Tag Archives: gfs:visit

This is a blog post by Phil Gyford, who helped me make a thing. I’ve been curious about a tool called sheetsee.js for ages, and we made a site to show you the museums we visit, and it’s driven directly from a Google spreadsheet! I find myself wondering if small museums might be able to use this simple tech.

George has been keeping track of the museums she’s been visiting in a Google spreadsheet and wanted to make it a little more visible, useful and attractive.

Sheetsee.js looked like it might be just the thing to help. It makes it relatively easy to use data from a Google Spreadsheet to make pages containing tables, maps and charts. One of the Sheetsee.js examples, Hack Spots, was along the lines of what we wanted, which was reassuring.

Within a day we’d got a quick single-page site up on Heroku, letting us list all the museums, clicking one to display a museum and its details, including a map. Pretty good! We spent a second day refining it, making nice URLs for each visit, and filtering the table to show only the museums built, founded or opened in a particular year.

The site has barely any back-end; there’s a single PHP file and a `.htaccess` file to make URLs like /visit/23 load that one file.

Sheetsee.js uses Tabletop.js to fetch the Google Spreadsheet’s data. We run through that data and tidy up each row a little: we make some fields more readable; and add fields to show (for example) whether or not that museum has any external URLs, which helps with displaying its details. Sheetsee.js then handles displayig the table, paging the data, making it sortable, and making the filter form work.

The JavaScript listens for clicks on the museum names and then displays its details. When the data includes latitude and longitude we use Leaflet to display a Mapbox map.

Making the page work more nicely — changing the URLs for each museum and keeping the browser back/forward buttons working — involved more custom coding, which got me in a bit of a tangle, given I’m not used to making single-page, solely-JavaScript-powered sites. It seems to work, thanks in part to History.js.

Displaying the museums that were only built, founded and opened in particular years also involved going round in circles a few times, and involved more URL-fixing shenanigans and manually filtering the data before handing it over to Sheetsee.js.

All-in-all Sheetsee.js was lovely to use and it would be a great tool for creating nice views of modest amounts of data held in a Google Spreadsheet, without the complication of a database. Going beyond what it can do by default can be trickier. For example, we wanted to have the table’s filter only filter based on the contents of a particular column, but that’s not easily possible. But, otherwise, two thumbs up!


I was lucky to visit New York last week, mostly under the auspices of participating in an early group meeting about a new initiative coming out of the United Nations, the UN Live Museum.


Before I attended the UN meeting, I visited The Cloisters at the very top of Manhattan, and visited with Seb Chan and my old friend and former colleague at Flickr, Aaron Cope, at the Cooper-Hewitt to see their fantastic digital work in the flesh. It was exciting to watch people in the space using those gorgeous tables designed by Local Projects.

Me and Aa

I also met with Fiona Romeo and the digital content and strategy team at MoMA, and really enjoyed the One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Works exhibition. That same day I paid a quick visit to Dragan Espenscheid and Heather Corcoran at Rhizome, who were understandably in a bit of a frenzy in the lead-up to their amazing Seven On Seven: Empathy and Disgust event held last weekend. I’m a big fan of the amazing emulation/preservation digital archaeology work that Dragan has been focused on lately. Actually, not that lately, he’s been doing amazing things with the old web for years.

But, so, the United Nations (!). There’s something brewing there that’s being called the UN Live Museum, and it all sounds pretty exciting. Frankly, I found being at the UN itself more inspiring than I’d anticipated. It’s a great human endeavour, was founded in 1945, and is a heartening institution, to me. We enjoyed a quick tour of the building itself, including The General Assembly and the Security Council before settling down to brainstorm and jam about the potential of a global museum.

The General Assembly

There’s not much online about it yet, but there’s an outline available. I must admit to being an advocate for generating thousands of small museums across the world, celebrating and thinking about purpose and principles of the UN. Imagine if a museum was dropped in behind along the trail of peacekeepers…

It was also nice to see David Weinberger again, and to meet Doc Searls (who proceeded to tell me how many of his CC-licensed photos are now part of Wikimedia – yeah!). These guys are proper Old Skool internet folk, and wrote the foundational Cluetrain Manifesto back in 1999. All you young whippersnappers should study that if you haven’t. David wrote up the visit too.

My last post was titled gfs:visit=3… Now I’m up to gfs:visit=19, as you can see from the big ol’ list of visits I’m keeping in a spreadsheet. I’ve just returned from a trip to England, where I added another seven visits, including a return to the V&A, the Charles Dickens museum in Bloomsbury (nice tea and cake), and the gigantic National Tramway Museum in beautiful Derbyshire. I was there to attend the small and fun Laptops and Looms conference in an old (not dark or particularly satanic) mill in Cromford.

From the cable car

I’ve also begun working with a client in London, which is very exciting! More to come on that when we’re a bit further along. It was lovely to meet up with old friends and new, and I’ll hope to be back in London again before Christmas.

As I plan which other visits to write up, I’ve noticed I’m enjoying a couple of phenomena:

1. There is always a pile of jetsam somewhere, like this one tucked away at the National Tramway Museum…

National Tram Museum, Crich

2. Staff will use the flimsiest barriers you can imagine, which still seem to work:

String Boundary

Now that I’ve returned home, I’ll be writing more here and there about what’s happening over here. And, I keep a fairly up-to-date photo album of visits online. More up-to-date than blogging about each visit, to be sure!

Like this UI from the Barbican’s Digital Revolution exhibition. Ironically, nobody was willing to FOLLOW THE GIANT INSTRUCTIONS.

Large "Next"

I went to visit with the folks at Counterpulse at the beginning of July. Here’s their mission:

CounterPulse is building a movement of risk-taking art that shatters assumptions and builds community. We provide space and resources for emerging artists and cultural innovators, serving as an incubator for the creation of socially relevant, community-based art and culture. CounterPulse acts as a catalyst for art and action; creating a forum for the open exchange of art and ideas, sparking transformation in our communities and our society. We work towards a world that celebrates diversity of race, class, cultural heritage, artistic expression, ability, gender identity & sexual orientation. We strive to create an environment that is physically and economically accessible to everyone.

I love the active language both there, and in their Strategic Plan 2012-2015. They’re just moving into a new space in the Tenderloin, and it’s really interesting to see how the local color is investigating, and how Counterpulse is engaging with the street.

Here’s the original glasswork in the foyer windows. The premises used to be a porn theater:

Counterpulse is inhabiting a former porn theater

Even in such early days, the team is making great use of the space, holding a bunch of events, and even yoga sessions upstairs. There is going to be space downstairs where artists-in-residence can work to develop their performances, and right now there’s an art exhibition there. From the outset, the new space is being designed for all sorts of use.

Art in the Basement
The Plan

We talked briefly about how an archivist-in-residence might work along side the artists to capture the process as it happened. A big part of what Counterpulse offers is to help artists describe and document their work. Another thing I thought was great was that the internship program has really strong continuity year-on-year. There are four or five internship types (production, education, etc), and actually, during my visit, last year’s interns were handing off to the new batch.

Thank you to Shamsher, Judith and Julie for hosting me!

As I try to get around to writing up all my visits, I’ve begun a visit log in a Google spreadsheet and a set of photos on Flickr, in case you’re curious. (At the very least, you’ll see how behind I am in writing up!)


This is Camie Bontaites, captured by moi on the back porch at John and Elizabeth’s old place in Noe Valley. We’ve known each other since 2006, and I’m pleased to say that she’s joined my advisory board. Woo! She’s studied the history and philosophy of science, been with Chabot Space & Science Center for about eight years, and has carved out a fantastic role as Creative Content Producer there. Needless to say, Chabot was near the top of my list for a visit, since it’s a) about SPACE, b) Camie works there, c) it was founded in 1883! and d) she was happy to have me come along.

I went on a day the museum was closed to the public, but open for a summer space camp, so I was able to poke around, all the while tempted to join the kids at their SPACE CAMP.

Chabot Space & Science Center
Chabot Space & Science Center
Chabot Space & Science Center
Chabot Space & Science Center

What was even better is that she also introduced me to Chabot’s director of development, Melissa Russo, and we spent about an hour talking about fundraising and budgets and money stuff. I quickly realized I need to know MUCH MORE about this. I also continue to be utterly charmed and surprised by how forthcoming the folks who work in cultural heritage are with their knowledge and time. I want to be that way.

Anyway, Melissa shared some really interesting info about how Chabot gets along, and a few war stories of her great career in non-profit fundraising. Here are some summary points which I found useful:

  • Of Chabot’s overall budget, about 50% comes from fundraising.
    • Of that, there’s a breakdown between unrestricted funds which are mostly used for operations-like costs, and restricted which are reserved for specific programs (and therefore appealing to donors because they’re able to see direct effects of their donation)
  • Nolo Press in Berkeley is a DIY legal publisher, handy for resources on getting started up
  • Initial funding for a museum that’s just beginning is most likely to come from people who are already interested in what you’re up to. Begin outreach to those folks as soon as you can.
  • The smaller the organization, the more useful and valuable volunteers can be. Be careful with them.
  • There are some for-profit museums, like the International Spy Museum in DC. Must research. I’m thinking a lot about non-profits, income, grants etc. Will write more about that soon.
  • It’s great to use local purveyors for your events. They all have networks too, and often invite a couple of new folks along, which is a great way to build community for your joint, and support your own local community.

I was curious to hear from Melissa how she might go about structuring a brand new fundraising plan, and it was encouraging to hear that the basics are useful: what’s your mission, describe your purpose, what’s the plan, and how much will it cost? Another good point was to think about how this thing would be sustainable.

Setting up a board is also good for any non-profit, essential in some cases. I really liked how Melissa thought about board members, that they’re either “time or treasure.” Not everyone has to be a hugely rich philanthropic type. There are loads of other ways generous experts can help you, as I’m beginning to witness directly, both with my advisors already, and the people they’re connecting me to. A cautionary word too, about boards, was to be careful to set them up so they can’t chuck you out! (Noted.)

Chabot Space & Science Center It’s also good to consider which of your network would be good to engage with as committee members for grant proposals. Now that I’m doing this new thing, and quite unabashedly asking my super smart friends and colleagues for their guidance and advice, it’s practically overwhelming how much they know that I don’t!!

Like, when Camie suggested I try to visit Machine Project on my upcoming visit to Los Angeles. You’ll see in a post or two that that was one of my next gfs:visits, and it was fab.

Oh, and, apart from the excellent Space collection and the growing climate change and other science-related exhibits, Chabot hosts evening astronomy events, and is surrounded by hiking trails and redwoods. Well worth a visit.

Thank you, Camie and Melissa!

I’m a huge Josette Melchor fan. She’s the brilliant founder of the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, and I went to visit her and her creative director, Chris Delbuck, last week. (Chris is the one who tipped me off to the Oxford comma cartoon.)

After almost ten years in various homes in and around San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, Gray Area has moved to a new home, the Grand Theater on Mission Street. It used to be a dollar shop.

Gray Area Interior

It was really exciting to see the place at such an early stage. There’s a ton of work being done on the old theater, and Josette’s already started running courses up in the old projection space.

That’s one of the things I admire most about her approach. While Gray Area’s basic DNA involves investigating the intersection of art, technology and community, that’s not just about creating exhibitions — Gray Area was the first gallery to show Aaron Koblin — it’s about building community and offering courses to help train interested folks in the “art of technology.” The obvious bi-product of that is different sources of income, a theme that I’m particularly interested in researching, and will write a little more about over the course of the coming months.

The new theater space is suited to all kinds of uses, the perfect stage to continue the already-fantastic programming. There’s the various design and tech classes, big events, lectures, conferences, and something new for Gray Area: a co-working incubator. This week, they’re announcing open, private or studio memberships, where interested people can subscribe to come and work in the space. (See the bottom of this page for membership details.) The disclaimer here is two-fold: I’m hoping to grab a spot myself, and I’ll also be on the jury to help sort through the applicants. But! The hope is that we’ll see a wide array of people applying to join the new space, since cross-pollination is so interesting and important in arts/tech/community overlaps.

So, watch the Gray Area space for updates on when to apply. And if you’d like to find out more about the many initiatives coming out of Gray Area, have a flip through this presentation:

Part of my work and exploration in the new company is to survey museums (and libraries and archives, wherever possible) in the shadow of the great Jessamyn West in Vermont, and the magical Orhan Pamuk in Istanbul. If you know of other similar surveys, please do get in touch!

Orhan Pamuk

Today’s museum visit — the first! — was to the De Young Museum in San Francisco. I’ve certainly gone before, but today I had a slightly different mission. I’m curious to poke at which staff knows what about the collection. I do not mean this exercise as critical — in any way. It’s more, for me, about a) getting to the actual number of objects, and b) seeing who knows it, because I bet that’s a small number of staff, particularly in big institutions, where big equals number of staff and/or annual budget.

As I was buying my ticket, I asked the woman behind the counter.

“How many objects are there in the SF MoMA collection?”
“I have no idea,” she said. “They’re closed for renovation.”
I realised my flub, and corrected. “How about the De Young?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you know how I could find out?”
“Try asking at the information desk.”

So, I asked at the information desk.

“Hi. I have a question, please. How many objects are there in the De Young collection?”
“Do you mean on display, or in the collection? There are things on display some of the time, and not always.”
“I mean in the collection.”
“Ohh… I don’t know.”
“Do you know how I could find out?”
“Try asking at Administration, to your right, and up the stairs.”
“Thank you!”

Instead of continuing the task, my companions and I started our visit.

"Archive" Rothko

I enjoyed the Modernism from the National Gallery of Art: The Robert & Jane Meyerhoff Collection, and then the Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay, and perhaps most of all, “A book like hundred flower garden”: Walasse Ting’s 1 ¢ Life, a 50-year-old, brilliant project in which Ting asked 28 artists to respond to his poetry, creating a book of 62 lithographs they created. I LOVE this idea, and want to copy it.

Where can I find a book exciting as Times Square, color bright as neon light, hot as espresso. I face the big red pizza and green earthworms, and decide to make a book like hundred flower garden.



After we’d stopped for a tasty lunch, we headed for the viewing tower. I popped into the Administration office to see if I could get that number. I asked the two women at reception.

“Hello. I have a question, please. How many objects are there in the De Young collection?”
“45. Oh, do you mean on the floor, or in the collection?”
“In the collection.”
“Umm…” Both looked around. Another staff member joined the conversation, and another head popped up above the cubicle.
“250,000,” said the third person.
“Exactly?” I must admit to looking slightly incredulous, which I now regret.
“That’s the number we use with the public.”*
“OK, thank you.”

* I can’t remember the exact phrase used, but it was something along those lines. I should have written it down.

Given that it’s just my first shot at trying to find that number by asking staff unannounced, I’m happy with where I got to. I guess you could say I got that answer from the fifth person. I plan to do this again, and suspect that each institution’s actual figure will be somewhat rubbery in the majority of cases. Fun!

Incidentals: I paid $21 for an access-to-everything ticket, and another $25 for lunch (salmon salad, pear and almond tart, and a latte), and $13.50 for parking. All in all, $59.50, a pretty expensive art-y day. (I could certainly have had a less expensive meal, but… have you met me?)

Addendum: Enjoyed this adaptation when I tried to pay for my parking. I wonder who wrote it all. It seems like the same hand.