Request for Proposals: Digital Interactive for One West Mount Vernon Place at the Walters Art Museum

The Walters Art Museum seeks proposals for a digital interactive that will provide the primary source of interpretation for the refurbished and reinstalled One West Mount Vernon Place, one of the five historic buildings that make up the museum’s campus.

This Request for Proposals outlines what the Walters hopes to achieve. It sketches some conceptual ideas for realizing the goals of this project and it invites creative responses that engage the museum’s core principles of enjoyment, discovery, and learning. The museum values excellence, teamwork, and collaboration. As such, we seek a creative partnership to complete this project. The primary goal is to create a user-friendly digital experience that enhances the visitor experience of the One West Mount Vernon Place building and its contents.

ABOUT THE WALTERS ART MUSEUM

The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland is internationally renowned for its collection of art, which was amassed substantially by two men, William and Henry Walters, and eventually bequeathed to the City of Baltimore. The Walters Art Museum is one of only a few museums in the world to present a panorama of art from the third millennium B.C. to the early 20th century. Today, the collection has grown to more than 33,000 objects.

The Mission of the Walters Art Museum is to bring art and people together for enjoyment, discovery, and learning. We strive to create a place where people of every background can be touched by art. We are committed to exhibitions and programs that will strengthen and sustain our community.

ONE WEST MOUNT VERNON PLACE

One West Mount Vernon Place is one of Baltimore’s most distinctive buildings, located in the historic Mount Vernon District. It was built for John Hanson Thomas by the Baltimore architectural firm of Niernsee and Neilson, and completed in 1850. Willard Hackerman purchased the house in 1984 and gave it to the City of Baltimore, which in turn put it into the care of the Walters Art Museum. Known as Hackerman House, One West Mount Vernon Place opened to the public in 1991, installed with the Walters’ collection of Asian Art, a display that remained unchanged until 2014, when we closed it to address climate control concerns.

The Walters is now taking the opportunity to bring an entirely fresh approach to One West Mount Vernon Place, grounded in years of successful audience engagement strategies, deployed primarily in special exhibitions.

As part of this approach, the Walters goes beyond a standard architectural/historical narrative of One West Mount Vernon Place by exploring the house as a material object while telling the intersecting stories of the people who designed, built, occupied, and worked in it. We connect the lived history of the house to broader regional and national narratives that were unfolding during the period of its occupation, including histories of slavery and the Civil War. This approach has already been recognized as unique among Baltimore museums, and the interactive described here will be the primary mode for communicating the history of One West Mount Vernon Place to visitors, whether onsite or remotely.

Our hope is that the interactive will be designed to enhance the experience for all visitors to One West Mount Vernon. The following visitor outcomes have been established:

  1. Visitors will have a deeper understanding of the objects on view and their relationship to one another.
  2. Visitors will have a deeper understanding of the people who lived in One West Mount Vernon Place from both historical and contemporary points of view.
  3. Visitors will have a deeper understanding of the historic building as a material object, its history, and its current state.
  4. Visitors will have a deeper understanding of the connections between works of art and their own lives.
  5. Visitors will make connections between stories about One West Mount Vernon Place and broader regional and national histories.
  6. Visitors will feel more welcomed and comfortable at the Walters.

USER EXPERIENCE OVERVIEW

The user experience we envision for this interactive has two elements.

First, the interpretation of One West Mount Vernon Place itself and of the artworks displayed on ground floor, presented primarily via an interactive digital platform, which will either be web-based or a downloadable app. This interactive will be available on stationary tablets in the library (see also below); on any visitor’s tablet or phone; and on tablets that can be checked out from the museum’s visitor services desks, free of charge.

Second, as noted above, we will provide a table with seating and digital tablets in the library. In addition to the interactive as outlined in this RFP, these stationary tablets will provide access to the museum’s digitized manuscript site, which recently was awarded GOLD in the competition for the MUSE awards at the annual conference of the American Alliance of Museums. This site is completed and would be made accessible here.

The interactive platform will serve as a substitute for didactic panels and labels, and facilitate a multi-faceted, multi-voiced interpretation of the house, its history, and the objects on display. Our desire is for users to be able to access information at their own pace and to engage with information through free-choice learning. We envision that the platform will have an initial orientation “page” that explains how to use the app/site.

We envision that the content would focus on three interconnected topic areas:

Spaces: these include navigable rooms in the house (Conservatory, Parlor, Entrance Hall, Library, Dining Room, Staircase, Bedrooms) but also now inaccessible areas (servants’ quarters and working spaces) and Mount Vernon Place as a first layer contextual space for the house

People: categories (residents, makers, service), subcategories (plasterers, masons, servants, immigrants), and individuals (John Hanson Thomas, Francis Jenks, Sybby Grant)

Objects: Displayed objects include paintings, sculpture, documents, and contemporary art installations on the first floor (these will change over time).

We seek to make connections between these topics (for example, linking enslaved cook Sybby Grant with the dining room and servants’ working spaces, and with objects on view relating to her story). We are interested in providing, on the one hand, themes and broader histories that would cut across these areas, for example: food, social encounters, entertaining; and on the other, the regional and national historical contexts for which One West provides a microhistory: slavery, the Civil War, technological change, architectural vocabularies. These might also include a strand for families with children to follow through the topics.

The interpretive content for these topics and themes will include text and images, and may include sound and video (to be determined). Other features of the content and experience may include: an interactive, panoramic map of the house, a timeline, archival documents, and historic photographs. Social media integration could be used to enhance the visitor’s ability to pause, reflect, and converse. Additionally, multilingual content could provide access to the experience for a broader audience.

Our ambition is to invite a range of scholars, artists, community organizers, and others to contribute responses, particularly to the works of art on display. Any object, person, or room might therefore have multiple “voices” interpreting it through text or sound, from which the user can choose.

During our research the museum has collected examples of comparable interactives (see Appendix A).

CONTENT PRODUCTION

The primary content for the interactive—including interpretive text, photographs, and pre-existing sound recordings—will be produced and sourced by the Walters Art Museum. We anticipate needing assistance from the developer with overall design of the interactive (see below), graphic elements (e.g. timeline, floorplan), and additional sound and/or video production.

DESIGN

The design of the interactive should be sympathetic with the approach that we are taking to the overall refurbishment and reinstallation of the house, rather than imitating a historic aesthetic. While the previous installation focused on recreating some of the furnishings and decoration of a traditional “historic house” installation, we are refreshing the spaces by removing carpets and curtains, restoring hardwood floors, and repainting with the aim of directing attention to the spectacular and ornate features of the house itself. Likewise, rather than treating each room as a gallery for the display of art objects in cases, we are creating different experiences in each of the rooms. These experiences correspond to the rooms’ original purposes, so that visitors are encouraged to use the parlor as a space for socializing, the library as a reading room, and so on. All functional items of furniture, fixtures, etc. to be reinstalled in the house are modern, lending the spaces a livelier, more engaging look and feel. We would like this sensibility to carry through into the design of the interactive through color, choice of typeface, etc. (see Appendix B for colors being used in house interiors). We intend for the interactive developed for this proposal to adhere to the accessibility standards described by the W3C.

REQUIREMENTS

In your proposal, please explain how you plan to collaborate with key stakeholders at the Walters Art Museum. Describe how you prefer to work with us to obtain necessary information, assets, and input.

While most users of the interactive would be within the museum with a handheld device, our intended audience also includes anyone who has, or who can use, a desktop, laptop, smartphone, or internet-enabled mobile device, anywhere in the world. This requires a responsive design, compatible with a variety of platforms.

The interactive must be modular and equipped with content management for museum staff to update its content over time. This is essential because of the changing nature of the objects within the building that the interactive will describe. The Walters prefers to rely on open source content management systems whenever possible, such as WordPress, Griot, Drupal, Omeka, etc.

The Walters Art Museum has developed an API that describes its collection. We seek to make use of the collections API however possible for the interactive.

Whenever possible, the Walters prefers to store its digital assets in an archival fashion. Content produced for this interactive may be stored in, or sourced from, one of the museum’s asset repositories, such as Resource Space or The Museum System. This could also include the use of source system APIs, IIIF viewer clients and APIs, and linked data.

As part of the discovery process, a review of viable methods for updating and delivering digital content to and from the interactive platform should be included. Technical specifications and functional requirements can be provided to inform this process.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

If possible, this project should be hosted on one of the museum’s existing servers. Here is a basic description of those servers. More information is available upon request.

Server 1
Operating System: Windows Server (installed on-site)
Server Application: IIS
Database: Microsoft SQL

Server 2
Operating System: FreeBSD
Server Application: Apache
Database: MySQL

Server 3
Operating System: FreeBSD
Server Application: Nginx
Database: Postgre DB

TIME TABLE

We would like to allow adequate time for alpha and beta testing. The museum intends to install this interactive experience in April 2018 in advance of a public openings beginning May 7, 2018. In your proposal, please define phases of content delivery, development, testing and launch that would allow for these goals, including evaluation and implementation of feedback, to be met.

BUDGET

When describing the budget for your proposal, please itemize the major budget components and indicate pricing for features in a way that can be added or removed from the project budget if needed. The museum will look favorably on projects whose total budget is less than $100,000.

REFERENCES

In your proposal, please provide a minimum of 3 references to illustrate your experience with similar projects.

EVALUATION

In your proposal, please discuss how progress will be evaluated throughout and at the end of the project. In particular, the museum is interested in measuring outcomes of user interaction with the aforementioned features. We must be able to track the number of visits from day one. Please specify in your proposal what steps can be taken before and after the work to do appropriate testing, to identify any issues that may be present now, or which may arise during the project. From a qualitative aspect, the Walters can provide access to an outside evaluator to assist in the alpha and beta testing of the site; however, candidates should feel free to describe additional proposals for evaluation.

KEY PERSONNEL

  • Eleanor Hughes, Deputy Director for Art & Program
  • Amanda Kodeck, Director of Education
  • Dylan Kinnett, Manager of Web and Social Media
  • Kate Blanch, Systems Manager, Data & Digital Resources
  • Jenn Paulson, Art & Program Administrator

NEXT STEPS

Your proposal should be sent in PDF format to Jennifer Paulson, Art and Program Administrator at jpaulson@thewalters.org. The Walters Art Museum will consider proposals received on or before June 21, 2017.

On June 23, the museum will notify respondents of the selection process.[1]

TERMS AND CONDITIONS

Neither the issuance of this RFP nor the receipt of responses thereto obliges the Walters Art Museum to procure any of the proposed services in whole or in part now or at any time in the future, nor is such procurement, should it occur, necessarily restricted to respondents to this RFP.

INDEMNIFICATION

The Walters shall defend, indemnify, and hold the Contractor, its affiliates, and their respective directors, officers, shareholders, employees, contractors and agents harmless from and against any liabilities, losses, claims, suits, damages, cost and expenses (including without limitation, reasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses) brought by a third party arising out of or otherwise relating to the: (1) the Walters and / or Program; (2) materials provided by the Walters; (3) the Walters’ performance or failure to perform as required by this Agreement; and / or (4) the Walters’ failure to comply with any warranties or representations contained in this Agreement. Contractor, hereby agrees to indemnify, defend, and hold harmless the Walters and its officials, employees, agents, and volunteers except for activities caused by the sole negligent act of omission of the Walters, and its officials, employees, agents, and volunteers arising out of this agreement.

INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR

Contractor is an independent contractor under this agreement and has no employee, partnership, co-venture, agent or other such relationship with the Museum. As an independent contractor, Contractor is responsible for all applicable federal, state, and local income and other taxes related to this Agreement. Nothing in this RFP or in the Agreement shall be construed to constitute or create any employment or partnership with WAM.   The contractor is not, and shall not be, an agent or employee of the Walters Art Museum.

INSURANCE

Contractor shall be solely responsible for securing appropriate liability, business automobile liability and Workers’ Compensation coverage as may be required or necessary in the normal course of Contractor business under this Agreement. Contractor shall provide Museum with a copy of a “Certificate of Insurance” noting coverage(s) upon request.

APPENDIX A: COMPARABLE PROJECTS

During an initial planning phase, museum staff have identified a set of websites, apps, and other digital interactive that serve as examples. For each of these examples, we have identified some “pro” and “con” aspects. This set might be useful for thinking in some detail about the sort of experience we hope to deliver.

To request a copy of this information, please contact Jennifer Paulson, jpaulson@thewalters.org 

APPENDIX B: DESIGN SAMPLES

Conservatory Concept Design

Design colors

Paints                                     PMS                            

P1        BM 695                     621U (poor match)

P3        BM 859                     cool gray 1U

P6        BM 861                     2330U

P7        BM 1544                    7530U

P8        BM 1546                                2328U

P9        BM HC-40                               7512U

P10      50% BM 977              7534U

P11      BM 976                                  7534U

P13      50% BM 2128-40        2163U

Fabrics                                                PMS              

Rock Garden                        7519U

Papaya                                               145U

Blood Orange                       2350U

White Cap                            warm gray 2U

Gal. 202 stripe                      2318U & 7690U

Fountain seating                 412U

 

[1] Neither the issuance of this RFP nor the receipt of responses thereto obliges the Walters Art Museum to procure any of the proposed services in whole or in part now or at any time in the future, nor is such procurement, should it occur, necessarily restricted to respondents to this RFP.