App has images and didactics for every object on view, an interactive map with wayfinding, and additional interpretive content. As we closed our doors again in Fall 2020 due to rising covid cases, the museum was preparing for a unique upcoming exhibition, Stories from Storage, which had been planned in just 9 months during the pandemic. We wanted to use our existing app to make this accessible to all visitors, whether they used the app onsite like an audio guide, or browsed the galleries virtually from home. We updated the app’s interactive map to include exhibition sub-galleries, and a custom guided audio tour featuring all 18 of the museum’s curators.  

hand holding phone, phone screen shows gallery map
Stories from Storage special exhibition is available through the museum’s ArtLens App

The museum’s other digital resources available to visitors on the Home Is Where the Art Is page include existing digital toolsets such as the museum’s Open Access collection and API, Collection Online, ArtLens App, creative art activities, screen savers, blogs and digital archives.  

The digital team monitors analytics for all virtual programs, videos, and visitor traffic to our websites through a variety of platforms and live dashboards (I.e., google analytics, vimeo and zoom reports). We aggregate findings into a weekly tableau published report that is shared with the cross departmental innovation team to measure the success of these initiatives. 

a screenshot of a bar graph
A screenshot from the weekly analytics report CMA’s digital team shares internally to monitor success of digital initiatives