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.