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Reynolda House Partners with NYC-Based Museum Hack to 'Hack' its New Digital Wing
Reynolda House has partnered with Museum Hack, a museum-tour company that describes its experiences as “un-highlights museum adventures.”

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C..- Usually, if a museum announced its website had been hacked, it would ring alarm bells among the staff and create problems for its visitors. But just months after the launch of the new, Reynolda House Museum of American Art asked a New York-based business to do just that.

Reynolda House has partnered with Museum Hack, a museum-tour company that describes its experiences as “un-highlights museum adventures.” The company’s team has led tours at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Museum of Natural History and, this week, the “digital wing” of Reynolda House. On Feb. 26, Reynolda House debuted “Museum Hack Hacks the Collection,” an online gallery curated by the same team that leads in-person tours at the New York City museums.

The concept, said Sarah Smith, Reynolda House director of marketing and communications, was to look at the Reynolda House website as an experience parallel to visiting the museum in person and open up new ways to explore and share the museum’s renowned collections of American art, historic house objects, and Reynolds family archives.

“Nothing can replace an in-person experience at Reynolda,” she said. “But with nearly 400 objects from our collections now available online—more than can be on view in our museum galleries at any one time—we’re redefining and expanding the Reynolda experience. Working with Museum Hack is a step forward in our exploration of how we make memorable connections with people before and after they set foot in the museum.”

This is the first time that Museum Hack has “hacked” a museum’s online collections. For its online gallery, the Museum Hack team selected nine objects, including eight works from the American art collection and one from the historic house collection. Each selection is explained by the Museum Hack team on the museum’s blog.

Visitors can jump from a 1917 copper ashtray with matchbox holder to a 1973 silkscreen with dye and flocking print by artist Alan Shields. It’s this unusual juxtaposition of objects that makes a Reynolda House experience – onsite and online – unique, says Elizabeth Chew of Reynolda House.

“What this Museum Hack gallery demonstrates is that we’ve created an opportunity for people to look at the objects in our collections in a very personal way,” said Chew, the Betsy Main Babcock of the Curatorial and Education Division. “That’s when transformational moments happen – when you see a painting, an archival image, or piece of historic furniture and it adds to your own life experiences. You don’t need an art history degree to know what paintings make you feel happy or what archival object reminds you of home.”

Chew says the museum is envisioning other online galleries curated by visitors, museum members, or other audiences.

Museum Hack’s founder, Nick Gray, is a 2004 graduate of Wake Forest University, with whom Reynolda House formally affiliated in 2002. The museum and the university share the Reynolda Campus, named for the original 1,087-acre estate of R.J. and Katharine Reynolds. Gray remembers Reynolda House fondly from his days as an undergraduate.

“I lived on campus all four years, and I liked to take a lot of walks through the historic property, brainstorming business ideas and talking with friends,” said Gray. “Reynolda House was always on my radar. Getting the opportunity to work with Reynolda House on an official project was a huge honor. I loved looking at the collection and pictures of the historic house from my laptop in New York City.”

Reynolda House and Museum Hack will host an online discussion on Twitter March 13 at 2 p.m. Follow the hashtag #hackreynolda to participate. In April, the museum will hold a day-long retreat with Gray and other thought leaders in the museum field on the ideas of visitor-generated experience and engagement at Reynolda.

The Museum Hack gallery is part of a larger Reynolda House initiative called the Digital Engagement Project launched in 2010 with the digitizing of the museum’s collections. The federally funded project included cataloging each object in the museum’s collections, redesigning the museum’s website to facilitate access to collections, and creating new opportunities for people to interact with the museum online.

In February, Reynolda House announced that it had created a new staff position for its new “digital wing.” Trish Oxford was named Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications, a position that will focus on creating synergy between on-site experiences and virtual experiences through management of the Museum’s new website, email, social media, and other digital platforms.

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