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Milwaukee Art Museum: Beautiful Technology

The Milwaukee Art Museum had its origin in two institutions – the Layton Art Gallery, which was established in 1888, and the Milwaukee Art Institute, founded in the early 1900s. These two institutions joined forces in 1957 to form the private, nonprofit Milwaukee Art Center (now the Milwaukee Art Museum), and moved to its current lakefront location.

The Museum’s physical expansion over the years has significantly increased the Museum’s role as a comprehensive art institution and strengthened its position as a cultural cornerstone for the Milwaukee community and region. The Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion, the first Calatrava-designed building to be completed in the United States, was named Time Magazine’s “Best Design of 2001”.

“This was a monumental project, encompassing an exceptional architectural and engineering masterpiece, dramatic new gallery space, expanded facilities and visitor amenities, and elegant public gardens,” said David Gordon, Museum director and CEO.

The expansion provided nearly a thirty percent increase in overall gallery space, from 90,000 to 117,000 square feet and more than 500,000 people visited the Milwaukee Art Museum during its first full year of operation after the new building opened.

“When we considered digital signage, we had to be sure that it would complement and blend with the unique architecture,” says Elysia Borowy-Reeder, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications. “It’s difficult to place signage without detracting from the overall experience, so we decided to go with a system that allowed us to deliver a lot of information without a large footprint.”

The solution was AxisTV digital signage software – feeding two Sharp 27-inch LCD screens placed in the Windhover (Grand) Reception Hall. The system has been a hit with visitors and staff since it went online September 14, 2006. “We’re able to advertise both current and future programs to visitors. It’s a great way to create awareness,” continues Reeder.

The Museum uses two Visix channel players with AxisTV’s Widescreen Option to feed a horizontal three-frame layout on the screens. One large frame displays marketing bulletins about current and upcoming exhibitions, special events and store promotions. Two smaller frames advertise visitor tips and event schedules.

“A big advantage of AxisTV is that it’s web based,” comments Reeder. “I used a competitor’s system at another museum where I was employed and it was more complicated to work with. AxisTV allows you to communicate from anywhere.”

Several members of Reeder’s team determine the type of content that will be displayed and take care of message scheduling. The in-house Design and Publications Department creates polished graphics in Quark and PhotoShop and then imports them into AxisTV. “Once you set your ratios, you know what you’re designing for and it’s quite fast and easy to get bulletins up and running,” says Reeder. The team also creates event schedules using AxisTV’s Event Schedule Bulletin tool.

The Museum has seen direct results of their digital signage strategy. “We see visitors checking the screens and then heading to the Information Desk for details,” explains Reeder. “A lot of our special programs have benefited from the displays. For example, our First Friday is a monthly event that takes a lot of pre-promotion. Now that we advertise it with AxisTV, people are buying tickets in advance.”

The Museum took advantage of Visix Services for implementation, training and a Software Maintenance Agreement when they purchased AxisTV. “The implementation was very smooth,” continues Reeder. “The training was really good and it allowed us to quickly examine the software’s capabilities and options, and determine how we were going to use it.”

Reeder is looking at ways to improve the visitor experience using their digital signage. “We are always evaluating our content,” says Reeder. “Right now, we’re working toward integrating a Flash movie showing the Brise Soleil movement.”

The Burke Brise Soleil is the moveable, wing-like sun screen that rests on top of the Museum’s vaulted, glass-enclosed reception hall. Considered a moving sculpture, the Brise Soleil is unprecedented in American architecture, and is the signature element of the Museum’s new 142,050-square-foot Quadracci Pavilion. It opens when the Museum opens and closes when the Museum closes. The “wings” also “flap” (close and open) each day at noon for visitors’ enjoyment, weather permitting. Reeder continued, “Visitors are very disappointed when they miss it, so we are going to use the displays to run a full-screen movie of the event.”

Becky Goral, IS Manager for the Museum, managed the digital signage integration and looks forward to future projects. She summarizes, “We’ve really enjoyed working with Visix. Everyone from our sales rep, to the help desk and installation support technicians, even the President of the company has been extremely friendly, accommodating, helpful and resourceful in making the setup of our system seamless and enjoyable.”