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Two Philly orgs will split $5M ‘art and tech’ fund from Knight Foundation

The Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art will split the pot to work on infusing tech into their visitor-engagement efforts.

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A $5 million Art and Technology Fund will help two Philadelphia art institutions boost innovation at their spaces — and online. The funding comes from the Knight Foundation.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Barnes Foundation will equally split the $5 million fund. At the 142-year-old Philadelphia Museum of Art, the work will focus on creating a “digital roadmap” that integrates tech into all areas of operations. Meanwhile, the Barnes will create a digital engagement center to work collaboratively across the museum’s departments.

The Miami-based Knight Foundation has offices in eight U.S. cities where it backs arts and journalism projects. They call them “Knight cities,” and Philly is one of them. The 68-year-old nonprofit also does work in another 18  communities in partnership with local organizations.

So why did Philly get the nod this time? The Philly-centric fund is a tribute to the work of local art institutions that have “led the field” in bringing tech into their work, said the Knight Foundation’s Chris Barr.

“Philadelphia is lucky,” said Barr, who doles heavy praise on Philly’s art ecosystem.

Since 2005, Knight has invested some $26 million in the Philadelphia’s arts scene, including a $2.5 million investment in Opera Philadelphia and a recent round of grants that funded two Philly-based projects at the intersection of tech and the arts.

“We’re hoping to continue the work of museums that have really taken tech seriosuly,” Barr said. “Our interest stems from the notion that we believe that audience expectations are changing, how we navigate the world in an always-connected environment has changed. With that, what folks are looking for a cultural institution is changing as well.”

Seeing the writing on the wall, the Barnes Foundation brought on a Chief Experience Officer from the Brooklyn Museum in 2016. Though in July she relocated to arts hub Marfa, Texas, to work for OFBYFOR ALL Shelley Bernstein remains a remote consulting creative technologist at the Barnes.

Over at the Art Museum, where interactive mobile apps have helped shape the experience of going to the Museum, civic technologists have mingled with the art crowd at their annual hackathons, which begin with the prompt of reimagining access to art.

“If there is a challenge that we’re posing to [the museums] is: how can they do more,” Barr said. “And how can we ensure that the knowledge is shared with other institutions.”

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