PAMM AR + Art: Q&A with Monica Mesa

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.

PAMM’s Deputy Director of Marketing and Public Engagement Christina Boomer Vazquez caught up with PAMM’s AR + Art Project Manager Monica Mesa and discussed the process of leveraging AR technology for the first time.

Boomer Vazquez: When you first got the call about this opportunity to manage a Knight Foundation-funded augmented reality pilot project, what went through your mind?

Mesa: Excitement—I always rejoice when I come across a challenging project where there are so many queries up in the air. On the other hand, having the opportunity to work with technology was incredibly interesting to me.

Once you started to get to work, what about this role was perhaps different than your expectations walking in?

Mesa: To be honest, having launched PAMM Inside|Out almost two years ago, really prepared me for projects such as this one. Projects full of surprises that push your limits all the way, but that in the end are incredibly rewarding. That said, I hadn’t set any expectations when I came on board because I knew I just had to go with the flow and somehow change the course of the flow along the way while fully immersed in it.

What have you learned along the way?

Mesa: I have learned a great deal about the changing nature of culture, technology, and working collaboratively to bring boundary-pushing initiatives such as this one come to life. Looking back on the initial stages of this project’s process, I’d say true experimentation in a museum setting requires a willingness to jump headfirst into the unknown. It also requires some high-level buy-in to the idea that the outcome will most likely challenge some (or all) established museum processes. For example, most of PAMM’s internal processes revolve around the development, approval, and implementation of exhibitions and programming. However, given the fleeting nature of this pilot-project, it had to be developed and implemented outside of that normal workflow. In many respects, this initiative made me realize that true experimentation happens when you ask not only how to pull off an experiment in the face of established processes, but how the outcome of that experiment can change those traditional systems and expectations.

What was the most rewarding moment during the process for you? The most challenging?

Mesa: The most rewarding moment to date was when the artist Felice Grodin partnered up with PAMM to work on this first-of-its-kind digital initiative. The most challenging moment has been bringing the artist’s vision to life while dealing with the limitations that AR has posed along the way.

What advice would you have for others aiming to lead new technology projects in a museum setting?

Mesa: Be open to experimenting, variables constantly changing, and troubleshooting. When working with new technology, nothing is set in stone. Always expect the unexpected.

What are the factors that helped you find success in this new position at the museum?

Mesa: Taking into consideration that I had previously worked at PAMM as a curatorial assistant, and while working in this capacity, I also launched another Knight Foundation funded initiative that has helped me a great deal in navigating the established institutional workflow. Meaning, my previous experience made it easier to interact with my colleagues and connect the dots along the way to facilitate every process that this project has undergone to date.

Knowing what you now know, if you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently and why?

Mesa: I would work on a two-year plan to develop the project and build a “support system” by identifying experts in the digital realm and implementation of immersive technology in museums. Given the strict workflow that museums operate under, it is important to have a support system that can bring clarity to the table when diving into the unknown. That said, I would also budget accordingly to have an evaluator be part of that “support system”, which could be incredibly beneficial and intrinsic to the success of the project.

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

Mesa: Technology as a catalyst for contemporary art has been an ongoing conversation for many decades. I think technology is redefining the way artists push art in different directions and engage with visitors in a multi-dimensional way.

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

Mesa: I think the idea of using a platform like the ARKit, which is commonly used for commercial purposes, and transforming it into an art medium to bring an artist’s vision to life is pretty “magical” and groundbreaking. In the case of our project, Felice Grodin: Invasive Species, through the use of augmented reality we have been able to democratize our visitors art-viewing experience by activating outdoor areas that are freely accessible to our public.

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

Mesa: Beyond the launch of the project, I think “success” in this case relates to the unified effort that the institution and artist have undertaken with this digital initiative. In this specific project, the artist was able to approach PAMM like a laboratory—a place for thinking, collaborating, and experimenting with the museum experience and our visitors. Building upon this idea, Felice was able to “disrupt” physical spaces of the museum by overlaying digital information in the form of artworks that are only accessible through the use of devices. By doing this, she is connecting with our visitors in an unexpected way, but using technological means that they are familiar with. It is through initiatives such as this one that artists can be given full creative freedom to experiment and create meaningful experiences in institutional settings where for the most part, everything is set in stone.

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

Mesa: If you are thinking about pursuing a digital initiative such as this one, plan ahead, budget, and staff your project accordingly and keep in mind that technology is in constant flux. However, don’t be afraid to experiment with new technology, it can be incredibly rewarding to incorporate technology into your artistic practice to connect with audiences in unexpected ways. Technology allows us to become cultural producers through the implementation of digital innovation and it enables us to create experiences that transcend beyond the museum’s walls.


About Monica Mesa

Monica Mesa is an artist and an incubator for innovative thinking about the use of immersive technology at PAMM. Here, Mesa explores how the implementation of artist-driven augmented reality in a museum aids to democratize and enhance its visitors’ art-viewing experience. Previously, while working as a curatorial assistant at PAMM, she launched Knight Foundation’s Inside Out program which brings high-quality reproductions of masterpieces from the museum’s collection to outdoor venues throughout Miami-Dade.


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