Developing Meaningful On-line Exhibitions: Cloth & Clay,
Session: Evaluation Findings
Cloth & Clay: Communicating Culture is an online exhibition developed by the Textile Museum of Canada and the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art. Wide in scope, Cloth & Clay explores over 2,000 years of Mexican, Central and South American history, introducing ancient and contemporary objects and the people who made them to a global audience. The online environment brings the two museum collections together in an interactive and visually enticing environment not possible in a traditional museum gallery.
Cloth & Clay is a vast information resource that maximizes the exploratory, unrestricted nature of the Web. Careful information architecture, which refers to the structuring and prioritization of content, and quality overall design combine to produce the very language of storytelling online. Every object in Cloth & Clay has a story to tell. Multiple paths of discovery lend multiple voices to the object’s storytellers, enhancing the presentation and broadening its audience appeal.
The Cloth & Clay Website was created over a one-year period, and it offers a model for other institutions hoping to achieve meaningful museological expression online. At the time of the launch of the online exhibit on the Virtual Museum of Canada Website in October 2002, a temporary physical exhibition also opened at the Textile Museum of Canada using some of the objects, interpretive materials, and design elements in the online exhibition. We will outline the model we developed to create this product – which involved cutting edge audience research, unique curatorial perspective, indigenous consultation and contribution, academic advisors, institutional collaboration and managing technology – at the Museums and the Web 2004 conference.
We invited a group of target users to help with the design of the site through front-end concept testing, formative evaluation of the prototype Teacher Resources section, and summative evaluation comparing the online and on-site exhibition experience. We will focus on the Summative Evaluation phase of our audience research. Participants had previously responded to the objects, design, and teachers’ materials for the Website and completed a participant questionnaire. Audience research included observation of participants’ behaviours in the exhibition compared with casual visitors also visiting at the time, and a Focus Group in the gallery. In addition, we analyzed responses to a brief, written and self-administered exit questionnaire for all visitors to the Cloth and Clay exhibition, which included a question about visiting the exhibition’s Website.
As small to medium-sized institutions, we wish to show by example the great potential the Web has for museums of any size to reach out in meaningful ways to a wide audience. The creation of the Cloth & Clay Web site has had a significant impact on each partner institution, encouraging new investments in each museum’s technological infrastructure and raising awareness among staff of the great potential for museums in this medium. The CD-ROM version of Cloth & Clay: Communicating Culture won the 2003 AAM Museum Publications Design Competition for CD-ROMs / Budget above $500,000. The 2003 winners of the Best of the Web competition based on Museum Web sites from around the world included Cloth and Clay in the list of five finalists (retrieved from http://www.archimuse.com/mw2003/best/final_virtual.html).