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Museum in a Box: collection of objects including a postcard and a 3D printed miniture depicting the Greek god Zeus

The work of four new Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Creative Economy Engagement fellows, will be popping up in and around The Museum.  Drs Catriona Cooper, Abigail L. Glen, Melanie Pitkin, and Jennifer Wexler were appointed in January 2019 to work on four research projects with innovative creative industry partners to deliver new interactive digital and physical experiences for museum audiences. 

The “Creative Economy” embraces the cultural sector ranging from art, design, and heritage, to gaming, music, and the film industry and is worth more than £130 billion to the UK. 

Under the leadership of the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Daniel Pett, Head of Digital and Dr Joanne Vine, Research Facilitator, the quartet of female AHRC fellows will explore a range of digital and analogue methods for engaging the public with Museum research and collections.  Joanne Vine said: "The chance for the Museum to work with these talented early career researchers should generate new, exciting and high impact research. Working with thriving creative economy partners to produce new products, services and experiences for our audiences is essential for the future success of museums.”

Two of the fellows are working on forthcoming exhibitions at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Feast and Fast (2019) and Being an Islander (2021). Abi Glen and Jennifer Wexler are working with Museum in a Box, an EdTech startup based in London, that has developed a Raspberry Pi based interactive experience using museum collections. The projects will allow people to explore digitally, in 2D or 3D, a carefully curated selection of items from the University of Cambridge Museums’ collections. Near Field Communication (NFC), the same tech that powers contactless payment systems is also used to give the 2D or 3D representations the ability to speak directly to the user, providing a far more immersive experience than a museum label.

This research project includes a review of the business models, for example subscription, that would make it possible for museums to reach new audiences, at home. The idea is to provide a viable service where genuine replica 3D printed artifacts can be posted through your letter box. 

Melanie Pitkin has been translating texts and describing the decorative programme for The Egyptian Coffins project since January 2018. She’s working with ThinkSee3D, a professional 3D making service that specialises in heritage, education, and art research, to develop a set of physical and virtual 3D models of Egyptian coffins. The first set of objects have already appeared in the Egyptian Coffins Pop-Up Museum event in Wisbech. Melanie said: “I want to trial the use of physical and virtual 3D models, alongside some real museum objects, as a way of trying to reach new audiences in underserved areas who might not otherwise have the opportunity to engage with this type of current ground-breaking research.”

Catriona Cooper is looking at providing policy and guidance on the use of new technologies in the museum sector. Together with ThinkSee3D, Catriona is trying to determine how the use of 3D tech might change traditional museum practices and how the Fitzwilliam Museum can be at the forefront of this technological shift in practice.

Daniel Pett added: “These projects fit extremely well with the Museum and indeed museum sector’s digital transformation journey and recent sector reports such as Culture is Digital. Our early career research team will be using techniques that other museums can learn from, will inspire women in the arts to transition to digital careers, produce tools that can be replicated and stimulate future collaborative work with the creative sector.”

The University of Cambridge Museums (UCM) will showcase all of this research, alongside other projects that are trialling and researching the use of digital technologies to enhance audience experience, at a conference on Monday 3 June 2019 at the Cambridge Judge Business School. 

To find out more about these researchers and their projects, please visit the AHRC Creative Economy Engagement Fellowships page.