April 2012

Museum Bar Talk – AAM issue 1

The snake  is eating its own tail.










So yesterday an interesting discussion occurred concerning the several current themes that this blog lumps under the moniker “museum food chain.” What is meant is what appears how different types of museums are “eating” what has been the content, audience or other defining characteristic.  A few examples that were part of our discussion.

Pirates, mummies, ancient manuscripts have been recent subjects of large exhibitions often present at science centers. These subjects have more traditionally been the subject “territory” of natural history museums. Meanwhile children’s museums are increasingly looking to create science, technology, engineering and math or STEM exhibits to attract audience and to be in sync with educational standards.

In parallel museums are trying to increase and expand their audiences often moving into other’s “turf” as well. Children’s museums are working to increase their attendance from older children, often with the same STEM content just mentioned. Meanwhile science centers constantly expand their preschool areas and now seek to all elusive teenager audience that actually no one seems to really have captured.

Thinking about this progression one can explore what might be new directions these and other museums might explore as time goes by:

How can art museums present STEM content?

When will science centers tour a Matisse or Renoir show?

When will a children’s museum put up an exhibition for seniors?

If current movements are any indication, museums will constantly try to push existing boundries in an increasingly competitive market. Museum Categories Are Dead!

Posted in: Experiences and Museums

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Augmented Reality – AAM 2012 review

Today one of the very first sessions at the 2012 AAM conference focused on the emerging use of augmented reality in the museum setting. This was both in inside facilities as well as outside locations including parks, historical sites and zoos.









Several observations from the presentations today:

-          When you think of AR don’t be focused only on 3D models that appear on a screen (mobile, tablet or monitor) which can be rotated in three dimensions. Rather think models, video, data and other information provided from either gps and or visual sensing location determination.

It’s the info cloud that is accessible at a certain place.

-          Today programming across multiple platform iOS and Android is problematic. The holy grail is to make it BYOD (bring your own device) so this is important. It poses the question of equal access of content to all. What if you don’t have a device? What it the content doesn’t work on your device?

-          It appears the major “nut to crack” is how to have AR not remove you from the real object or process. How does it really augment it? No one wants people just staring at more screens. A great deal of work remains to solve this issue. Not mentioned today was did people learn more or improve their experience emotionally or in other qualitative ways.

-          Something to consider is where and how the visitor acquires the app to use the AR if they are using their own device. You can’t depend on them downloading it before they arrive. It appears that having wifi is critical – not just or only cellular service.

-          Finally already the move is to match AR with game experiences.


Turkletom via Flickr

Posted in: Experiences and Museums

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website launched

Today ALCHEMY studio is pleased to launch its website fully to the public. Please check it out and come back to our blogs on both experiences/museums as well as our musing on the realtionship of alchemyto today.



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Observed Trends


So, as we approach the annual AAM conference, we see several trends and themes emerging across the field. These observations are based on meetings and visits with funding authorities,  museums, summits and other professional conversations. It will be interesting to see if these themes come up at the conference and what news and updates we’ll add afterward in our postmortem after the conference.

  • There is an increase in the creation of “maker” and DYI spaces in both science centers AND children’s museums.
  • Linked with 1 above is the move in the children’s museum to aggressively target STEM content.

Where does this leave the science center field?

  • In the museum world, there seems to be a prevalent belief that if you build a mobile app you will attract (fill in the blank): teens, young adults, tech savvy, new visitors, money. But do these audiences want and respond to these new apps?
  • Children’s museums are attempting to up the age range of their visitorship. They are looking to add new experiences and environmental contexts that will attract kids who may have thought the museum was only for their younger siblings.
  • Museums anticipate that augmented reality will be a new technology in the toolbox of experiences. However, we’ve yet to discover how to use it well to achieve the intended impacts.
  • Overseas, there are still many countries looking for a museum experience similar to the ones in North America. One trend these new overseas initiatives have in common: They are willing to try different funding models to make it happen.


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It may seem ironic that a firm whose roots are in the world of science and technology took the name of a field of inquiry that has been called “pseudoscience.” For us, the reason for choosing the name “ALCHEMY studio” lies in the parallel nature between the inquiry process of alchemists and the process and outcomes of planning and designing museum, science centers, experiences and media.

The field of alchemy was a complex, multicultural and integrated way of thinking and exploring our world. It included developing experimental processes and was a proto-science for the fields of chemistry and metallurgy. Meanwhile, alchemy also undertook seeing its examination of the physical world hand in hand with improving one’s spiritual self and seeking self-improvement. Of course, the most familiar “magical” aspects of alchemy are the practitioners who searched for the ability to transmute common metals into gold and silver, and the quest for an elixir of life that bestows immortality and youth. When one looks back at alchemy’s heights, it marked a special time (and perhaps the last time) when mythology, science, technology and spiritual worlds merged.

Upon reflection of the what, why and how of what ALCHEMY studio does, the work of alchemists definitely resonated.

Our work is often but not always focuses on science and technology, and it certainly covers technical and experimental aspects. An even stronger similarity is that, increasingly, the projects we work on reflect institutions’ growing desire to examine and explore humanity’s relationship with the world, the cosmos, and society, including the many forces of science technology and culture that affect our lives. In addition, an important aspect of our work is the spirit of learning and improvement we and our clients manifest together

Of course, most striking is that all work related to developing and designing experiences is aimed toward producing something magical, something that connects emotion and content. In practice, we are taking various “common” elements – lighting, displays, media, interaction and the visitors themselves – and transmuting them into something extraordinary, something that often makes us young at heart. ALCHEMY studio embraces the idea that we are alchemists. Perhaps you are an alchemist, too?

Posted in: Alchemy Today

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