In addition to using multi-media offerings on a variety of websites to present behind the scenes information about its Art of the America’s wing, the MFA also utilized their own website to further the revisions in its image. Unfortunately, I had never been to the MFA website prior to the wing’s opening campaign, so I cannot make any sort of before and after comparisons. I will have to limit my analysis to the website’s current state, focusing on how it is employed to engage people with the new wing.
As part of the initiatives involved with the creation of the new wing, the MFA decided to completely overhaul its former website. As stated in an article (about the technological capacities incorporated into the wing) in The Boston Globe, the MFA chose to revise its website to bring its “virtual universe in line with its snazzy new galleries.” The museum hired Boston-based design and marketing firm Genuine Interactive to oversee the changes. In the same article, Genuine Interactive’s chief creative officer, Chris Pape, states that the intention was to turn the site from a monologue of information presentation to more of a dialogue, loaded with interactive materials to create an open engagement between the museum and its online visitors.
The new website visually achieves this sense of an interactive dialogue starting with the home page. The page is a stream of rotating images of different interior views of the museum, immediately contextualizing the space for the visitor and allowing them to see the new space. Most of the images highlight the new wing, as it is clearly the most exciting new element of the MFA. The page dedicated to the Art of the Americas wing allows the visitor to access a variety of aspects. The page has links to an introductory video featuring Director Malcolm Rogers and a video of opening day (both also found on the MFA’s YouTube page, previously discussed), news stories about the museum, a list of events, a link to the galleries to view the artworks, and, of course, information about the sponsors. The “Galleries” page allows the visitor to explore the new wing’s artwork, floor by floor, as well as to learn more about the building itself. The visitor can also learn about various the statistics of the wing, including that it has over 5,000 artworks in its 53 new galleries, which is a rather astonishing figure.
Each floor’s page has a selection of images of artworks that can be seen on that floor in the museum. These images also can link the visitor to the MFA’s collection page, allowing further exploration, though unfortunately only to the main collection page, rather than the entry for the specific object that linked there. This is a bit unfortunate, but easily fixable. The floor pages also have further features, such as additional explanatory text and videos about specific objects, all of which are also accessible on the museum’s YouTube channel. The website is successful in presenting the artwork from the new wing in an engaging, multimedia format, mixing text, video, and pictures to present the information in a dynamic way.
Despite this, the website doesn’t come close to replicating the type of experience a visitor gets from an actual visit to the museum’s Art of the America’s wing. Many museum websites these days create nearly exact virtual replicas of their exhibitions online – though, this is for smaller, temporary exhibitions. With over 5,000 works in the new wing, replicating the exhibition in an online format clearly wasn’t a realistic option for the museum. The main part of the website that I felt was lacking was the “Behind the Scenes” page. The interactive features in these galleries at the physical museum were one of my favorite parts of my visit, but their webpage does not reflect their engaging elements whatsoever. The topics of the three behind the scenes galleries are listed so that the visitor can read about what they might learn from these installations, but there are no interactive components for this learning to happen online. I am unsure if the MFA intends to improve upon this aspect of the side to make it more closely resemble the experience on site, but I think that it would be wise if they did. This addition would further the learning and engagement with the museum’s material on the website.
The website also feature a couple of aspects that really highlight its social networks (explored further in the following post). Under the “Explore” tab on its home page, the website has a page entitled “MFA Social Media” that is dedicated to links to all of its other pages – Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and their mailing list. Having accounts on all these social media sites is becoming standard operating procedure for most organizations these days, but its a bit more rare that organizations have a page on their site devoted just to all the links. I am sure more and more institutions will start embracing this method, particular if they implement website redesign projects. The MFA also has a “Buzz” page, which has a linking icon on the home page, in which the museum posts new social media information from their fans. The “Buzz” page has recent tweets about the museum, new visitor films added to their YouTube channel, and visitor images contributed on Flickr. Highlighting audience-created content on their site is the key way in which the museum ensures that it site functions as a dialogue – between the museum, the visitor, and the art.