The internet has enabled museums to offer resources that go way beyond their physical space. In fact, there are some collections you can only “visit” online.
The WAM Files
weisman.umn.edu (click on Learn, then WAM Files)
In 2011, a handful of staffers and graduate students embarked on a daunting project: processing and archiving the Weisman Art Museum’s records. They are sifting through a boatload of cardboard boxes crammed with materials that span the 1930s through the early ’70s, back when the Weisman was known simply as the University Art Gallery. They’re also blogging about the goodies they uncover — old newspaper clippings, vintage exhibition posters, photos from gallery openings, even correspondence about famous acquisitions, including paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe.
Play and learn
mcm.org (click on Play and Learning)
The Minnesota Children’s Museum site has a new “play and learning” section loaded with information that helps parents understand the educational value of playtime. For example, the section includes “play-at-home ideas” designed to spark creativity and learning, like musical jam sessions and at-home crafts. The section includes a list of resources, mostly academic studies and articles about the benefits of open-ended play and creativity. There’s even a section where parents are encouraged to share play-related photos and articles via Twitter and Facebook.
Bishop Whipple collection
Henry Whipple was an Episcopalian missionary who settled in Minnesota in 1859. At a time when Native populations were enduring extreme hardships and changes to their way of life, Whipple became an advocate for local Ojibwe and Dakota people. He was also an avid collector of Native American art and handicrafts. Long after his death, parts of Whipple’s collection were acquired by the Science Museum and the Minnesota Historical Society. After securing Legacy Amendment funding, these organizations partnered to build an amazing online catalog of 500 objects from the Whipple collection — representing everything from deerskin moccasins, bandolier bags, and hunting arrows to Episcopalian prayer books adorned by traditional Dakota beadwork. The site also features biographies on Whipple, his remarkable second wife Evangeline, and the various people they knew, including tribal leaders and accomplished Native American artists.
The Walker Channel
walkerart.org (click on Media, then Walker Channel)
Like the architectural marvel that houses its galleries, Walker Art Center’s new website is a great place to browse and discover. Following its redesign last year, online art lovers gushed over its progressive features. For one, the site acts more like an arts magazine (writing its own stories and aggregating news from around the world) than a self-referencing information center. New York-based Artlog.com said, “The Walker has positioned themselves at the center of the global conversation about contemporary art.” One of the site’s best feature, the Walker Channel, gives people from around the world a chance to “visit” exhibitions, performances and music happening at the Walker. Did you miss master filmmaker Milos Forman’s Regis Dialogue in 2008? Watch it here. Wondering how they got Robert Therrien’s gigantic table and folding chairs into the museum for “Lifelike”? There’s a video for that. The channel screens live lectures, offers insightful commentaries and takes us behind the scenes. They still want us to visit the actual museum, right?
Make your own
Start your own museum collection? Why not? At a shared website, ArtsConnected.org, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Walker Art Center have put their collections on line with loads of helpful information — pictures, videos, interviews, essays, history and background details. By searching for artists, special subjects or media, site visitors can create their own online collections complete with commentary and sound effects. It’s especially fun to search for big themes like “food,” which turned up dozens of things ranging from 18th century Chinese-lacquer boxes and a sleek 1950 meat slicer at the MIA to a Walker video interview with artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, who once cooked a meal in a Walker gallery and left the dirty dishes there for weeks.The site claims to have 94,000 works and allows the tech-savvy to click-and-drag images and text to their own customized “art collection.”
hmongstudies.org:The Hmong Cultural Center’s site offers info in English about Hmong traditional culture: books, art, tools, clothing, historical figures and so on.
mnzoo.com (click on Animals, then Live Cams & Video): Minnesota Zoo has behind-the-scenes videos of animals in action, and live cams featuring beavers, dolphins and gibbons.
dot.state.mn.us/aero (click on Education, then History Museum): Here’s one museum that’s only online — the Aviation History Museum, compiled by the Office of Aeronautics at the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
www.mnhs.org/collections:The Minnesota Historical Society’s online collections feature 3D objects, photos, maps, art, oral histories and KSTP-TV’s archives.