PAMM AR + Art: Q&A with Brendan Ciecko


Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) has collaborated with Miami-based artist Felice Grodin for a Knight Foundation-funded pilot project to bring art to life with augmented reality (AR).

The funding is part of a Knight Foundation initiative to help museums better meet new community demands and use digital tools to thoughtfully involve visitors in compelling experiences and conversations surrounding art.

Felice Grodin: Invasive Species is organized by PAMM Assistant Curator Jennifer Inacio, managed by PAMM AR + Art Project Manager Monica Mesa, and supervised by PAMM Deputy Director of Marketing and Public Engagement Christina Boomer Vazquez. Grodin’s digital works will be viewed via the PAMM App which is powered by Cuseum, owned by Brendan Ciecko. As part of this project, Knight Foundation is working with MAYA Design, a design consultancy and innovation lab, to assist with research into the user experience and project framing.

PAMM’s Deputy Director of Marketing and Public Engagement Christina Boomer Vazquez has been overseeing the project from its infancy. What made this particular pilot project most remarkable was Knight Foundation’s interest in funding exploratory practices versus emphasizing production of a fixed concept. Their generous grant and mentorship allowed the museum to explore the use of augmented reality in the museum space. Boomer Vazquez sat down with project participants to learn more from them about the process, the opportunities and challenges uncovered along the way and their thoughts about the intersection of technology and contemporary art.

With the help of Apple’s cutting-edge augmented reality ARKit platform and Cuseum, PAMM will use AR technology to animate Felice Grodin’s digital renderings on the PAMM App. Check out what Cuseum CEO Brendan Ciecko had to say about the upcoming augmented reality exhibition.

Boomer Vazquez: What drew you to the project?

Ciecko: This project lives at the intersection of my team’s greatest passions: museums, art, technology, experience, and education. We’re constantly experimenting with new technology and methods of delivering experiences to museum visitors. The opportunity to collaborate with artist, curator, and institution on a project that dives into AR was powerful and seductive. The stars were aligned!

What have been the opportunities?

Ciecko: The museum, with its commitment to and support of artists, charged the artist, Felice Grodin, to experiment, interpret, and challenge what it means to use AR. At its core, this all underscored a sense of flexibility, support, and openness to seize any opportunity that surfaced throughout the project. Everyone is free from any preconceived notions around what augmented reality is and what the artistic or visitor experience could be.

What have you learned along the way? What have been the challenges?

Ciecko: With any new technology, you’re bound to experience many challenges along the way. With ARKit only having been around for a few months and the real-life examples being limited to only a handful of apps, producing and refining the user experience was a learning experience. For instance, there is no universal symbol for AR that most people recognize, so providing additional support to onboard and educate the user is critical. And this is just scratching the surface!

When you look back, is there a moment that sticks with you? Why?

Ciecko: I distinctly remember the reaction of awe and amazement when we showed the artist’s works through the AR lens for the first time. To elicit this type of response, unanimously, was nothing short of exhilarating! I also look back fondly at our site visit to meet with the museum’s teaching staff— their energy and enthusiasm for the project and the impact it will have on their community was palpable.

What are your thoughts on the intersection of tech and contemporary art?

Ciecko: Artists have long looked to technology as a means of expanding their suite of tools to ideate, produce, and distribute their work to the masses. Today, consumers and creators have unprecedented access to leveraging the power of artificial intelligence, sensors, drones, and other previously untouchable tools. As technology matures and barriers to entry continue to fall, the impact on artists and their creative output will continue to evolve.

Art history is littered with examples of artists looking to leverage new tools and technology. In the digital era, technology has been a valuable part of artists practice, whether it is an avenue to inspiration or tool for creation. With this project, a new medium enabled the artist to bring her work to life in a new context, on a new scale, and with new meaning.


How do you think this project plays a role in a larger worldwide discussion on art and technology?

Ciecko: Many museum-driven technology projects focus on the “consumption” of existing culture, whereas this project is a clear showcase of what can happen when a museum plays a role in the “production” of new culture. This project exemplifies a “museum-as-a-platform” approach to supporting artists to produce and distribute artwork in a way that I hope expands the dialogue and inspires more museums and cultural institutions to follow suit.

How do you define “success” when it comes to an experimental and collaborative artist-driven tech project such as this one?

Ciecko: Success is multifaceted. Upholding the artist’s vision to create something meaningful, complex, and new remains at the core from start to finish. Exposing the audience to something they haven’t seen before and sparking a reaction of wonder, intrigue, or inspiration is equally essential.

Given the new technology that is being used to support this project, I’d define success as inspiring the new generation of artists and technologists. This is STEAM and we look forward to “pulling back the curtain” to unveil the components, process, and experimentation that went into this project. We look forward to working with the artist and PAMM team on educational programming that will inspire the community of Miami and beyond.

What would be your advice for another artist or institution looking to do something similar?

Ciecko: Brace yourself for the unknowns. You’ll inevitably run into challenges and roadblocks along the way, but this is always a part of the process when exploring new technologies. Compared to the polished and perfected state of traditional museum exhibitions, digital projects should exist in a never-ending state of iteration and “beta.”

About Brendan Ciecko

Brendan Ciecko is the founder and CEO of Cuseum, a platform that helps museums and cultural organizations engage their visitors, members, and patrons. Ciecko has been building technology since the age of 11 and has been featured in Inc. Magazine’s “30 Under 30” list, as well as Entrepreneur, The New York Times, The Guardian, Esquire, and PC Magazine for his work in design, technology, and business.


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