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published: March 2004
analytic scripts updated:  October 28, 2010

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0  License



Peabody Essex Museum: ARTscape
Julie Beeler, Second Story Interactive Studios, USA
James Forrest, Peabody Essex Museum, USA
Christy Sorensen, Peabody Essex Museum, USA

Demonstration: Demonstrations - Session 1

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) is one of America’s oldest institutions, housing diverse international collections of art assembled over the course of more than two centuries. In June of 2003, the museum completed construction of a major new building and completely refurbished its exhibition galleries in accord with an innovative interpretive framework. Within this new paradigm, art and culture, past and present, global and local are viewed and portrayed as inextricably linked, with a broad-based interpretive approach encompassing exhibitions, live programs, media, collateral printing and publication, and community outreach initiatives.

In this new view, the museum is not simply a static collection of artworks, but a dynamic and unfolding system of artworks, their creators, and viewers, together with the ideas that flow between them. This approach poses new challenges for the design of galleries and media, both within the museum and beyond its walls. One way in which PEM has addressed these challenges is through the use of digital technologies, specifically through the launch of ARTscape™, an innovative, web-based interface that uses the museum’s objects as a launching point for a user’s self-guided journey through art and culture.

PEM’s audio guide has a unique feature that allows visitors to make their own “collections” of objects through ARTscape for later exploration via PEM’s Web site. Visitors can create a collection of objects simply by entering the four-digit number located on each object’s label into an audio guide and pressing enter.

At the end of a visit, an ARTscape user docks his or her audio guide at any of the ARTscape stations located throughout the museum. This step downloads the selections collected during that user’s session, generating the collection, and allowing him or her to access it at home or onsite at any of the computers in PEM’s Media Studio.

A physical visit to the museum is not required for access to the database. Prominent links on PEM’s Web site will show “virtual visitors” the way into ARTscape.

A visitor’s collection provides a personalized point of entry into the ARTscape database. Data in ARTscape includes photos and descriptions of objects in PEM’s collection, definitions, book excerpts, quotations, video clips, and audio clips. Users interact with an intelligent, fluid, and customizable interface that suggests relationships between objects and ideas. An extensive keywording system applied to all content incorporates both concrete and abstract criteria, applying a “fuzzy logic” approach to suggesting connections between concepts. Rather than generating a limited set of search results such as those typically made through static, linked databases, ARTscape becomes a unique entity in the hands of each individual user, revealing infinite pathways to unpredictable destinations.