New Media in “Shop Life”
November 15, 2012

If you’ve been on one of our apartment tours before, you know that they’re hands-on to a degree; educators often pass around replicas of historic objects, or copies of historic newspaper clippings or census records related to the tour content. But high-tech, hands-on media in our tours and exhibits is an exciting first for the Museum.

Along with a re-created German saloon, a key feature of our new “Shop Life” exhibit,  is an interactive, touchscreen table created by Potion Design. The table expands upon the stories of family-run businesses that occupied 97 Orchard Street over more than a century. When objects—a photo album, a folded apron, a microphone—related to those historic businesses are placed on the table, they activate a menu of multimedia options. You can then “choose your own adventure” with the touch of a finger; you might listen to an interview excerpt, or take a virtual tour of old Orchard Street. Together, the table’s physical and digital components tell a multi-sensory story.

Images on the Potion-designed Touch Screen Table relate to the objects chosen by each visitor

Images on the Potion-designed Touch Screen Table relate to the objects chosen by each visitor

Making antique objects come to life with 21st-century technology is easier said than done. Allison Farber from the Potion Design team says, “Creating a cohesive design that feels in-context for the three eras in which the stores operated was a challenge. In the end we scaled the design back to highlight the objects and artifacts and allowing them to literally take the spotlight. Using technology in conjunction with these items brings them to life a a new way.”

Max Marcus' 1930s-era auction house formerly at 97 Orchard Street.

At the interactive table you can meet the butchers at 97 Orchard Street who fell victim to the kosher meat riots of 1902, when protestors sent a brick sailing through the shop window. You can experience the sights and sounds of Depression-era Orchard Street, when it was lined with wholesalers; auctioneer Max Marcus, at 97 Orchard, was among them. You can meet the owners of a discount undergarment shop a few decades later, and hear from former residents how they learned to haggle in the 1970s-era “bargain district” of the Lower East Side. (No matter the decade, Orchard Street was  bustling!)

“Shop Life” is open now for limited preview tours, and opens officially on December 3. We’d love to know what you think of our first foray into interactive digital media! Tweet your feedback to @tenementmuseum or find us on Facebook.

—Posted by Amanda Murray