January 15, 2005

Suggestions For Improving The Phoenix Art Museum Website

by Jerome du Bois

Phxart.org, the website for the Phoenix Art Museum (PAM), suffers from a number of deficiencies. I came across them while doing research for The Collective I. In that project the website is very important, and I realized that the project's website itself would fade the main site into the digital wallpaper.

Some people known as BLADEdigital "produces and maintains" the PAM website, but if you link to them today all you find is a grey page with an announcement that they are redesigning their website, and an email address. These are website designers! Amazing. It's been that way for weeks over there: a dead end. How long does it take to redesign a website? PAM should hire a new team or, better yet, train several of the 100 people who work there to produce and maintain a more dynamic website.

Let's take a closer look the features of the present site, and along the way make some suggestions for improvement.

The first thing I noticed is that there is no way to find out who works there. I know Jim Ballinger is the director, but that's just because he's the only director PAM has ever had. But he's not here. None of them are. Each of the top staff should have a page devoted to them, with a photo, a bio, and an email address. (They should all have onsite blogs, too, but that's up to them.) Why are they hiding?

They're hiding the collections, too, or at least most of them. Why isn't an image of every single object in all the collections online for any researcher's perusal? Well, that's asking for the moon on this website. They can't even keep up to date on their most recent stuff. For example, the image you click on to go to the "Recent Acquisitions" page shows a detail of a large photo by James Casebere, one of those recent acquisitions. But when you arrive at the page, no Casebere! And none of the other big photo-pieces newly arrived into the collections. No Struth, it's the truth. No Gursky. We just saw them a couple of weeks ago, at a hastily-assembled show that you would never know about from the website (you'd have to be on the email list). We know they're there. Come out, come out, wherever you are. . .

A lot of the links have to do with you giving money to the museum, but why would you when the museum won't tell you who works there or give you an inventory of what it owns?

Under "Exhibitions," check out the upcoming ones: only two this year, neither developed locally, and the second still has a "working title," Surrealism USA. You get the impression that the rest of the year yawns before the PAM staff like a blank, white, hell. (Also, there's nothing on the "Calendar" after the middle of February. Should we make other plans, then?) Is there nothing else we can look forward to for the rest of the year except those two yawners? And if that's true, then what are all those curators and directors doing down there, anyway? The present profile of the website summons these questions, which reflect badly on PAM. How can they expect membership to climb? Don't they know that you can surf the internet from your phone now? Everything on the website should be completely up-to-date, fresh as a daisy, including any hastily-assembled exhibitions. It just shows any interested party that you're awake, that you know they're out there.

Under "Past Exhibitions," any interested party may view only a single page about each one with a written summary and, at most, four or five images. Russell Crotty gets one, even though his stuff looks beautiful onscreen. Again, why not have every image of every object in every exhibition available? It would be a valuable tool for training curators, for example, and Dog knows they all could use more. (Plus, knowing the objects' provenance or source -- gallery, other museum -- could provide traffic to those venues, and give credit where credit is due to named donors. Donors like that. Donors have money. This is not difficult thinking, people.)

What else? Well, I've read elsewhere that PAM is undergoing a major multimillion-dollar expansion. If the website makes mention of this, it is lost behind some phone number somewhere. That's right: the biggest deal on the main page of the website now is the tired Natacha Rambova show. You wouldn't know they were breaking ground unless you went down there.

Where are the plans, the drawings, the photographs of the models, the before and after concepts? Aren't they proud of what they're doing?

The whole profile of the website is arrogant, hidebound, and hermetic:

We don't have to tell you who we are, what we possess, what we're doing, what we plan, and how we spend some of your money. Now get down here and fork over some more.

They should change their ways. The future is wide open.

Posted by Jerome at January 15, 2005 08:11 AM | TrackBack