Melissa Carrillo is the Director of New Media Technology for the Smithsonian Latino Center and the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum. She’s been a pioneer in using immersive technologies for the Smithsonian.

MELISSA-CARRILLOBecause the Smithsonian Latino Center does not have any physical spaces, then Melissa has had to embrace the digital revolution and start to challenge a lot of the traditional curatorial mindset of institutions like the Smithsonian. She’s been a pioneer in using virtual worlds environments like Second Life to hold virtual cultural heritage events like the Smithsonian Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

She talks about the keys for creating an open and collaborative environment with a virtual world, and how it’s more about creating a transmedia hub for all different types of media to be synthesized and shared in virtual spaces yet also shared back to the outside world through social media channels. She also goes into more details about all of the challenges that the faced along the way including what types of virtual world environments work the the best for cultivating community and sharing cultural identity. They fell into the pitfall that a lot of museum curators and educators do within VR by recreating buildings within virtual worlds that lecture at people and merely show 2D representations of the art within a 3D world.

Audiences want to be able to interact with the world, discover information that they find interesting, and be surprised and delighted through authentic experiences that are backed by curatorial scholarship and integrity.

Finally, Melissa talks about other initiatives where the Smithsonian is embracing the digital revolution, and how she sees the use of immersive technologies like virtual reality will be used by museums in the future.


  • 0:00 – Intro – Director of New Media Technology for the Smithsonian Lation Center. Use virtual worlds, gaming and simulations to reach out to audiences in a new way in order to communicate cultural identity. Smithsonian Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) events within Second Life. University of Texas in El Paso is their Second Life partner. They have a town square and cemetery environment that provide different cultural contexts for share cultural heritage experiences within a virtual world environment.
  • 2:05 – Second Life events. Important to have live programming and live streaming within Second Life to help recreate events within virtual worlds through collaborative outreach events. In virtual space, you’re able to create new experiences and not just replicate them.
  • 3:30 – Expressing cultural identity. It’s challenging to represent cultural heritage and identity as authentically as they can. Ensure authenticity the representation and presentation of artifacts, and have rigorous scholarship to do that from a cultural heritage perspective to preserve traditions. Make sure that it reflects the story that they’re trying to tell. It’s a collaboration with the participating community, and allowed the audience visitors to share stories and build altars
  • 6:10 – How to invite collaborators and hold space for that. It was challenging within Second Life since Smithsonian is used to being in complete control. Took a few years of experimentation, and need to figure out what they can and can not do. Used social media in coordination with Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram to allow audience to share their Day of the Dead tattoos and food connected to that cultural event. Let audience build their own alters, and they share their creations via social media. Tell their story in one space and spread through the social media channels.
  • 9:35 – Creating rooms and spaces that work best for sharing cultural heritage within Second Life. Fell into the same pitfalls in creating spaces in virtual worlds. Creating building and rooms and creating 2D representations of art, and replicated a museum. The most successful part of their space was their town square and plaza because that’s where people meet and have events. Using Unity3D and looking outside of the box. Simulated an excavation site to get information and clues about the objects that you find where you’re free to explore and learn. You role play an archeology, and you get an immersive experience with different ways of experiencing the objects. Virtual museum is seen as a transmedia hub.
  • 13:00 – Key learnings from working in virtual spaces. The Smithsonian Institution found that people want authentic experiences. Need to be grounded in scholarship and maintain integrity of the work and accurately recreated in 3D space. All of the information that you interact with is coming from the curatorial team to ensure that it’s not being misrepresented and that audience can have an authentic experience.
  • 14:32 – Why do people like to be surprised. People don’t want to be talked down to and told the truth. They want to discover things on their own and have a sense of wonder and awe. Goes against what institutions are used to. Digital revolution put the power of discovery back into the hands of audience. Being to think strategic for what audiences want, and so look to social media to learn about that. Science museums have been creating interactive experiences like this for a long time. Audio tours are old way, create virtual experiences that are more interactive
  • 16:55 – Digital revolution have upset the power structure and previous paradigm of cultural institutions like the Smithsonian. It’s challenged the traditional curatorial practices and traditional storytelling practices. It’s all transformed and changed how they think creatively. A lot of different stakeholders at the table at the same time. Everyone can play a part of telling these stories in collaboration with the public. Virtualization and digitization has shattered the foundation of how these institutions do business and communicate tot heir audiences. Art and culture council want to share their lessons learned. How digital artifacts are used and the permissions around those are new challenges around access. How far is content made available made due to copyright limitations. Can then change, adapt and use it further. It challenges the traditional infrastructure of how these institutions have worked in the past. Audiences are demanding more access.
  • 21:05 – Saw the power of immersive technologies back in 2007. Smithsonian was trying to understand Facebook and how to deal with social media. What will 10 years look like? How about right now? Everything is shifting in 2007 and advocated embracing change. The Latino Smithsonian Center doesn’t have a physical space, and so social media and these virtual world technologies would be crucial for their mandate. Ran for the digital revolution on the underground for the longest time. Met Aaron in 2008 and saw that they needed to collaborate with other technology companies and innovators. Art and Culture summit need to be on the same page with how to tell stories and stay authentic. Audiences want surprise. Audience preferred to go to Wikipedia rather than Smithsonian website, and now collaborating with each other. How physical installations are exploding in virtual spaces.
  • 25:37 – Virtual worlds and creating spaces, and the female-perspective. Audiences use these video games. How they tell their stories, and don’t need to use violence. Need to ensure authenticity and create meaningful experiences and that they’re contributing to these stories. Rely and respond to what the audiences are asking for. Second Life had it’s own subculture and they can’t completely censor their presence from violence and all that happens there. Set security parameters, but can’t completely shield themselves. Need to act responsibility.
  • 28:48 – There’s so much potential. Don’t put it out all there. Balance for how it’s use. The opportunity is enormous. There’s a new layer of storytelling and experience. It’s augmenting that experience. Virtual gaming as a museum collection and embracing the digital revolution.

Theme music: “Fatality” by Tigoolio

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