8 SXSW Takeaways

1. VR is coming

It may not be tomorrow, but VR (virtual reality) will be coming. There is just too much money pouring in. With the explosion of youtube videos and soon the Facebook 360 app, it is also very accessible. With the advent of Google cardboard and the many knock-offs, it is also affordable. Now we just need cameras that don’t suck or crazy complicated.

How will it be useful for us House Museums?

Imagine setting up a live VR with a group of students hundreds of miles away and the class all put on VR helmets. Once they log in they are inside of Glensheen. Not only are they in Glensheen but beside them is one of our student tour guides. Now the guide slowly walks them through Glensheen highlighting different educational nuggets that is of interest to the teacher. This is an educational experience unmatched.

Another great opportunity for VR is to provide a dramatically better experience for individuals who are unable or don’t desire to walk up the stairs to see the 2nd and 3rd floors. Now with VR, guests are able to have a far more authentic experience of the spaces they are missing. Especially if the VR video includes a tour guide narrating the space.

2. AR is coming

As great as VR may be, AR (Augmented Reality) will be more useful for the museum world, especially us house museums.

Though VR has some usefulness, AR could dramatically change our tours. For many of us we have dreamed of our homes looking like they did when they were in their peak. We have hoped to see them in use. But because of costs and preservation the grandest of vision are impossible.

For example — wouldn’t it be great to see all the fireplaces of the home on fire again.

Or— wouldn’t it be great to see Chester Congdon smoking a cigar in the Smoking Room.

Or — wouldn’t it be great to look down the path and see the coachman driving the J.B. Brewster carriage down west gate entrance towards the front of the Mansion.

3. Garden Walls

One of the great trends in gardening is vertical garden walls. I have seen a few in my recent travels and on social media, but in Austin they seemed to be in abundant supply. From the lobby of the W Hotel to the multitude of fake vertical garden walls that made up booths all over the conference. It didn’t take much for me to see this being useful in Duluth and at Glensheen.

So we are thinking of doing our first one on the South side of the Tickethouse, it isn’t our nicest space, so covering up a side of it, may help. Plus this would be a great first visual for guest as they arrive in the lot.

An example of a garden wall.

4. Duluth can learn from Austin and SXSW

I could easily write a blog about the cool things Austin is doing from a development standpoint to a tourism standpoint. Clearly some city planners knew what they were doing. Plus, the marketers behind the city knew what they were doing.

I know. I know. Duluthians have though this part before…but really Duluth just feels like a natural fit for a similar conference of the north. It turns out that homegrown music festival is based on SXSW’s music portion, but Duluth also would do well to create a edu and a interactive part.

Portion of conference dedicated to K-12 and Higher Ed
This is the portion I went too. We were there for the Interactive part which was for marketing, graphic design, work place and government professionals.

Duluth would benefit greatly to position itself as a gathering space for thought leaders in education and interactive (marketing, social media, graphic design, tech and government leadership).

5. The french make a great speaker

This was the best speaker I have heard in my life. Plus it is very portable.

(Nerd moment — the frequency range is impressive, it actually goes as low as 14hz. For non audiophiles, at that low of a frequency you can’t even hear it, but you can watch it move in silence.)

Would be ideal for our amusement room, but also for any event that may exist in any other room of the mansion. Especially with its bluetooth capacity.

Here is the link to the website with a better description than I could describe.


6. Nat Geo rocks Instagram

I was aware of National Geographic’s Instagram account, but I was blown away by how they achieve their greatness (they are the number one brand on Instagram). Their session was one of the most inspiriting sessions of SXSW.

What do they do?

They have a 105 admins — wow.

They use Insta stories… to tell a daily story. Simple right.

They told the story of an elephant orphanage. It starts with videos of the baby elephants playing in mud. Then they have fun running around. Then the film crew followed along local local enforcement as they tried to find the poachers who created the orphaned elephants. Then the next video was of a slaughtered elephant killed by a poacher. The last video was of the dead elephant’s family coming to visit its dead loved one.

Needless to say it was a powerful daily story. And a great new way to use Instagram.

They also did a smaller version of this through the slide show effect. Made me rethink how we do our Instagram account.

7. Weather Underground weather station

So one of the weirder ideas, but could have multiple positive side effects.

What is it?

It records temp, humidity, rainfall, and windspeed and direction. Best yet — it connects directly to the Weather Underground App so anyone can view weather data on Glensheen. Which we can link to our website.

This could be useful for potential visitors, but also for many non-glensheen visitors. For example this could be useful for fisherman to surfers because currently there is no active weather source along the north shore.

8. Brisket in MN is depressing

Brisket was too good. The brisket I have had since… not good. Now I feel I need to spend time this summer smoking Brisket.

Of course… there are many more takeaways…but really I can’t give away our newly learned trade secrets…



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Dan Hartman

Dan Hartman


Love the outdoors, good museums, good movies and oh yeah...good public policy.