PETER SAMIS

WAYS OF SEEING

GUEST: PETER SAMIS

My book “Creating the Visitor-centered Museum,” co-authored with Mimi Michaelson, was published by Routledge in 2017. It documents innovative practices in museum interpretation through ten case study sites in the United States and Europe. I have spoken about it in China, the United States, and Italy over the past year and am happy to convey its messages to others.

I am grateful to have worked at SFMOMA in a variety of capacities, paid and volunteer, for 35 years; my final position was Assoc. Curator of Interpretation.

My initial studies at Columbia and in Paris were in anthropology and religion. Later, I went on to earn an M.A. in art history at U.C. Berkeley. Since then I have taught, curated, written, and been active in the development of interpretive technologies for cultural heritage. Way back in the 1990s, I served as the art historian/content expert for the first CD-ROM on modern art, “American Visions,” and then spearheaded development of multimedia programs for SFMOMA’s new building, which opened in 1995. Over the years, SFMOMA’s Interactive Educational Technology programs received awards from sources as diverse as the American Association of Museums, the Webbys, Communication Arts, and I.D. Magazine.

I taught for many years in the graduate program for Technology-Enhanced Communication for Cultural Heritage at Switzerland’s University of Lugano, and served on advisory councils for many open source software initiatives. But around 2007, I realized that digital interpretation was not enough, and that visitors benefited most from a mix of analog and digital, interactive and environmental. That led to the research with Mimi Michaelson and our book. We discovered that as museums become more visitor-centered, hierarchies are dismantled and new teams emerge. We begin to listen to visitor feedback, and empathy builds. It turns out that “Nothing about us without us,” that mantra of inclusive practice, counts for visitors, too!

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