Pittsburgh Technical Council

How Engaging: Joshua Jeffery Leads Up Digital Engagement at the Warhol

How Engaging: Joshua Jeffery Leads Up Digital Engagement at the Warhol

Article Published: March 11, 2014

JoshThe Andy Warhol Museum is a vital forum in which diverse audiences of artists, scholars and the general public are galvanized through creative interaction with the art and life of Andy Warhol. The Warhol is ever-changing, constantly redefining itself in relationship to contemporary life using its unique collections and dynamic interactive programming as tools. Meet the man behind the magic—Joshua Jeffery.

TEQ: So Josh, tell us about yourself and how you ended up running digital engagement for the Warhol.

J.J.: I’m originally from upstate New York and moved to Pittsburgh for grad school at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. I loved this city so much that I decided to stay, and I’m lucky that timing and connections worked out to be the first person to fill this role at The Andy Warhol Museum.

My role at The Warhol involves directing all visitor-facing technology initiatives, including web projects, mobile apps, in-gallery interactives and even a bit of social media with my colleagues. Outside of work I’m a big theme park/coaster enthusiast and a total National Park geek.

TEQ: Why has it been important for the Warhol to embrace a digital strategy? Tell us about the social media, application and web projects that it entails.

J.J.: Museums sit in a sort of strange place in 2014. We’re activelycompeting with other location-based entertainment venues for patrons, but we’re also storehouses for society’s best and greatest artifacts. As such, we try to embrace the tools and technologies our patrons bring with them every day, partially to avoid falling in under the stereotype of “dusty old museum.” The Warhol attracts a much younger demographic than most encyclopedic art museums, which means a higher use rate of bleeding-edge technologies and a greater chance for us to create a lasting impression of our brand and educational mission through devices like smart phones.

More importantly, 2013 was an incredible year for Warhol as a hot, global cultural brand, and we’re sending more exhibitions and loans than ever around the world. We’re wrapping up the largest-ever retrospective of Warhol’s work in Asia, and have numerous exhibitions in Europe and the U.S. as well. In fact, we’ve recently announced a forthcoming museum annex in New York.

Because of those factors and because Warhol himself was a lover of technology, it’s important that we embrace technology wherever appropriate to tell his story and enhance the art experience. We’ve created a number of unique in-gallery interactives, a couple mobile apps, dozens of web projects and we are among the top 10 followed museums in the world on social media. The digital projects we create are always about connecting a guest to Warhol’s work in a personal way, whether it’s having them create their own artwork with our DIY POP app or earning their 15 minutes of fame with one of our many Screen Test machines which travel around the world.

TEQ: What’s the toughest aspect of your job? 

J.J.: I often tell people the hardest part of my job is to be an advocate for humans and artwork by keeping technology out of places it doesn’t need to be. It’s easy to be fascinated by the spectacle of some of the newest technologies. As much as I love technology, I’m a believer that no tech can replace the one-on-one interactions our guests have with one of our many curatorial or gallery staff experts.

TEQ: How do you keep up with the quickly emerging technologies?

J.J.: One of the best ways I’ve found to keep up with emerging technologies is to continue building relationships with local universities: in particular, Carnegie Mellon. Being that some of the latest and greatest technologies are invented right in our backyard, we’ve been fortunate enough to partner with numerous departments to realize technology-based projects. There’s nothing better than the incredible student minds they offer to really push ideas to the bleeding edge.

TEQ: What do you think Andy would think of digital media as way to capture content and create art?

J.J.: Working for The Warhol, we have to be very careful to not declare what Andy would like or think, but we do know that he was rather fascinated with technology throughout his life and art-making practice. He was one of the first artists to fully embrace cutting-edge technology to produce work—like photo booths, Polaroid cameras, photographic silkscreen printing, and even computers in the 1980s. We only have to look to numerous Warhol contemporaries today to get an idea of how he might leverage media in his practice. I do happen to think that Twitter is the ultimate Warholian medium: it’s fleeting, requires excellent buzzwords, and gives everyone a ticket to 15 minutes of fame.

TEQ: Do you ever get overwhelmed and just go analog for a few days?

J.J.: As much as I’d like to say yes, I can’t seem to do it. Even when I’m hiking in the middle of nowhere I track my hike progress with apps. They don’t call us digital natives for nothing. 

Other Articles That May Interest You:

Sign In or Join Up