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Words. Museum of Contemporary Art

Contemporary life is radically changing and, like life, contemporary art is too.

At the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia we used to consider the physical building as a container for art and for beautiful, challenging, subtle or powerful experiences with art. However, the infiltration of digital technologies into our lives, homes and relationships has inspired us to reconceptualise what space really is. The spaces in which we engage with our audiences aren’t just physical, they’re also virtual. Space isn’t quite what it used to be.

The Portable Museum For this reason, the visitor experience is evolving. Where a “visit” was once defined as a walk through the front doors of the Museum, the MCA now designs and integrates onsite, off-site and digital interactions for audiences. We’ve invested in providing relevant content and experiences for different contexts, with a focus on the role of mobile and wearable technology in this ecosystem. Digital engagement is high on the agenda for us, leading the team to reimagine our relationship with existing audiences and opening up possibilities to reach new audiences.

In 2012 we gave our building a giant makeover. Creating new spaces within a new icon for the city provided the opportunity to develop new ways of engaging audiences, and improving the visitor experience. Our new National Centre for Creative Learning represents a dynamic and innovative space for learning in the Museum. It features state-of-the art facilities including Digital and Multimedia Studios, Creative Studios, a dedicated sensory room for the MCA’s Bella program for students with specific needs, a lecture theatre, seminar room and library.

The new building also includes a locative network and public wifi. This means we now deliver contextually relevant experiences to visitors’ mobile devices based on where they are located at any point in time within the building. Using their own smartphone, visitors download the MCA Insight application which encourages them to ‘collect’ works from MCA exhibitions as they walk around, which can then be viewed at a later point in time. This personal gallery is both a digital representation of a visit to the Museum and a place for further investigation, with additional content provided about artists and works.

We’re dedicated to exploring more avenues for meaningful digital engagement, so the team is hard at work developing unique digital experiences that complement, extend, and provide alternatives to the physical experience of being in the Museum galleries.

The Mediated Museum Digital platforms are a great equaliser for audience access to knowledge. Now, regardless of social, economic or geographic standing anyone can open the door to Australian contemporary art practice. The MCA website is increasingly providing access to contemporary art, artists, curators and arts-related discussion. There, anyone, anywhere, can browse images, dive deeper into art works, get to know the artist, and explore ideas around contemporary art. We create content which is deep and engaging, and provides learning opportunities and insight into how contemporary practice is evolving. We privilege the voice of the artist and work hard to ensure they are represented well.

Whether a complement to a gallery visit, or an experience for those who might never visit, digital engagement allows us to create and deepen relationships with our audiences like never before. More than ever, it’s important to know more about our audiences - who they are and what they’re engaging with - and to provide them with individual and personalised experiences of the Museum, either in the physical or virtual space.

We’re aiming to be a national model of best practice in visual arts education, underpinned by the most recent advances in educational and digital research. This is evident in our learning experiences onsite, and especially in our outreach initiatives: in June 2012 we launched our Digital Excursions program where, from our base in the Sydney CBD, MCA Artist Educators connect via video conferencing with students in remote or regional areas across the entire Eastern seaboard - from Norfolk Island to Wilcannia - and internationally.

Our reach is growing, and to support these sessions we’ve created innovative online digital content and rich, creative learning resources. For teachers, we’re a source of support and inspiration for experimental ways of delivering the new National Arts Curriculum.

The Museum in the Cloud As a ‘Museum in the Cloud’ we create stories and relationships with artists, curators and thinkers. Being in the cloud also gives us opportunities to connect with remote communities, where many artworks in the MCA Collection originated. Engaging with these communities represents the advent of more meaningful exchange, and a challenge to traditional knowledge hierarchies, by showcasing knowledge holders in remote and regional Indigenous Australia. Digital now allows the Museum to represent a multiplicity of voices, whilst still acknowledging the importance of the authored voice.

We’re looking for innovative partners to help us create digital hubs in remote communities, connecting them virtually with Museum staff, artists, students and teachers – offering chances to co-create contemporary artworks, share ideas and exchange skills.

Future projects are aimed at offering more immersive and interactive environments for audiences to experience, and further exploration and experimentation with digital art itself. This includes defining what a 24-hour Museum could be, and creating and facilitating new spaces and media for artworks.

We’re excited about collecting a wider range of works which reflect contemporary art making practices that are digital by nature, such as locative sound artworks and haptic feedback experiences. And we’re on the cusp of taking the leap into creating experimental environments - artists could be commissioned to develop new work fundamentally premised on the capacities of the digital realm as a conceptual space, as a suite of representational and communication technologies, and as the basis for a fundamental and ongoing redefinition of our interface with our surrounding environments - new art as a means of newly thinking through, and with, the changing world about us.

Contemporary art could be clouds of rainbow smoke billowing into the Sydney springtime sky, or hordes of teenagers voting on the “best thing” at their local Westfield shopping mall. It could be a towering flower puppy or – this summer – sharing your wish for peace on Yoko Ono’s enormous wishing tree in our open air Sculpture Terrace. Art is everywhere and thanks to digital technologies we can share our passion for contemporary art in more spaces and with more people than ever.

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