"Curator of audience experiences"? "Director of digital engagement"? In the past couple of years, a number of new museum positions have joined the glamorous ranks of director and curator as some of the buzziest and most sought-after roles in America's art establishment. It makes sense: with the penetration of social media and the Internet deep into the daily lives of museumgoers (and potential museumgoers), major museums have been acquiring top talent to lead their digital initiatives—when, that is, they haven't been growing their own. And the strategies these professionals are developing today just might shape the way we experience, talk about, fund, and otherwise engage with museums tomorrow.
With the intersection between art and tech growing more eagerly trafficked than ever before, here’s a breakdown of some of those new roles that bridge those two fields, from an Internet curator at the New Museum to a social media expert at the Whitney.
MUSEUM: New Museum
POSITION: Curator, co-curator of the 2015 Triennial, Digital Projects and Museum as Hub at New Museum
WHAT SHE DOES: Long an adjunct curator at the museum who helped organize the first Triennial—unforgettably titled "Younger Than Jesus"—in 2009, Cornell has been best known as the director of Rhizome, the museum's pioneering new-media-art blog and cutting-edge conservation workshop. After running that iconic site for seven years, she was appointed full curator earlier this year to help bring the institutions programming further into the Internet era, and to oversee its influential Museum as Hub multidisciplinary education initiative.
FUTURISTIC PLANS: Next year, Cornell will unleash what is likely to be a future-shock extravaganza when she co-curates the closely observed Triennial with Ryan Trecartin, who she included in the first edition of the group exhibition. As for what she has planned in terms of digital projects, we have to wait and see—though it's sure to be something the entire field will want to pay close attention to.
KILLER APP: The person most responsible for putting the New Museum on its enviable footing when it comes to the newest in digital and Internet art—through such pioneering shows as "Free" in 2010, a reflection on how the Web is shaping artistic practice today—Cornell also was one of the first to successfully bridge the art and tech communities through her “Seven on Seven” conference. Started in 2010, the annual colloquium pairs artists with tech innovators (such as Trecartin and Tumblr's David Karp, in 2010) and is probably the most highly visible event of its kind.
TWITTER STATS: 766 followers (tweets @lcornell)
MUSEUM: Metropolitan Museum of Art
POSITION: Chief Digital Officer (first to hold this title)
WHAT HE'S DOING: In 2013, Sreenivasan left Columbia University’s J-School, where he taught digital journalism, to join director Thomas Campell, the Renaissance tapestry expert who has become one of the most vocal proponents for weaving together art and the digital fabric of social media. Here, Sreenivasan builds advanced mobile, social, and in-gallery platforms for the most-visited art museum in the United States.
FUTURISTIC PLANS: A journalist by training, Sreenivasan still tells stories—but now about the museum’s treasured objects. Sreenivasan is inviting museumgoers to do the same at the Media Lab, which allows visitors to create their own artworks (with 3D scanner and printer) and record their own stories (via social media platforms). The lab is also exploring ways to heighten the experience of seeing art with apps that can show a painting’s x-ray when scanned over with an iPad. Already, Google Goggles let visitors take pictures on their smartphone and, through image recognition technology, direct them to information about that work on the Met’s site. In the future, the tech guru hopes to expand the Met’s audiences by digitizing the entire collection.
KILLER APP: Talk about plugged-in. When Sreenivasan (universally known as "Sree") was at Columbia, he achieved "guru"-hood by organizing an annual "Social Media Weekend" conferences that attracted ridiculously relevant tech figures, like the head "content managers" at Twitter and Facebook. He also found time to help create DNAinfo.com, the hyperlocal New York news site that has occasionally landed some nice art scoops, and hold long-running stints as an on-air tech expert for WABC-TV and WNBC-TV.
TWITTER STATS: 55.9K followers (tweets @sree)
MUSEUM: The Museum of Modern Art
POSITION: Director of Research and Development and Senior Curator of Art and Design
WHAT SHE'S DOING: After 18 trailblazing years at MoMA, Antonelli was promoted in November of 2012 to a novel, custom-created position on top of her curatorial role in order to "identify new directions and unexplored opportunities" for the museum, "particularly in the digital realm."
FUTURISTIC PLANS: In her new capacity, Antonelli has launched MoMA's “Design and Violence” website, which posts images and essays followed by provocative questions aimed at drawing viewers into a dialogue. The museum's new Art140 website likewise encourages non-passive participation, encouraging visitors to tweet their assessments of artworks in the collection as if they were art critics, with MoMA compiling the results. Among other projects, MoMA is also developing an app that can geo-locate visitors within the institution and populate their smartphones with information about the work in front of which they're standing.
KILLER APP: Known for her visionary, unpredictable outlook as a design curator—she was responsible for bringing the "@" symbol into MoMA's collection, which also houses the original iPod, and once championed the paperclip as a “Humble Masterpiece”—Antonelli quickly made news after her promotion with the acquisition of 14 video games (including Myst, Tetris, and Dwarf Fortress). Other attention-getting moves included featuring a New York subway vending machine in the 2011 “Talk To Me” show, and sci-fi-seeming medical devices in last year's "Applied Design" show. Oh, and she once did a TED talk titled "Why I brought Pac-Man to MoMA."
TWITTER STATS: 23.2K followers (tweets @curiousoctopus)
MUSEUM: New Museum
POSITION: Director of Incubator for Art, Technology, and Design (slated to open this summer)
WHAT SHE'S DOING: Formerly the editor-at-large for the Creators Project, a joint initiative by Intel and Vice magazine dedicated to fostering creative partnerships between artists and digital innovators, the 27-year-old wunderkind was tapped by the New Museum late last year to lead the $2 million hybridized art-and-tech Incubator.
FUTURISTIC PLANS: In her new role, Kaganskiy is overseeing the wholesale transformation of the institution's adjacent building into a round-the-clock laboratory-slash-education center where creative dreamers and professionals can come together—and ideally forge a Bell Labs-style community with a focus on collaborative innovation. To do this, she will have the help of the sexy-sounding Studio X, an offshoot of Columbia's architecture grad program that has done projects with such forward-looking groups as Bard's Center for the Study of the Drone, and overall she will helm a loose group of over 60 people.
KILLER APP: An expert at curating communities of creative types embedded in the digital world—her #ArtsTech Meetup is a popular MediaBistro-style networking group holding monthly events for art-world techies—Kaganskiy can also organize terrific art exhibitions: her “Emoji Art and Design Show” celebrating our modern-day hieroglyphics (including a wonky depiction of Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights in emoji) at Eyebeam Art + Technology Center was pretty amazing. Incidentally, she was named one of Fast Company's Most Influential Women in Technology in 2011, and one of Business Insider's 30 Important Women 30 Or Under In Tech in 2013.
TWITTER STATS: 17.9K followers (tweets at @juliaxgulia)
MUSEUM: The Whitney Museum
POSITION: Director of Digital Media
WHAT SHE'S DOING: In keeping with it's all-American mandate, the Whitney has been manifest destinying itself into the digital future of art for some time now, including high-tech art in its Biennials and, in 2001, breaking new ground with the creation of its Artport, a little-known online branch of the collection that houses Internet artworks. This is the kind of thing that has been overseeing since she was charged to build the museum's dedicated digital media department in 2011.
FUTURISTIC PLANS: The person who worked most closely with designers to rebrand and relaunch the museum's website last year, Hromack is currently working to upload the collection online and create the long-term strategic digital vision to follow the museum's move to its higher-tech new home downtown. Also, historically there has been a “no photo” policy at many museums, including the Whitney—an already oppressive regulation strained by the explosion of smartphones. Working to adjust that policy to fit the mores of the digital age, Hromack has become a champion of the “museum selfie,” which she believes allows a visitor to lay claim to the museum and the art, while also allowing the museum to see itself through its visitors’ eyes.
KILLER APP: A blog editor, Hromack most recently supported the new Whitney Stories editorial platform, which offers behind-the-scene glimpses of the museum, from videos on a guard documenting visitors with his camera to snappy Q&A’s with the Whitney Biennial curators. She has also taught the class “Digital Technologies and the Art Organization: From Strategy to Practice" as a faculty member at NYU's Steinhardt School.
TWITTER STATS: 3.6K followers (tweets @forwardretreat)