Category Archives: Session: Talk

Proposal for a session in which you offer to lead a group discussion on a topic or question of interest.

Rethinking the Museum: A Multi-Genre Approach to Engagement


I propose a discussion that explores ways to better activate museums and similar spaces through the intersection of often-isolated humanities disciplines and the intelligent use of technology.

At it’s core, this proposal aims to create spaces for people to explore new genres, and to bridge an artificially constructed socio-political divide between those interrelated genres. Historians can better understand contemporary art, artists can recontextualize historical objects, and music can facilitate a deeper engagement with them both. This can be achieved through an unlimited number of combinations, but we can start by discussing, critiquing, and building upon some examples provided below.

How can we refresh static historical organizations? By inviting institutional critique at the hands of artist-curators who can reframe permanent collections to break away from a traditionally linear format and start a new dialogue around historical content. Case in point: Fred Wilson’s “Mining the Museum” at the Maryland Historical Society.

How can we utilize music to provoke broader connectivity, and help visitors engage with the museum in non-traditional ways? Thinking in terms of: Scapes, an interactive sound installation, which activates the sculpture garden at the deCordova Museum; The Art of Music Touch Table, which draws tactile comparisons between the composition of art and music at The San Diego Museum of Art; or Music for Museums at the White Chapel Gallery, which draws on the legacy of John Cage and Erik Satie in exploring soundscaping and pushing the limits of how visitors perceive gallery space.

How do we activate art, historical content, and our surroundings with technology without overshadowing the power of an object, artwork or immersive experience? Nicholas Henchoz, director of “Gimme More” at Eyebeam, New York, said: “Augmented reality allows everyday objects to tell their stories, reveal information and interact with users in real time. What transpires as a result is a radical shift of interdependence between the object and the information it conveys.” In addition, animating historical photos deconstructs the barrier between the past and the present—making historical content more relevant to your average visitor.

TALK Session Proposal: Technology – Is it your story or the tool used to tell a story?



I admit it. I like technology. And I have gotten my hands dirty over the years exploring it. Sometimes with a lot of hard work; and on some occasions, a lot of fun. Makes moments like the one seen above seem to take me back in time.

But when it comes to showing that to other people who may not be so inclined, a list of facts and figures can become just another boring dissertation on a hunk of metal.

The challenge can be how we find the balance between explaining the “nuts and bolts” of a technology and why it mattered to the people who made use of it.

As an example, take a car in an auto museum. Could be restored to factory fresh condition as it rolled off of the showroom floor. Or it could be as it was, unrestored, with the fabric intact as it was driven by its owners. What is the greater story to share? Was it just another Model T Ford off the production line, any color you liked as long as it was black. Or was it a car like the 1907 Thomas Flyer that won the original New York to Paris race; still in running condition – out on the streets of Reno this last week?

Sure, it is amazing that the car is still around today and running, as it was designed to do so. But is there another story of greater importance to be told? Such as what happened to the men who made that trip from New York to Paris? If so, what method do we use to tell their stories? Do we take advantage of technology to the best possible use to do that?

I have seen first hand how telling a story can change when the technology becomes the way in which a story is told. As a docent at a railway museum, I was giving a tour to a group of middle school students. As we walked among the equipment and I was telling them what this streetcar was and where it came from, I could sense how bored they were. So as we came to the electric interurban car we were going to taken a ride on, I changed my approach.

I made the story I was about to tell one where they could imagine themselves as part of that story. I told them how this particular car had seen service carrying students just like them from homes in outlying parts of Sonoma County into Petaluma so they could attend school. And as we rode out into the open fields along the railroad line, I could see that because I put people into my story, it made them more interested. When we reached the end of the line and had to reverse directions, I took a brief moment and explained how this car had been retired by the railroad and hot the body ended up as a sewing room at a home outside of Petaluma. Again, making it seem more personal than just a train they were riding on.

The focus of this session will be to identify ways in which technology can be a story that relates to visitors and how to use technology to help accomplish that goal.


Roger Colton has been a volunteer in many roles at railway museums in California, Nevada and Hawaii, he has seen this connection in action on many occasions. He is also a member of the Walt Disney Family Museum and participated in development of the recent Walt Disney and Railroads exhibition.


TALK Session Proposal – Making A Connection with Visitors


Walt Disney's Carolwood Pacific Railroad, scale model railroad train from his Holmby Hills backyard.

Walt Disney’s Carolwood Pacific Railroad, the scale model railroad train from his Holmby Hills backyard. On display in Gallery 9 at the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Have you ever visited some where and felt a connection? It could be anywhere. A bakery, a restaurant, a theme park, a library or a museum.

Those connections can be anything. A favorite experience recalled, a family moment, something from your own past or that of a distant relative or ancestor.

Why are these connections important? As a visitor, the greater the connection means the better the experience. As a location, the best possible connection with a visitor helps to generate the best possible visitor experience, which likely will lead to that visitor sharing with others, who may be potential visitors. Call it word of mouth, but it may be the best promotional effort you can invest in.

The Presidio Main Post offers a wonderful example with the Walt Disney Family Museum. It enjoys a connection with visitors that is only dreamt of by some locations. People of a certain age recall when Walt Disney came into their living rooms every Sunday night, sharing adventures and entertainment they could not wait to see. For these people, the WDFM offers an intimate look into the life of this man and the entertainment he brought. For another generation, the Museum provides a look into the name and the man beyond the brand of entertainment in theaters and theme parks. For those interested in the arts of film making and animation, the history of both are explored as visitors pass from one gallery to another.

This session would explore the concept of this connection with visitors. Why is it so essential? Can a connection be made with visitors who seem to have none? How can you and your organization create a connection? How can you identify this connection in action or if a failure exists to connect with visitors.


Roger Colton has been a volunteer in many roles at railway museums in California, Nevada and Hawaii, he has seen this connection in action on many occasions. He is also a member of the Walt Disney Family Museum and participated in development of the recent Walt Disney and Railroads exhibition.