Situating art in the context of the creator

Peabody Essex Museum case study

“It could take half a day to transcribe an interview manually. Using Pop Up Archive, all we need to do is generate a working transcript and do a quick pass for minor edits and corrections.”
—Chip Van Dyke, Media Production Manager at Peabody Essex Museum

Trying to understand art can sometimes feel boring or confusing — but Chip Van Dyke, Media Production Manager at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, MA, knows it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Peabody Essex Museum is one of the oldest continuously operating museums in the United States, and making art accessible is baked into their mission of celebrating “outstanding artistic and cultural creativity by collecting, stewarding, and interpreting objects of art and culture in ways that increase knowledge, enrich the spirit, engage the mind and stimulate the senses.” The content that Chip produces, largely in the form of videos of artists talking about their work, provides interpretation by situating the art in the context of the creator’s experience, perspective, and ideas.

To create these videos, Chip spends a lot of time editing interviews with artists. He generates transcripts through Pop Up Archive to speed up his editing and post-production process. Transcripts are also used to help build the exhibit catalog, create label copy for gallery signs, and provide accessibility options for the hearing impaired.

Special Effects designer Adam Savage was interviewed by PEM about Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests.

Special Effects designer Adam Savage was interviewed by PEM about Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests.

The museum tries to interview every artist whose work they show. A video last year featured artist Theo Jansen, whose Strandbeest sculptures were exhibited at the museum. With the help of transcripts from Pop Up Archive, Chip edited several days’ worth of interviews with Theo into five different videos that were displayed on touch-activated screens in the gallery. In one video, Chip had Theo hold a part of the Strandbeest and describe how it works. This video was used in a part of the gallery where visitors could touch and examine the different pieces of a Strandbeest for themselves while the artist explained the mechanics of these life-like creations.

Before, interviews had to be transcribed by a human, and the process was painstaking. “It could take half a day to transcribe an interview manually. Using Pop Up, all we need to do is generate a working transcript and do a quick pass for minor edits and corrections,” said Chip. This approach means production isn’t delayed, and cuts down dramatically on the overall time it takes to complete a project.

Museum interpretation can get a bad rap as trying to “explain away the art,” but that’s not how Chip sees it: “Some studies have shown that that average time you stand in front of art is three to seven seconds. That always shocked me, but it’s true,” he says. “So, what can a person like me do to add a couple extra seconds to that experience? An interpretive piece, something extra, some narrative or story being told that you’ve seen before you walk up to the art, allows you to see in that piece what you just heard about.”

Watch the Strandbeest videos and more on Peabody Essex Museum’s YouTube page — or listen to Chip’s podcast for the museum, PEMcast, for audio of interviews with artists.

See you in the archive,
The Pop Up Archive team