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Ubiquitous Museology Charrette Report
November 7, 2015
by M.W. Burns

On September 12, 2015 a group of designers, educators, administrators, scientists, technologists and students gathered in Washington DC for a charrette on the subject of ubiquitous museology. Ubiquitous museology (UM) is the practice of engaging people in the science, culture and history that surround them every day. UM rethinks the “museum experience” by embracing the world itself as a site for informal learning and enrichment. UM lays the groundwork for museums and other cultural institutions to occur in real world places and among things and phenomena that correspond with their educational missions.

Documention by Nosratallah Tarighi, M.W Burns and Jonathan Healey

The Goal

The goal of the charrette was to invite people, representing different disciplines within the museum community, to collaborate in applying their expertise to everyday, real world settings. Participants were encouraged to think beyond traditional forms of museum outreach, exported from the museum to public spaces (pop-ups, mobile units, but instead imagine place-based forms of engagement where a preexisting site is embraced as an informal learning environment, or as a collection, or both.



The Process

The charrette involved breaking the group into teams, each addressing one of six sites (see below). These locations represented a diverse array of natural and built conditions, economic ranges and social environments. After choosing a site, the teams were asked to identify as many topics, or ways of interpreting the site, as possible. Selecting one or more topic as a content anchor, the teams were challenged to conceive of ways to activate the site, engaging the public (residents and non-residents) in informal learning and enrichment experiences. What forms of engagement would be possible? Would the location be treated as a curiosity driven, hands-on, interactive space, an interpreted space, both, or perhaps something else? And who would be the audience (or audiences?). Additionally the teams were asked to consider how their ideas for activating their sites would be supported, managed and sustained. Who would be its producers, facilitators, managers, funders? How might this involve the artistic community, the scientific community, the civic community, or the private sector? Is the concept a short term, extended, or permanent application? Where might conventional zoning and planning policies be changed in support of your concepts? Lastly, the teams were asked to consider - What areas of expertise or knowledge would you include on your team if your concept(s) were to be developed further?


The information each team received about their site consisted of a map and satellite view of an “area” ranging from one half to two square miles, as well as Google Street views lending perspective to a variety of conditions on the ground, along with information like demographics or land use. Each site was composed of numerous features, supporting vastly different functions (a park, a bridge, a parking lot, an open field, a shopping mall, a beach, etc.). The intention in offering such a broad scope was to challenge participants to consider, not only the possible forms of engagement with one component of a site, but to address the relationship between the multiple components making up their site. The charrette ended with each team presenting their ideas to the group.

The material that follows in this report is shown in the order it was presented by the 6 teams. One member from each team was asked to provide a synopsis of their concepts that accompanies their team's material.

Charrette Participants:

Cory Bernat, Carol Blossert, Clare Brown, Kyle Browne, M.W. Burns, Jayna Champeau, Kate Devlin, Tricia Edwards, Jenn Epstein, Jonathan Healey, Kassie Juenke, Judith Landau, John Leigh, Elena Saxton, William Schenck, Cassandra Slack, Roula Tsapalas, Chad Tyler

Organized by M.W. Burns and Clare Brown

Location: Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at George Washington University, Washington, DC









Team Members: Cory Bernat, Jayna Champeau, Tricia Edwards

Site: 57th & 63rd Street Beaches, Hyde Park, Chicago IL.

Team 5 Synopsis by Jayna Champeau

We came up with three proposals which attempted to address the different assumed audiences of the beach areas of 57th and 63rd street in Chicago. The beaches are slightly set off from the city by a park system, with a busy highway that runs by and established trails and bike paths. The beaches are narrow and popular in the summer for leisure activities. The 63rd street beach has the oldest beach house still in existence in Chicago on it and is also a popular event space.

Idea 1:


The audience for this proposal is locals throughout Chicago with the potential to expand the idea into other "sister cities'. Inspired by the city’s nickname, Windy City, the proposal works to encourage city pride partnered with scientific exploration. By using a mix of the beach sites and sites throughout Chicago, multiple entries to audience engagement are possible. Windsocks could be adopted by businesses, schools, museums, and individuals.

To excite the community to the idea, a proposal for a large, artistic windsock installation is proposed for the beach areas. Windsocks give a quick visual understanding of the current weather condition and additionally are used as location markers where anemometer data is collected. Individual windsocks are adopted and decorated by individuals, communities, and organizations throughout Chicago. This allows for multi-site collection of data and the creation of a mobile or web application to view the data and artistic decoration (online gallery). Likely partners for this installation project are the nearby Museum of Science and Industry and the Chicago Institute of Meteorology.


Idea 2:

Road and Bike Path Activation

The audiences for this proposal are the commuters, joggers, bicyclists, and others that use the road (US Route 41) and bike paths that look over the Chicago beaches. This audience is presumed to be a regular, year-round audience as opposed to those that use the beach for leisure during the summer months.

The goal is to provide though provoking, conversational teasers along these paths and roadways. They need not be site-specific. Messages would be painted on the road surface and change with some regularity. The thought is to present more existential questions than message-driven or political ones. A social media hashtag could encourage further conversation. The hopeful takeaway of such a project is a continuing conversation encouraged by the prompts across a regular community and that the project lives on in social media and encourages discussion among neighbors.


Idea 3:

Inflatable Bridge

The audience for this proposal is seasonal and likely includes many tourists. The goal is to be a site-specific, fun new view of Chicago that links the 57th and 63rd street beaches and allows for photo opportunities. An inflatable bridge would exist between the beaches during the summer months. Being drawn out into the water provides a mile long walk and a unique view of the Chicago cityscape. Graphics along the bridge could provide interesting facts about Chicago architecture, music, or food. With the use of a cellular app and beacon technology visitors can record responses and listen to others along the route. Information provided can encourage visitation to local historical societies and libraries.





Team Members: John Leigh, Elena Saxton, Jonathan Healey

Title: Facebook of Fields, or Farmer’s Almanac of the 21st Century, or Fieldbook or…

Site: Allen, Michigan

Team 2 Synopsis by Jonathan Healey

Luck would have it, even with a random selection of site, John turned out to be a bit of a regional content expert. He shared with the team his story as a teenager working on a farm as part of the annual corn de-tasseling process. During the critical germination season of the fields, he explained how groups of high-school-age boys would remove the silky tassels by hand, while riding in buckets suspended from tractors carting them through each row. To prevent unwanted germination, an “elite” group would later deploy on foot to visually hunt and remove “mutant” corns that had yielded unintended hybrids.

John’s story sparked a team interest in the intricate human network involved with successful crop raising. We discussed the broader context of the crops, the various direct and indirect relationships of people involved with the farms socially, economically, and politically. We quickly outlined a whole web of interrelated stakeholders in the performance of each field: land owners, commercial suppliers, government and policy makers at every level, climate and agricultural scientists, and investors.

We recognized something wonderful in how an intimate experience of one person inspecting the subtlest details of a single stalk of corn resonated across fields, towns, and regions. We were intrigued by the connection one tiny moment had to the history and forecasts of seasons. En masse, such micro observations could contribute to macro behavior across cultures, markets, and history. Given its draw on both raw data and qualitative narratives, as well as its reach from the minute to the massive, sharing this story with new audiences was a great opportunity to employ a method of “ubiquituous museology”.


Design Objective

The team developed a position to engage this network’s natural stakeholders, and connect their activity directly with audiences both old and new. We identified new sensor technologies critical to reporting empirical data at a granular level, and existing models of social networks for the data to be shared, interpreted, and utilized. Our biggest challenge was to create such affordances across time and place, while still promoting the individual value of each unique participant and place. The intended outcome, we speculated, must clearly offer value to its key contributors (the corn growers themselves) while expanding the quality and reach of the data collected, plant by plant.


Imagine a Facebook-like platform creating a simple network of people and digital sensors, both contributing in equal parts their unique observations and responding with their own feedback.

Such a system begins with a new agricultural smart-grid program, composed of many hundreds of inexpensive digital probes planted in dense grids amongst fields. Even a small field may have dozens of such devices to monitor conditions like soil acidity, sunlight, moisture, and other vital signs of their micro-ecologies. The performance data live streams to the web. A sensor can alert a farmer to unhealthy trends or unexpected events, and generate real-time production projections. The farmer’s portal to the network will include a mobile app fitted with augmented-reality so they can interact with the data while walking among the rows.

It’s important to note each digital sensor will have a unique online profile, including a name, a home location, and a personal health meter. While empirical metrics are streamed to a backend database, the sensor’s observations are also posted with a humanized voice conveying optimism, concern, boredom, and excitement. As a member of the social network, one could imagine “following” the posts and tweets of sensor XJ-301, aka “Rosie”, and in return have “Rosie” follow you and like your own activity.

Such a platform for data sharing would be open to a broad audience, including international scientists, regional and global policy makers, and academic institutions. However, the primary actors involved would be the farm owners themselves, along with a cast of characters directly involved with the production of each field. This includes the individual “mutant hunters” and the members of the de-tasseling bucket teams. Indirect actors, such as local supply stores, tractor service shops, or others related economically, can also have a presence in the network.

We expect that within a couple weeks of the program’s initial rollout, participants will start to see high value return. In addition to real-time feedback, the application of historical data can lead to improvements in crop performance and, in time, even effect commodities and labor markets.

The platform also introduces a level of detail not obvious to outside communities. We believe making the stories more accessible will inspire a greater interest in these dramatic places, often over-looked as merely scenic, static. To reward curious visitors, we’ve proposed two site-specific interventions. The first is an interactive at ground-level, either in the form of a digital kiosk or augmented-reality app, that allows a farm’s visitors an enhanced view of which sensors are where, their mood or state, their history and health, and outlook on the future. The second intervention comes in the form of a fire tower.  For the more adventurous visitors, the view from the top is digitally augmented to re-represent the aggregated data across the vast landscape, and visitors themselves are given access to contribute their own observations from the tower’s perspective.




In the Spirit of UM

In the spirit of evolving the paradigm of museums and exhibitions, we believe this proposal reveals a few core principals in the spirit of “ubiquituous museology”. First, a narrative is revealed only through the framing of empirical and qualitative content. Second, the experience of that narrative does not have an arbitrary boundary; there is a continuity to the experience. Finally, the core interactions are not limited by place but have specific roots to physical environments.





Team Members: Carol Blossert, Clare Brown, Kassie Juenke

Site: The Eden Center, Falls Church, VA.

Team 4 Synopsis by Clare Brown

The team investigating the Eden began by researching the site’s proximity to major roadways, an historic cemetery, extensive retail areas, the East Falls Church Metro, and a sprawling residential community. The team also researched factors about the Eden Center itself, discovering that it is the # 1 tourist destination in Falls Church, that it is a thriving destination for Vietnamese cuisine, groceries, clothing, music, and social services.  The team recognized that public engagement at the Eden Center is not a challenge, given that so many tourists and locals frequent the site.  It is a site that is respected broadly for providing authentic Vietnamese culture and experiences.
Extrapolating from the success of public engagement at the Eden Center, the team decided to focus on the challenge of creating interpretive strategies or devices that could be used in culturally authentic sites around the world to preserve and respect that authenticity.


A web or mobile platform that would work in partnership with an existing travel platform such as “TripAdvior” or “Lonely Planet” to increase cultural literacy in tourists and business travelers outside of their hometowns. The goal is to help travelers feel confident to explore destinations and become global citizens.

App/Platform Features:

     • Language Lessons

     • Maps

     • Tips on best modes of transport

     • Cultural Information

User Experience:

     • Choose your own adventure / explore your surroundings

     • Follow a series of cultural tasks (language, eating food, practicing traditional customs)

        in order to fulfill a cultural experience

     • Gain points or badges for cultural proficiency toward becoming a global citizen

     • Social media sharing and collaboration






Team Members: Jenn Epstein, Elizabeth Magee, Will Schenck

Site: East Baltimore: Broadway East & Oliver

Team 6 Synopsis by Will Schenck

The design team assigned to East Baltimore planned a neighborhood-wide program that uses readily-available technology to help increase community cohesion and awareness. Using a mobile app as a framework, the initiative enlists the help of local school children and their families to curate local sites and histories significant to them, and encourages broader engagement and reflection on the area’s ecology, economy, and culture.

Broadway East and Oliver are predominantly African-American neighborhoods of East Baltimore that have suffered prolonged economic depression. Poverty has damaged the community fabric, and the area has been the site of gang activity, racial rioting, and structural abandonment and decay. The condition of the neighborhoods makes outside intervention a delicate venture both politically and ethically. It would be inappropriate to create an expensive visual or sensory experience that did not somehow aid the community directly, and it would be insensitive to impose an interpretation of the residents’ hardships or suggest simple solutions to complicated and entrenched problems.

The proposed design addresses these issues by asking the residents to become participant curators and designers of their experience in their own neighborhood. In so doing, they will be able to compare their experiences to other residents, past and present. Using the neighborhood app, users can tag sites that play an important role in the pattern of their lives, or sites where a single memorable event occurred. Friends, family, and others with permission to access the information could then follow an individual’s walking tour of his or her life. A more public historical layer of the virtual experience will be created from the stories of longtime residents and from resources such as the public records and the local library.


The app will incorporate an augmented reality component that will activate the sites on the walking tour. Using existing resources such as abandoned factories and empty lots where nature is returning to working city infrastructure and rowhomes, users and participant curators can geo-tag important locations and select a virtual three-dimensional icon to associate with the space from a menu of life experiences, or invent their own. For instance, a user could tag a street as the place where they learned how to ride a bicycle, and subsequent visitors with the app could activate the location with their mobile device to see a virtual bicycle riding down the street. The more broadly focused historical neighborhood exploration would overlay old photos on the existing cityscape so that users could get a visceral grasp of how the area has systematically changed over the years.

A core aspect of the design is a partnership with the neighborhood public elementary school. Through collaboration with teachers, a curriculum would be developed for grades K-5 that would engage students in the exploration of specific elements of their community and encourage their input.





Team Members: Chad Tyler, Kate Devlin, Cassandra Slack

Title: Duke Ellington Experience

Site: Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge

Team 3 Synopsis by Chad Tyler

The Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge, spanning Rock Creek on the Northwest side of Washington D.C., was dedicated to the great jazz composer following his death in 1974 for what seems, at least at just a base level of research, to be for little reason other than his native roots in the city. The proposed design seeks to extend the namesake honor into a proper memorial, not entirely unlike those along the National Mall, celebrating of the artist’s magnificent achievements and ideas through. As an end result, The Duke Ellington Experience at the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge will become a major destination for the surrounding communities, music and nature enthusiasts, as well as tourists, and an uncanny encounter for daily commuters.

The Duke Ellington Experience consists of two separate, yet connected, interventions related to the experience from beneath and from atop the landmark, both defined by the Rock Creek nature that surrounds the bridge and differentiated by the scale of the perspective and audience. From above, long views across the top of the of the Rock Creek Canopy accentuate the expansiveness, and uniqueness, of this urban wilderness and raise speculation of the true wildness of the place:

What species of flora and fauna call this park home? How many species pay migratory visits? To what extent are the species native versus introduced versus invasive? What impact do the seasons and climate changes have on these populations? How populated is it really?


From below, three massive arches frame the creek, the heavily trafficked Beach Drive, and curling vegetated slopes. Beneath the arches, one feels as though you are within, or passing through, a great hall or cathedral. Enveloped in the warmth of the stone blocks, contrasted by the framed views of the vegetation beyond, brings about a sense of leisurely calm that allows the mind to ponder:

How many people pass through these arches everyday? By Car? By foot? How about non-humans – how many species pass beneath this bridge, either by land or water?

With these questions in mind, our team set about to interrogate the connections between this bridge and its namesake composer, Duke Ellington

The approach Duke took to composing his big band scores was different than most of his peers. His biography at American Masters on, explains:

“Where other composers had concerned themselves with creating a sound that unified the many instruments into one voice, Ellington believed in letting the dissonant voices of each musician play against each other. He wrote music that capitalized on the particular style and skills of his soloists. For this and many other reasons, his soloists often stayed with him for extended periods.”

Drawing from this compositional philosophy, the proposed interventions seek to employ key data sets from the environments surrounding the bridge as “soloists” to score a new collection of unique musical and visual compositions. 

For the musical composition, predetermined data sets such as, meteorological, ecological, and human use, would control aspects of the composition, such as rhythm, dynamics, melody, harmony, tone color, etcetera, as part of a larger algorithm, while individual data points within each set would be assigned an instrument with their own identifying variables that get filtered into the algorithm thereby becoming the soloists within the big band.

The results are broadcast over a multi-channeled sound system installed at the base of each of the arches of the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge on a regular schedule throughout the year. These concerts would serve as significant events capable of drawing large numbers of people to the bridge in celebration. The proposed design envisions the wide sidewalks of the bridge populated with groups of friends and families picnicking in the evening hours, musicians claiming the bridges alcoves to jam along with the big band, and traffic across the bridge slowing to a procession out of respect for the great Duke.

For the visual composition, projected light cast onto the great arches would be driven by a similar means as the musical compositions but would be translated into color fields, shapes, and symbols as a way to translate the information into rich data visualizations to accompany the musical scores. The visual compositions will play continuously throughout the year fore fronting the ephemeral qualities of daily life in and around the park and will become a favorite of commuters passing beneath the bridge to and from work and for visitors drawn to the surroundings of Rock Creek.

Digital and Analog companions, such as graphic panels, an app and website, will serve tools for reverse translating the compositions to help visitors understand the data as well as be a place for documentation of each unique composition.

Together, these two interventions will draw crowds to the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge to properly honor and celebrate the great composer  in a city that helped define him through his most important years while also elucidating the invaluable context within which the bridges resides.





Team Members: Kyle Browne, Judith Landau, Roula Tsapalas

Title: The American Story

Site: Suburban Neighborhood – Randallstown, Baltimore


Team 1 Synopsis by Roula Tsapalas

Community Center Partner (senior center, library, community center, church, school)

How to bring people together to learn more:

-       Mosaic of people’s special objects – click on digital photo to learn more about each person’s story

-       Place to record people’s stories & offer collection

-       Work with community artists to bring neighborhood together


Neighborhood Paths  (walking, driving, biking, - historic paths) 

Consider all the different kinds of “moving” through neighborhood. 

What promotes learning across these paths?

-       Little free library – consider asking people to contribute their stories with any special objects

-       Instead of books, kiosks can also display a resident’s story, object, photos

-       Art benches to encourage sitting in the neighborhood

-       Swath of historic paths – AR overlay

-       Pike – history of main road through GIS info available  in cars – along commute road

-       Poetry on posts around neighborhood

“What is your story?”

“What brings us to this place?


Crowdsourcing –how to invite the community to generate and participate:

-   Instagram photos

-   Soundscapes – document in a sound installation relating to place and time (i.e. sound of your house first thing in the morning)
-  “Regional sites of inquiry” – mobile app with user input inquiry.
-   Geo-tracking of people’s travel patterns (walking, biking, driving) – data visualization
-   Historic facts – back to local center
Content - What we are learning:

Personal Stories and Reflections

-   When did you move here?
-   Why did you move here?
-   What do you like about your community?
-   What is your favorite place here?
-   What traditions do you carry on?
-   What traditions do you leave behind?

History – What happened here before?

-   Investigate movement across area and historic places/buildings from different eras

Observations from the UM Charrette

by M.W. Burns

The responses gathered here by no means embody the full spectrum of what ubiquitous museology is in theory, or in practice. The charrette, however, provided the opportunity to think through the application of museology to the world at large. It also offered a chance to stir dialogue and identify shared inclinations and approaches. In fact a number of recurring themes emerged that seem particularly relevant to the practice of UM. These are described below along with additional observations and considerations for operating in the ubiquitous museum.


An idea that arose early in a number of team discussions was that a single location could support multiple narratives at the same time. While most of the teams ended up overlaying a specific interpretive framework onto their sites, the multivalence of things was crystal clear. It is not uncommon for traditional museums to present objects or collections under different themes each time they are exhibited. But UM recognizes multiple themes and forms of engagement are available simultaneously. This is not to suggest that all of them would be experienced at once. The user selects from a number of engagement options designed around an object, place or phenomenon. This also means that forms of engagement are best to rely on somewhat unobtrusive means of activation to avoid the physical monopolization by one narrative or use.

This theme of things having multiple values also appeared on a utilitarian level. Some teams presented ideas that would provide its users with material to extrapolate from. While Team 5’s windsocks stood on their own as an art installation, its data could be used to drive other artistic as well as scientific experiences.

Scalability and Structural Overlays

Each team spent the first hour researching their location and hunting for engagement opportunities by gleaning what they could from the web. As teams worked to understand what opportunities their sites offered, a conversation emerged around how the conceptual frameworks for engagement experiences could be adapted to other, similarly zoned sites. In other words, an idea designed for a suburban neighborhood might be applicable to other suburban neighborhoods. To be clear, the teams remained well aware that assumptions made about an environment based on the way it is zoned can only go so far. Such generalizations cannot account for the unique aspects of the place itself, but can offer a basic structure for modes of engagement that could then be adapted to the unique content and qualities of that place. As the synopsis from Team 2 noted “the core interactions are not limited by place but have specific roots to physical environments “. The idea of developing a framework that can be initially overlaid on similarly defined physical environments feeds into the discussion of UM’s scalability.

Cohabitation vs Intervention

A number of teams talked about how they tried to avoid “imposing” their means of engagement upon a site or its inhabitants. Similarly, there was a strong sensitivity to preserving the authenticity of a place. Forms of engagement would need to meld with the pre-established functions of a site. While approaches to UM will vary widely, one important principal is its compatibility with the existing environment. Although physical elements may be important components in certain applications of UM, its designers should think less about creating an “intervention” and more a “cohabitation” with what is already there.

Place Based Experiences

An important theme reinforced by most of the responses was that UM’s core interactions draw upon the qualitative and empirical realities of a given environment. UM is not focused on engaging us with objects from distant lands (a function that museums are well equipped to provide) unless they are somehow directly related to the environment the user occupies. For example, if we are standing in a field of cotton, we can be engaged in ways that may somehow inform us about fields of cotton in other parts of the world, but the basis for our engagement is the physical field we are standing in. Additionally, the thing we engage with has not been separated from its natural conditions (as traditional museum typically do). It is in situ, and in play.

There were however alternatives to empirically based experiences. For example, Team 5 posed written questions along a bike path about things other than what was physically in the environment, something that would make people stop and think. During the group discussion the point was raised that this form of engagement “tags” a site with an idea, so when a person returns to that site, even if the written statement has been erased, the idea lingers.

Physical/ Digital Hybrids

While the concepts were focused on the real physical world, many of the teams considered technologies like apps and sensors as integral, either to the instigation, extension or infrastructure of the experience. Not surprisingly many of the apps supported social interactions, while data collected via sensors were used as monitors for physical occurrences translated into features of the overall experience.

Community Powered

A number of teams recognized the community as both the primary audience as well as a likely producer of engagement experiences. The role museums would play in applying UM is more the instigator than the producer. While museums and their partnerships with educational, private and nonprofit institutions can contribute to modes of engagement, it will ultimately be the communities that feed and drive these enrichment experiences.


Moving Forward

Brick and mortar museums play an important role that extends well beyond the care and public display of collections. But when it comes to relevance there is an artificial separation between things inside museums and everything outside their walls. It is only where museology is practiced that we determine one space a museum and the other not. The premise of ubiquitous museology is that our world is already a museum. It is simply a matter of activating our relationship to it.

For all of us involved in the charrette,  the chance to apply our thinking to creating informal learning encounters in everyday environments was both liberating and stimulating, but it is clear that we have hardly begun to dip into an ocean of possibility.

One of the challenges UM faces is getting those who are not already sensitized to the premise of ubiquitous museology to see the everyday world through a “museum lens”. Participants may be able to adopt this mindset when engaged in a designed experience like those conceived in our charrette, but ideally the museum lens, whether discovered through experiences like these or other sources, will begin to deepen people’s awareness and stir their curiosity in the world around them, even when there are no designed forms of engagement.

The more immediate challenge is getting UM’s designers, developers, educators and administrators to think beyond tools, methods and practices typically used inside museums. And there-in lies one of the values of gatherings like the Ubiquitous Museology Charrette. It lends the opportunity to exercise the kinds of design thinking needed to cultivate enrichment experiences in everyday settings, it provides models for identifying both hurdles and opportunities, and is the first step in laying the groundwork for real world applications.


Charrette documentaion by Nosratallah Tarighi, M.W Burns and Jonathan Healey

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