I had the pleasure of interviewing Marty Spellerberg, founder and independent designer/developer of digital projects at Spellerberg Associates. Spellerberg also owns Spellerberg Projects, an art gallery based out of Lockhart, Texas. Spellerberg Associates is a consulting firm that works specifically with museums, artists and artist collectives, and cultural organizations.
Mr. Spellerberg, originally hails from Toronto, Canada, and his education is in video art. He started off working on websites, a then-new technology, when he was a teen, and after college began making interactive art at a contemporary art gallery. He then made what he referred to as a natural transition into updating the gallery website. Spellerberg worked with the Toronto International Film Festival, then the Art Gallery of Ontario, before moving to the states. Once in the states, he began working as an independent practitioner and has been doing so for the past seven years.
When working on a project, he pulls together a team from his network – people of like-mind and background i.e. those that have moved from in-house at museums to independent work. Spellerberg chose to work with museums and artists in particular because of the passion and love they have for the material.
“I think it’s really important to love the material and love the intellectual content of whatever you’re working on” (Spellerberg, 7:49 – 8:07).
Some of his favorite projects to work on have been the website redesign for the Andy Warhol Museum and for long-standing client, the Clyfford Still Museum. The projects that he has worked on for smaller museums with little to no budget have focused mostly on securing existing infrastructure. As an art lover and avid collector, Marty has traded his consulting services for art, especially when working with an artist that he admires.
Mr. Spellerberg is an avid supporter of audience research and user experience. His recommendations for smaller web projects, and large, consistently focused on audience research. According to Spellerberg, one of the greatest mistakes that museums make regarding usability and functionality is focusing on the internal perspective rather than the user perspective and desired experience. Some software that he recommends include WordPress, Laravel, and newcomer, Choir – a workflow template out of the Getty that allows users to generate various digital materials (e.g. websites, PDFs, and print on demand services) from one set of content. Spellerberg is a big supporter of WordPress, especially for museums with smaller budgets.
Some points of interest of Spellerberg’s and that I think warrant further discussion include: understanding at the start of a project not only its intended lifespan but how it can be maintained into the future and the idea of online-first projects that may or may not consider a physical space.
Four things stood out for me while listening to Marty. First, the ubiquitousness of WordPress as the go-to platform for creating many museum websites; the importance of having a large network of collaborators to work together in projects; how all projects must consider marketing from the get go, designing digital projects that focus on audience needs that are inherently easier to promote as they fill a recognizable void; and lastly, the two trends he is watching in terms of the relationship between museums and the digital real. One I expected, which is a possible backlash against tracking. The second took me by surprise. Marty posits that it might well be that a museum presence might be “online first” and then “physical”. What intrigued me is that he did not frame it as a financial decision, but rather at what the audience needs and wants. This was quite an interesting take on the matter.
Great interview with Marty Spellerberg! It was great to hear that he finds his work with cultural institutions and the work of museum professionals fulfilling and enjoyable. I appreciated hearing his recommendation for museums with smaller budgets to use WordPress, and he introduced me to a new term, “PHP code”, which apparently WordPress utilizes and developers who do PHP are more affordable. Marty has reiterated the importance of performing research and finding out what the needs of our website users are. I was glad Marty brought up two other software’s to look into, Laravel and Choir. Hearing about this new software from professionals is incredibly helpful when I wouldn’t even know where to start! I respect that he didn’t feel comfortable answering the question regarding social media’s role because he believes there are more qualified professionals to answer that questions, but it would have been nice if he recommended a colleague to ask. Lastly, I thought the trends that Marty is following regarding museums and the web was very fascinating. I’ll be interested to see in the future if there is a backlash from online tracking and if museums will approach projects online first then decide if they should make a physical space for it. It’ll be interesting to watch for.
I appreciated the fact that Mr. Spellerberg highlighted the importance to love the intellectual content of the projects a person works on. While it may not always be possible to work on our favorite projects every time, I think that passion shows up in the quality of the work once it is completed. There can be a temptation to do just as much work as possible to finish a project and move on, but when we love our subject, we will do everything in our power to make it the best that it can possibly be.
I really appreciated listening to this interview, Nicole. I found your questions to be very thoughtful and useful. I particularly enjoyed listening to Marty’s responses considering his involvement in the Visitor Motivation Study with Sarah Wambold- it’s great we were both able to incorporate this in to our interviews! Marty’s response for why Word Press works for smaller museums was very honest. I’m glad he shed light on the realities of salary when it comes to paying designers and understanding the differences or capabilities based on the designer’s background, such as those from tech-start ups.
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