Smithsonian’s Spotlight: Country Music

With the Pandemic closing museums across the country many have opted to create virtual collections and offer video tours. One of the many ways the Smithsonian Institute has begun offering experiences online is through curated galleries on a variety of topics. Although the collections are large, they seem to consist primarily of photographs with identifiers and short descriptions attached to them when clicked on. Many of the photos are of Country music stars, posters, or attire, but some of them lack a detailed description, with many of the posters and similar items descriptions reading “mint” instead of explaining the history of the piece.

The overall layout of the exhibit seems to be very scattered and without a clear organization or noticable pattern. The gallery lists items in neither chronological nor alphabetical order. The items also don’t appear to be used to tell any kind of overall story, but just describe random items associated with Country music. The Collection is massive and spans most of the Country music world from the 1940’s to the late 1970’s/early 1980’s. The exhibit also seems to lack items pertaining to the origin’s of Country music, as well as information on the themes and concepts that drove Country music to become so popular.

Due to a scattered layout and the issues of being reset upon pushing the “back button”, the Smithsonian Spotlight seems to be less of an exhibit and more of an explorable collection. Being a collection would not typically be a bad thing, but due to a lack of organization and the ability to sort by date or alphabetical order, it feels like digging through a pile of loose photos. The nature of this Spotlight was to “Discover Country Music”, but the gallery seems to lack a path to guide an audience towards and ends at all. The gallery is also too lengthy with numerous sections available at the click of the “view more” button. The exhibit lacks the interactivity of physically attending a museum and does so in a very noticeable way. The photo’s could be made better by short descriptors or even pop-up windows that tell you their history, but they opted for a very flat and aesthetically bland approach that is closer to a google images result than what I would expect from a museum.

I believe that online exhibits are trying a variety of methods right now to drive engagement with their audiences, but this chaotic method made for an unpleasant experience that did not seem to serve any educational purpose. I also watched some virtual tours of the Smithsonian, but they were all third-party. The virtual and video tours were all very surface level and felt very clunky. In a class I had with Dr. Ray last semester we did virtual tours of historic sites in Africa. These tours still left a bit to be desired, but I believe that they provided a good look at the scale of structures that can’t be captured on video or in photographs. Hopefully with the progression of VR technologies we can make virtual museums that work, but from my experiences that technology has not yet arrived.

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