In September 2015, the Metropolitan Museum of Art launched a new digital feature called #MetKids. Made for, with, and by kids aged 7-12 at the Met, #MetKids combines elements of a digital collection, public engagement and educational programming on one website.
It is no news that involving kids in program development can be a fruitful decision, yet few museums allow kids to take this responsibility. The Met surveyed kids what they really cared about museums when their parents were not present. Some of the cute questions the kids raised were “why is Egypt so ancient?,” “can we talk to the boss here?” and “can doodles be art?.” With these questions in mind, the Met equipped the kids with tools such as stop-motion video and collage to help them curate the content for #MetKids. Let’s take a look specifically at what they have created.
The map depicts the Met and its thousands of exhibits. It took the illustrator John Kerschbaum several years to complete the drawings, with label content prepared with and for kids. Take the Tomb of Perneb as an example. The kids explained the Egyptian idea of the afterlife by stating that “things could magically come to life.”
Reading the map alone is a lot of fun. Besides appreciating the illustrations, you can learn some trivia knowledge such as “how often does the Met replace flowers?” (The answer is every Monday).
Videos created by kids are related to the artworks on the map. The Met worked with organizations like the Good School to teach kids how to make stop motion films and asked them to explain the fun facts to museum visitors. The kids are all talented artists. I bet you won’t see this kind of video in any other museum’s online gallery.
A Time Machine
Kids loved the idea of a time machine so much that the Met included a time machine feature on the website. The time machine functions like a search engine. You can find artworks of different periods and areas. Some kids found traditional museum terminology too hard to understand and remember, so #MetKids divides the time frame in a more general way, such as 1-500 A.D.
The blog documents behind-the-scenes stories of #MetKids, such as the opening party for kids and their families to celebrate the launch of the website in September.
Behind the project
The Met describes #MetKids as “inspired, tested, and approved by real kids ages 7–12.” Besides the educational significance, the project is an excellent practice of the museum’s digital presence. Last year, the Met celebrated its twentieth anniversary of the launch of its website. In response to the changing expectations and habits of audiences, the Met believes its digital department should “reflect those changes where appropriate” and “be helping to lead the cultural sector in the digital sphere, as it already does in the physical one.”
Nowadays, digital projects are becoming more and more important as a tool to cultivate new audiences, especially international audiences. While their annual attendance figures are holding steady, the Met’s online audience has grown to about 33 million visits per year, with 36 percent being international. Director Thomas Campbell used “Met’s ‘fourth space’” to describe the digital presence. He pointed out that “there is so much content available to audiences who might never be able to visit The Met. Nothing can replace standing before a work of art, but it is inspiring to see the ideas and cultures that are brought to life through our online features---It is an endless resource that truly demonstrates the relevance of The Met."
The #MetKids website is still growing. It will include more entries for artworks on the map and searchable catalogs dating from the 1950s on. The Met is also preparing for #MetKids’ application.
Some Stray Tricks/Tips
- When you play with the time machine, try pressing the DON’T TOUCH button. Then you will be launched somewhere unexpected.
- Kids love simple and easygoing messaging, so the Met rephrased the standard labels as follow:
Period/Dynasty/Reign/Date -> When was this made?
Geography -> Where was this made?
Medium -> What is this made of?
- You can always click the dropdown menus to learn more about the artwork as the Met wants to avoid overwhelming their audience. They also replace the phrase “Learn more” with “Want to know more,” as the kids found the former less friendly.
- The videos on the #MetKids playlist on Youtube has been translated to 11 languages.