Audience Participation and the Grateful Dead Archive

The Grateful Dead Archive at the University of California – Santa Cruz (UCSC) documents the music, history, and social movement associated with one of the most influential rock bands in American history, The Grateful Dead. Members of the band gifted their archive to UCSC in 2008. The gift included an array of artifacts including audio and video recordings, business papers, contracts, artwork, stage backdrops, instruments, recording equipment, photographs, posters, tickets, lyric drafts, and fan art. In addition to the original bequest, new collections have been added to augment the archive. The Herb Greene Photography Collection, The Theresa Garcia Collection of the Jerry Garcia Memorial, The Dennis McNally Papers, The Dick Latvala Collection, and The Michael “Mikel” Linah Collection are all housed within the Grateful Dead Archive in UCSC’s McHenry Library.


Songs of Our Own exhibit poster by Gary Houston Source:

Artifacts from the permanent collection can be seen on exhibit in the Dead Central gallery in UCSC’sMcHenry Library. The current exhibit, “Songs of Our Own: The Art of the Grateful Dead Phenomenon,” features art by band members and fans spanning the band’s more than three decade long career. Access to special collections is also approved for researchers interested in the 60s, the counterculture movement, the Dead’s influence on contemporary music, and many other facets of the Grateful Dead phenomenon.

Arguably, the most influential aspect of the Grateful Dead Archive is its incredibly well developed online database. The Grateful Dead Archive Online (GDAO) features digitized artifacts from the Grateful Dead Archive’s permanent collection. More importantly, the GDAO collections have been augmented by the most devoted fans in contemporary music history, the Deadheads. The site’s homepage calls out for visitors to add their own contributions to the archive, “Help build GDAO: a socially-constructed archive. Please share your digital files or tell your Grateful Dead story.” The site simply, yet ingeniously, builds upon the incredibly participatory nature of the Grateful Dead and its fans. Thousands of fan recordings of live shows were uploaded through GDAO and their partnership with Internet Archive. GDAO also features digitized fan mail, fan art, and ticket request envelopes.

GD4GD5Ticket request envelope – Fan art by Eimon

The beauty of the Grateful Dead Archive Online is that it does not attempt to create audience participation where there is no interest. Rather, they build upon and redirect fans’ already existing desires to participate. Audience participation in building this innovative archive does not feel artificial in any way. By making the collections accessible to the general public and encouraging fans to add their own content, already engaged fans are given new opportunities to interact with the band and its community. It is clear that the creators of the archive know their audience well – Deadheads want to share their photographs, art, stories, and memories, and the GDAO is simply another platform through which this exchange is able to occur.

Despite the many strengths of the online archive, there are a few areas that could be improved. The “Milestones” tab contains a scrolling linear timeline highlighting the additions and losses of band members, album releases, noteworthy shows, tour maps, and other important events in the band’s history. The milestones timeline could be improved by adding historical events about San Francisco, Haight-Ashbury, or the cultural movements in the 60s and 70s. Adding events related to these areas could place the band’s music in the wider context of the Grateful Dead phenomenon that the archive is attempting to document. The milestones timeline could also be improved by adding multimedia functions to the events, such as photographs, posters, and audio recordings. I would also like to see the archive implement a second timeline featuring stories, memories, and photographs added by the public.

Additionally, there is a “Dead News” tab with blog posts by Grateful Dead Archivist, Nicholas Meriwether. The blog posts are interesting, well-written, and place artifacts from the archives in a broader context. Unfortunately, the blog is not updated regularly. The last post was published January 15, 2014. Perhaps if visiting scholars and students at UCSC were asked to make contributions to the Dead News blog, the posts could be updated more frequently.

Overall, the Grateful Dead Archive is a fantastic example of how to build upon existing interest in a topic and garner audience participation. As with any museum project, there is always room for improvement. I am excited to explore the Grateful Dead Archive Online as it continues to grow, and hope to some day visit the Grateful Dead Archive and Dead Central exhibit space at UC-Santa Cruz.


Museum Education in the Digital World: The Brain Scoop and The Field Museum’s Chief Curiosity Correspondent

In an effort to broaden their digital outreach and spread information about the work of Field Museum scientists, The Field Museum of Natural History hired Emily Graslie as their first-ever Chief Curiosity Correspondent in 2013. Emily Graslie is a dynamic young science educator and host of the popular YouTube series The Brain Scoop. Originally based at the University of Montana’s Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum, the Brain Scoop now covers The Field’s scientific research, conservation work, public education activities, and exhibitions. In addition to filming episodes of The Brain Scoop, Emily’s role as Chief Curiosity Correspondent includes giving talks, public demonstrations, and Q&A sessions at the museum.

Photo Source:

Photo Source:

The greatest asset of The Brain Scoop is Emily’s ability to enthusiastically communicate the value of the Field’s research, collections, and education programs in a unique and engaging manner.  Emily’s goofball attitude and nerdy demeanor have won the hearts of viewers around the world.  The Brain Scoop’s first video filmed on location at The Field Museum, titled “Welcome to The Field Museum” is a great example of the quirky humor that encourages Graslie’s fans to return week after week to check out the newest Brain Scoop episode. In this episode, Emily borrows a few props from the museum’s fictional “Gaudy Chairs n’ Lamps” collection and drags the chair and lamp around the museum in an effort to introduce her viewers to the various aspects of the museum that she will be covering in her channel.  The humor in the episode not only encourages viewers to return to the YouTube channel in the future to check out the next episode, but also encourages online viewers to visit The Field Museum and explore the amazing exhibits that Emily highlights.

Brain Scoop Facebook post. Original caption: "It's MuseumSelfie day on twitter and we just passed 200,000 subscribers on YouTube so here's a celebratory selfie with some dead chipmunks in Anna's lab! Thanks for watching, everyone! " Photo source:

Brain Scoop Facebook post. Original caption: “It’s MuseumSelfie day on twitter and we just passed 200,000 subscribers on YouTube so here’s a celebratory selfie with some dead chipmunks in Anna’s lab! Thanks for watching, everyone! “
Photo source:

The Chief Curiosity Correspondent job position and Brain Scoop channel are excellent methods for increasing the accessibility of museum collections to a broader audience. Less than 1% of the museum’s collections are on exhibit to the general public at any given time. However, Emily has access to the other 99% of the collections and can publish videos every week providing exciting behind-the-scenes tours of collections and research facilities that the average visitor would otherwise never have a chance to explore. Additionally, the digital element of the Brain Scoop channel is very effective at reaching out to a younger generation that may not have been able to visit the physical museum but is excited about engaging in a digital world. Emily Graslie helps the Field Museum accomplish the goal of reaching a large digital audience by not only running the Brain Scoop YouTube channel, but also a Brain Scoop Facebook page, Twitter account, Tumblr blog, and Instagram account. The social media outlets that Emily Graslie uses for her job as Chief Curiosity Correspondent are five sites that seem to be quite popular among people in their teens and twenties. Emily posts heartfelt thank yous to her followers for their support, intern projects, updates on research expeditions, video interviews with Field Museum scientists and staff members, and information about upcoming public talks/events.  Emily is clearly well-versed in how to get the attention of a large internet audience, as evidenced by the amount of “followers”, “likes”, and comments on her social media pages.

Another effective element of the Chief Curiosity Correspondent position and The Brain Scoop is the “Ask Emily” platform in which viewers can submit questions to Emily via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Tumblr and she answers the questions in her next Brain Scoop video post. Audience questions range from specifics about animal behavior and anatomy, to how Emily got into her position as Chief Curiosity Correspondent, and what it is like to be a female working in the scientific field. Emily also responds to questions on the Facebook and Twitter accounts. When reading the comments on the YouTube channel, it is clear that the Brain Scoop is engaging and Emily is a great inspiration to many aspiring young scientists, especially young women in science.

Overall, the Brain Scoop and The Field Museum Chief Curiosity Correspondent are phenomenal platforms for public engagement. Emily Graslie should serve as an example to museums worldwide of how to effectively engage younger generations and large audiences in the education, research, and collections of museums. However, from the comments I have read on The Brain Scoop channel, I believe a majority of their audience members are young. The Brain Scoop is incredibly effective at reaching this young audience, but it would be interesting to investigate whether the channel is reaching a large portion of older generations and how other forms of digital media may be used to effectively reach different generations. The Field Museum would be wise to develop another position similar to the Chief Curiosity Correspondent job description, but aimed at a more mature generation, although Emily Graslie has set the bar high and it will be extremely difficult for anyone to fulfill the shoes of internet  that

Logan Museum of Anthropology Study Drawers

The Logan Museum of Anthropology, an undergraduate teaching museum at Beloit College, has several ongoing exhibitions housed within the unique study drawers located in the center of the Shaw Gallery on the second floor (see Fig. 1).  The study drawers include exhibits on “Turtle Culture”, Native American beadwork, Ojibwa Quillwork, pipestone, and archaeological artifacts.  Within the selection, I found the archaeological artifacts ranging from Paleo-Indian times 13,000 years ago up through the mid-19th Century to be the most interesting.

cabinet overview

Fig. 1  Cabinet with study drawers containing archaeological artifacts in the Shaw Gallery

The design of this exhibit is quite intriguing when viewed in light of the purpose of the Logan Museum.  The study drawers embrace the mission statement of the Logan Museum, which focuses on its role as a teaching museum that encourages the practical use of artifacts and “[enhancing] physical and intellectual access to museum resources, both onsite and online.”  The drawers enhance student access to artifacts by allowing visitors to view many more artifacts than a more traditional exhibit case would allow.

Fig. 2  Informational plaque on top of study cabinet.

Archaeological artifacts are sorted into drawers by time period and culture group.  The informational plaques on top of the study cabinets provide sufficient background information to orient the viewer before they open the study drawers and begin exploring (see Fig. 2).  I enjoyed the ways in which the plaques highlight the connections between the objects seen in the drawers and the history of the Beloit College campus.

Example of archaeological artifact study drawer label

Fig. 3  Example of archaeological artifact study drawer label

drawer layout

Fig. 4  Example of study drawer layout and arrangement of artifacts.

Each drawer has a simple label that describes the kinds of objects the drawer contains.  The labels are effective because they are simple yet informative (see Fig. 3).  When the visitor opens the drawer they see many artifacts arranged in an orderly and visually appealing manner (see Fig. 4).  My favorite aspect of the study drawers is that they provide safe storage for the artifacts while greatly increasing the number of objects that visitors and students are able to observe.  When a visitor is not viewing the objects the drawer is shut, ensuring that objects that may be susceptible to light damage (such as the quillwork) are protected from the gallery lighting.  Additionally, the objects are snuggly fit into custom cut slots in the foam that protects objects from moving, rolling, or hitting against each other when drawers are opened and shut.

Lighting in the Shaw Gallery

Fig. 5  Lighting in the Shaw Gallery

Example of gallery lighting casting shadows on objects and exhibit labels

Fig. 6  Example of gallery lighting casting shadows on objects and exhibit labels

Example of gallery lighting casting shadows making it difficult to read labels and observe objects near the back of the drawers

Fig. 7  Example of gallery lighting casting shadows making it difficult to read labels and observe objects near the back of the drawers

Although I enjoyed many aspects of the study drawers, there are a few areas that could improve the effectiveness of the exhibits.  First, the lighting within the gallery casts troublesome shadows on the objects when viewing the open drawers.  The gallery lighting is effective for viewing the large murals and exhibit display cases on the outer walls of the Shaw Gallery (see Fig. 5), but causes annoying shadows for the study drawers located in the center of the gallery (see Fig. 6, 7).  One possible solution would be to incorporate LED lighting within the drawers that automatically turns on when drawers are open and off when drawers are shut.  By placing LED lights inside the drawers, the shadows caused by light from above would be eliminated.  However, adding LED lighting to the drawers would be a very costly project, so the current gallery lighting is likely the most responsible option with the resources the museum currently has.

needs repair - artifact storage 2

Fig. 8  Example of artifacts moving due to opening and closing of drawers

needs repair - storage of artifact

Fig. 9  Example of artifacts moving due to opening and closing of drawers

Study drawer label that needs to be repaired and replaced

Fig. 10  Study drawer label that needs to be repaired and replaced

Beyond lighting, I observed a couple of additional issues within the exhibit that could be fixed relatively quickly and at little to no cost.  For example, several artifacts have moved out of their proper placement within the drawer (see Fig. 8, 9).  The movement of the objects out of their original places not only is distracting to the viewer, but also causes risks to the objects.  If objects continue to move further form their original positions, they run the risk of bumping into other objects and causing damage.  The slots where objects have moved should be repaired in order to keep the objects safe and maintain an orderly exhibit for visitor viewing.  Another easy improvement to the exhibit would be to construct new labels for a couple of the worn drawer labels, such as the “Archaic Implements” label shown above (see Fig. 10).

Overall, I greatly enjoyed revisiting the archaeological artifact exhibit at the Logan Museum.  The accessibility of a large variety of objects and descriptive information plaques within the drawers successfully fulfills the museum’s mission and purpose as an undergraduate teaching tool.