YuJune Park and Caspar Lam, Assistant Professors of Communication Design at Parsons, Redesign Carnegie Hall’s Timeline of African American Music
As one of the most iconic and prestigious concert halls in the world, Carnegie Hall is at the forefront of presenting bold artistic programming featuring the most acclaimed musicians and artists working today. The venue is also a cultural and educational institution, committed to presenting and exploring the history of music in all its forms.
In 2009, the late internationally acclaimed soprano Jessye Norman hosted one of the city’s first festivals at Carnegie Hall, HONOR! A celebration of African-American cultural heritage. As a cornerstone of the festival, Norman wanted educational initiatives to expand the audience’s journey of discovery, including the first interactive version of the African American music timeline.
Today, the African American Music Timeline, based on the work of Dr. Portia K. Maultsby—founding director of the African American Music and Culture Archive at Indiana University and consultant for National Museum of African American Music-received an innovative revamp thanks to Synoptic Office, which was founded and currently led by YuJune Park and Caspar Lam, Assistant Professors of Communications design at Parson.
“Carnegie Hall’s African American Music Timeline is a great example of how education, technology, and design can be combined for the greatest impact,” Park says. “The impact of the new timeline is, in large part, about bringing the history of African-American music beyond classroom conversations and to the general public.”
“In the years that followed HONOR!we were thrilled to hear from educators about how the timeline has become an invaluable tool in their classrooms, helping them chart the evolution of different musical genres and bring stories to life,” said Clive Gillinson, executive and artistic director of Carnegie Hall.
Park and Lam collaborated with Carnegie Hall to lead the process of translating the project’s complex wealth of data into a compelling, easily digestible format that could serve educators, students, and music lovers everywhere. They have sought to harness the enormous developments in digital technology and user experience since the original launch of the timeline in order to bring the lessons of the timeline to a wider audience and raise awareness of the extraordinary musical heritage of the african american music.
Encompassing early folk traditions through current popular music, the New African-American Music Timeline is a detailed view of the evolution of African-American musical genres spanning the past 400 years. This exploration of African-American musical traditions reveals the unique characteristics of each genre and style, while offering in-depth studies of pioneering musicians who created some of America’s most timeless artistic expressions.
“Because the timeline targets different audiences who have different motivations and goals, we don’t expect the results for each type of user to be the same,” says Lam. “This means that the redesigned timeline is multi-faceted in nature and offers multiple avenues for exploring and understanding this content.”
The revamped timeline includes scholarly essays, historical photos and images, and audio. Park and Lam took a phased approach to the redesign, where they used broad humanities themes that give exhibits in-depth context for a particular time period, and don’t trap the audience in a singular path while they explore. The result is an intuitive, expansive, and consistent experience that lets users access the timeline for a wide range of purposes.
The timeline also introduces a partnership with Apple Music, Park explains, which means that “with music embedded in the timeline itself, Carnegie Hall can tell the story of music in an innovative way – the story of music through music”.
Collaboration was key to the success of the revamped timeline, which was also supported by a Digital Public Projects Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, in addition to Carnegie Hall, Dr. Maultsby and a distinguished committee of contributing academics. Across the country.
“The Timeline is a tightly-knit text that encompasses dynamic visualization to highlight the complex relationships between genres and artists,” according to Carnegie Hall digital director Chris Amos. “This technology is also being offered as an open source model in the hopes that this type of visualization will inspire others to create resources that showcase other types of music and art forms.”
For Park and Lam, their work with Synoptic Office and as teachers at Parsons regularly inform their dual roles, with education and design work carrying equal weight. Their design studio is research-driven, where teaching and learning are crucial aspects of every project they undertake.
“I think a lot of people think of teaching as imparting knowledge to another person,” Park and Lam shared. “But we believe that teaching is more of a dialogue, because the students will have something to teach you or to offer you in return, in particular their perspectives and points of view. For us, this type of dialogue is an integral part of defining our culture and what design is.