Museum in a Box is an organization established by George Oates, a founding designer at Flickr, and inventor of Flickr Commons. The product created by the team is a Raspberry-Pi powered audio box, with an accompanying collection of objects, e.g. miniature 3D printed Moai statutes, illustrations and question cards. When these objects are placed on top of the box an audio file starts playing, telling a fact, a story, or an anecdote relating to it.

The only existing recording of Virginia Woolf’s voice speaking from her 3D printed bust by Museum in a Box. Clip via Beau Jackson on Twitter

Cracking open the British Museum 

Since the project started in 2015, Museum in a Box has collaborated with around 20 different institutions and groups, to create custom experiences of objects and the stories associated with them.

A handful of these projects have been with the British Museum in London, an active adopter of 3D printing and digital technologies, with a permanent collection in excess of 8 million works including the Rosetta Stone and an Easter Island Moai figure. Other custom boxes have also been made for the Smithsonian Libraries, the Horniman Museum, and the BBC.

The idea with the box is to eventually connect it wirelessly to a central library of audio files, regularly changing to give facts, or personal responses, to the items.

Museum in a Box premises in London, with a plaque marking the house where Sir Hans Sloane, Benefactor of the British Museum, lived 1695 - 1742. Photo by Beau Jackson

Museum in a Box premises in London, with a plaque marking the house where Sir Hans Sloane, Benefactor of the British Museum, lived 1695 – 1742. Photo by Beau Jackson

Access and the argument for digitization

The importance of such tactile and interactive art projects is a significant topic of discussion within the cultural sector. The Museum in a Box welcome page supports this point, stating that,

Something like 5% of museum objects are on public display at any one time, and then, they’re normally only described by a small wall label.

Through digitization, and contextualizing as is the case with Museum in a Box, such projects are looking to break open these archives, creating greater potential for personal and educational interaction.

When previously on the road with Scan the World (STW), the project and archive of 3D printable art objects, STW founder Jonathan Beck shared his reasons why this access is important. Speaking in our interview, George also adds to the sentiment, saying,

Really what we’re trying to do is just increase access to museum collections. That’s at the base. And I think that it’s ok for there to be many many opinions about museum objects, and books and all kinds of stuff. Its just not traditionally been collected.

The future of Museum in a Box

In a team of such enthusiastic and talented individuals as those at Museum in a Box, it is clear that this initiative will never be short of new ideas to take their technology to the next level. The original laser cut wood finish of the box has already evolved this year to include CMYK color range made from perspex.

On the topic of commercialization, George says its a case of waiting until the time is right, and they are always looking for new collaborators to try out what the Box can do.

Yellow and magenta box covers in development. Photo via @_museuminabox on Twitter

Yellow and magenta box covers in development. Photo via @_museuminabox on Twitter

Always busy with events too, the team have exhibited at South by Southwest and frequent education fairs across the UK. In a current project with Camden Council, Museum in a Box and artists Ciara Brennan and Esther Springett have created a box of artworks and individual responses in the form of poetry, and comments form children’s workshops. The project is exhibited as Points of Contact: The Camden Art Collection Unboxed and is on display at Swiss Cottage Gallery from May 3 – July 1 2017.

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Featured image: A Museum in a Box and collection of interactive objects. Including a 3D printed Moai figurine, wooden spheres relating to the Planets Suite by Gustav Holst, and 3D printed statutes of women found in London. Photo via @_museuminabox on Twitter

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