Creating the Digital + Physical Canvas at The MIT Museum

Garden Street: Lower Level

The MIT Museum is moving to the eye of Kendall Square’s innovation district in 2020. It has a rare mandate to use its current venue as a prototype museum “laboratory” to explore what it means to be a digital+physical cultural institution. Even at a place like MIT, the museum takes the perspective that technology is merely one of many materials on the palette from which it designs meaningful user experiences, open access to its collections, and engaging programming for its constituents.

Avoiding the temptation to dazzle visitors with screens and digital interfaces is a tricky tightrope to walk. After all, a visitor to the MIT Museum will expect to engage with the representative objects of MIT as part of the experience: robots, computers, holograms, virtual reality goggles and other artifacts of science fiction. The MIT Museum must avoid the mistake of applying “digital” as a novelty and, instead, will address fundamental questions about why technology would be an appropriate and necessary tool to accomplish its mission.

For example, while there are myriad examples of museums using augmented or mixed reality projects to bridge physical and digital gaps, very few of these experiences address the limitations of the medium and fail to justify the use of this technology. Recently, the museum staged The Enemy by Karim Ben Khelifa (, a virtual reality experience where participants encountered combatants on opposite sides of conflicts in Israel/Palestine, the Congo, and El Salvador.

This talk will use The Enemy and other recent examples to contextualize the museum’s transitional digital strategy and how it will approach artwork and exhibitions that integrate the digital+physical space.