How I learnt about Brooklyn – 2.0 style.

A little background, in 2006 I was finishing a Masters in Online Learning in Sydney Australia, researching how cultural institutions were participating in online social networks. One fateful day I found the Graffiti in Brooklyn photographs on Flickr. Set up by the Brooklyn Museum around their Graffiti exhibition, community members were invited to upload their own photos of graffiti around Brooklyn. Intrigued, I sent off a FlickrMail to the Brooklyn Museum and actually got a reply!!! I was hooked. Fast forward to 2007 and after some serious paperwork and air travel I’m in the Information Systems department of that same Museum I found on Flickr as part of Shelley Bernstein’s team and ready to learn how they do all their web 2.0 magic. My internship was specifically about working on whatever needed doing 2.0 style and on my first weekend I was at the Brooklyn Museum’s Target First Saturday gently persuading visitors to Say It Loud for the camera. Way back in my shadowy past I’d spent some time as a film editor so the next week involved cutting the footage that Bob Nardi, the BM’s very cool multimedia guy, had captured on that night and at the previous First Saturday.

During my year with the Brooklyn Museum I changed hats daily, digital video editor one day, MySpace administrator, sound recordist, iPod loader, photographer, project manager the next. Click! was the largest of the projects I worked on, it provided some incredibly rich, if sometimes painful, learning experiences. I worked in a support role to get the word out during the artist’s call and evaluation stages. I walked the cold streets of a frozen Brooklyn delivering cards to cafes, bars, art galleries and even a dog shelter (barc). At the time I thought I might die of exposure but looking back I appreciate that I got to see the many different Brooklyn nabes and the people who make them so lively in a way I would otherwise have missed.


I captured the Castle – Lost in Brooklyn doing card distro for Click!

I also participated in Click! as an artist. I’m not a photographer, but it seemed like a unique opportunity to explore some of the online learning possibilities I’d been researching as part of my studies and beyond. This however did mean that I couldn’t view any of the other artist’s submissions as they came in. Shelley and developers Mike and Paul were the only ones to see the photographs as they were submitted and so committed to the idea of minimizing influence that they didn’t think it fair for them to participate in the evaluation stage. I, however, did have that privilege and spent many many hours with that slider bar. It was fascinating to play curator for a while, I had to consciously change my way of seeing online, giving time and thought to each image in a way I wouldn’t have if I’d been browsing the photos on Flickr. Also interesting was the story in pictures told by the Brooklyn community about what was important to them in those early months of 2008. Most striking for me was how many images there were of new condo developments and disappearing industrial landscapes. I recognized these anxieties about development, they weren’t dissimilar to those I felt about changes happening in my own hometown of Sydney.

Sadly my photograph didn’t rate, all theme and no aesthetics I’m afraid. I was inspired by a closed firehouse around the corner from where I lived off 4th Avenue, I did a little research and found a NYT article about the closure of a number of Brooklyn Firehouses 2003 and assumed that was the fate of the one I photographed for Click! My artist statement explained that the image captured my concerns about changing community structures. Embarrassingly, for me, but happily for the local community it turned out I was wrong and the firehouse was not going to disappear for another dreary condo development. I might have been oblivious to this fact had I not been sternly corrected by one of the community who commented that the firehouse was in fact being refurbished not torn down, ouch. Click! effectively mashed up the roles of artist, curator and audience, the equal importance given to all those points of view allowed me the opportunity to have a 360 degree learning experience around the exhibition process. I also had to relearn that simple lesson that things are not always what they seem.


Sunset over the Williamsburg Bridge. Goodbye Brooklyn.

I found the Brooklyn Museum and their wonderful collection through web 2.0, one FlickrMail led me to pack up the family and travel 1000’s of miles to visit them and the community they take very seriously both on and off line. The wonderful result of their commitment to community is that people go to the Brooklyn Museum to engage in conversation with their friends, one of whom happens to be the museum itself. I’m back in Sydney and optimistically looking toward the Art Gallery of NSW, my local art museum, to afford the same opportunities for connection, conversation and learning. I’ll miss being in Brooklyn, it was so hard to leave and I hope I’ll be back one day. The withdrawal is made little easier by the fact that I can still connect with Brooklyn and engage with the Museum and their collection 2.0 style.


Taking a little bit of Brooklyn back to Sydney – My son Jude in front of the Art Gallery of NSW