What Happens When Cutting-Edge Technology Inspires Collaborative Storytelling?

"What we're seeing is a move towards participation," says Jake Barton, the pioneering media designer behind the 9/11 Memorial Museum and Gallery One at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
This Content is made possible by our Sponsor; it is not written by and
does not necessarily reflect the views of
The Atlantic's editorial staff. 

 For centuries, museums, monuments, and memorials have been places to passively observe historical artifacts, priceless antiquities and the events of the past in solitary introspection. 

Through his trailblazing firm, Local Projects, media designer Jake Barton is rapidly evolving that perception.

At the crux of Barton's work is the idea of collaborative storytelling, which invites museum and memorial visitors to share their own experiences, observations, and memories through interactive technology, turning passive observers into active participants. Over the past decade, Local Projects has collected over 100,000 individuals' stories and memories, and shared them with millions more through innovative visual and interactive technology like interactive projection walls and pop-up recording booths. This revolutionary approach has garnered significant press and public attention for Barton, and netted his firm a handful of high-profile commissions.

Local Projects was awarded the honor of designing the National September 11 Memorial Museum, primarily because it chose not to shy away from the deeply personal nature of the events of that day. The firm created an iPhone app to remind visitors of the scope of the physical destruction using augmented reality, and asked ordinary people to record stories about where they were during the attacks. These recordings will be the first thing visitors hear when they walk into the museum, providing a powerful oral history of that tragic morning.

But Barton's focus isn't limited to the events of the 21st century. Consider Gallery One, an impressive, interactive installation at the Cleveland Museum of Art that allows visitors to personally connect to artworks that were produced hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. A motion-sensitive wall projection within the gallery lets each visitor browse the museum's entire collection and select the pieces he or she finds most compelling. These selections are transformed into a personalized museum tour that's beamed to an iPad that visitors can take with them as they explore the museum. Gallery One also includes entertaining displays that call up relevant artworks based on the real-time facial expressions a user makes into a built-in camera, or the shapes he or she draws on the screen.

"It's an incredible privilege to be a designer today," says Barton. "Because you get this incredible opportunity to tell all these stories in really new ways." 

Watch the full interview:

Sponsor Content