Catalysts: Artists Creating with Sound Video and Time

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WHY: Sound, video, and performance art experiences as well as born digital, time-based art works are rarely on display in most museums and teachers find them cumbersome to bring into the classroom in authentic ways. MoMA has been an important venue for experiencing these art forms since 1960, holds a wealth of documentation about these art forms, and has one of the world’s best collections of media-based art. Based on MoMA’s enormous success in offering online courses, curator Barbara London and educator Deborah Howes identified this multimedia friendly-format as the best possible way to bring together disparate elements–including archival footage; artist, conservator, and curator interviews; documentary materials; and contextual essays–for the public learn about these art forms and consider their important influence within the context of contemporary art history.

Randall Packer interviewing Barbara London 320w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" /> Randall Packer interviewing Barbara London


Jean Tinguely explaining the destruction of his sculpture "Homage to NY" in MoMA's sculpture garden from 1960 film by DA Pennebaker. 445w, 465w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" /> Jean Tinguely explaining the destruction of his sculpture “Homage to NY” in MoMA’s sculpture garden from 1960 film by DA Pennebaker.

In an unprecedented and historic move, 12 world-renowned video artists agreed to allow MoMA to stream their original video works (in a digital format) in this online classroom environment.

Video still From "The Reflecting Pool" (1979) by Bill Viola 500w, 640w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" /> Video still From “The Reflecting Pool” (1979) by Bill Viola

Catalysts Video gallery page streaming Nam June Paik's "Global Groove" from 1973 320w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" /> Catalysts Video gallery page streaming Nam June Paik’s “Global Groove” from 1973

 Randall Packer is uniquely qualified to create and teach this course: his previous publications include “Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality” and he regularly teaches media history and production for universities around the world.

Cover of Packer's book "Mulitmedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality" 311w, 320w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" /> Cover of Packer’s book “Mulitmedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality”

“Catalysts: Artists Creating with Sound Video and Time” is an important prototype of how museums can ensure that landmark movements in art can be properly documented and communicated despite being a challenge to display, experience and represent on a wide scale. Bringing this important content and art experience into a learning platform that both supports student interaction and inspires media experimentation resulted in an unprecedented virtual learning experience. Please explore the archival version of the  inaugural course session (now closed) via this specially created URL:

With Username: bestoftheweb and Password: moma14. (Note: Use Safari browser to avoid compulsory pop-up shield blocks appearing in Chrome and Firefox URL address windows. If you cannot use Safari, click on shield and agree to non-secure scripts. Requires Adobe flash player.)

Be sure to review each of these content types: 1. The “Welcome” section where students get a full orientation to the format and function of the learning environment, 2. A weekly learning modules including overview essay, lecture, interview, gallery, DIY project, and Discussion Forum and (recommended: “Week 3: A History of Video Art”) and 3. Catalyst gallery and student blogs (which link to the students’ WordPress sites).

More ….

Impact: Catalysts is an important landmark in our thinking about online course creation at MoMA—it pushed many content boundaries: as the first online course to handle streaming of actual media-based art works from MoMA’s collection, we now thoroughly understand both the mechanics and the intellectual property administration of that process. As a result, Catalysts is MoMA’s (and possibly the world’s) first authoritative collection of resources covering 5 decades of multimedia art integrated with the actual artworks, and in the process has contributed even more content to MoMA’s archives in the form of uncut video interviews with full transcripts. Catalysts also inspired tremendous student interaction and production: every student learned how to make and share ideas via video, audio and e-text formats and to create a WordPress blog. Digital badges provided to be effective motivators for course participation, which we will now proliferate to other courses. One of the most important outcomes is that by making a rich, multi-modal educational experience about a subject matter that can be a challenging for most visitors to appreciate, we have inspired students of all ages and backgrounds to be active media producers and contributors to the web medium.  As you will read in the two students’ comments below, this outcome was important to the students as well. Like other MoMA Courses Online alumni, Catalyst students are looking to connect with other like-minded artists and professionals with an interest in art and/or multimedia, and they keep in touch with each other via their WordPress blogs and continue to communicate with us about their subsequent learning experiences. Having continual access to long-term impact data such as these shared blogs has been a watershed for our understanding of how incredibly effective and important online courses are to the educational mission of MoMA. We just can’t imagine a better way to educate the widest possible range of students about art outside the Museum walls.

 “I see this MoMA Catalysis class as a great example of a Social Media Learning Experience.  It has been the first online class with my participation, I took the MoMA collage class only as an observer last summer. The social interaction and education that we have had in this class has been outstanding. Not only learning from the assignments and the teacher, but also from the students. I think that this learning from everyone is a great asset to on line classes and has been a wonderful experience for me. I have learned A LOT. Thank you ALL. I personally feel that I will definitive take more online classes in the future. It is wonderful to be able to take a class right from your house, at your own pace and time. I will use the blog that have created to keep my friends up to date with the progress of my work and also to learn from them.” Kathy Clem, Fall 2013 Catalyst student,

 “A big shout-out goes to our instructor Randall Packer. He not only gave us a plethora of invaluable resources and information, but brought us together to build this new digital community. Also, many thanks goes to my fellow classmates for the opportunity to share in this dialog.” Gabriella Micchia, Fall 2013 Catalyst student,

Student Experience: Like all MoMA Courses Online, the Catalysts course can be experienced in two different modes: students who want to have access to the prepared content only, with no teacher involvement, student interaction, or hands-on activities, can enroll in the Self-Guided (SG) version for a reduced fee, ($150 or $125 for MoMA members, students and museum staff). However, enrolling in the Instructor-Led (IL) version of the Catalysts course ($350 or $300) provides a more complete experience: weekly media creation assignments and discussions inspire students to apply their new knowledge and express their ideas using easy and free media tools, such as WordPress. Students develop extensive online skills working with free Web tools to produce and document their work, as well as to collaborate and contribute to social discourse. Hands-on collaborative learning is such an important part of MoMA online courses in general, but for Catalysts it is essential to the students’ understanding of how artists use media for art purposes (as opposed to basic communication) and to their experience of being a media art contributor. Moreover, Catalysts offers a special MoMA digital badge (through to students who complete all of their DIY weekly media creation assignments: see catalyst gallery tab in course for links to some of the blogs and media work created by the first class of Catalysts students in the fall of 2013.

Unlike a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) MoMA Courses Online enrollment is capped at 45 in order to maximize the time for communication between student and teachers. Packer continuously patrols the discussion boards and blogs, posting answers to questions or posing provocative thoughts to consider. One third of the 4500 MoMA Courses Online students enrolled since 2010 come from 60 countries around the world, and many alumni tell us how important the global perspective of their international colleagues is to their own learning. Although courses are conducted only in English, we provide captioning for all MoMA-created content and this accommodation helps not only our students with learning challenges but also our international audiences tremendously. It is common for a group of MoMA Courses Online students from the same class to continue their relationship via Facebook, or in the case of Catalysts: their WordPress blogs that they created together in class. Our students are life-long learners of all ages, and observing how well they connect and communicate with each other during the course and beyond has been extremely satisfying for MoMA educators, as well as the students themselves.

“…most of (the students) are artists, and many of them have only learned techniques of traditional media. Catalysts has provided them with a friendly and stimulating way to meet others like themselves, who are interested in sharing the acquisition of new media skills. The critical, historical, theoretical and practical knowledge in Catalysts helps extend the students’ practice well beyond the traditional techniques they have already learned… Since most of the students are “lifelong learners,” this fits very well with their interests and objectives.” Catalyst instructor, Randall Packer

Read more about student experience in blog post by Cindy Yeh, MoMA 12-month intern:

Course Content overview: Over the course of six weeks, students have exclusive access to original video content streamed to their desktop or mobile device, including reproductions, and actual streaming files, of art, art history lectures, as well as interviews with MoMA staff (including PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach, curator Barbara London, media conservator Glenn Wharton, and archivist Michelle Elligot) and conversations with artist Robert Whitman, director Julie Martin and art historian Dore Ashton. One of the most innovative aspects of the course’s content is the idea of focusing on the museum’s collection and building a compelling narrative concerning the history of multimedia. It emphasizes the museum as a space for bringing artists, curators and public together to catalyze the medium of new media and excellent public use of important archival and little-seen materials. Packer’s writing and lectures summarize 60 years of creative process and provide a substantial historical context for all the these primary resources materials in a format that allows each student to absorb and process the information at his or her own speed. Original content created for this course is supplemented with important and authoritative web resources (e.g., the “Selected Works for Further Study” section) such as artists web sites and landmark exhibition sites where students can extend their learning after the end of the course. MoMA staff and students alike remark how the history of these art forms is highly relevant content for 21st century which is increasingly focused on media-based, visual communication modes.

Read more about course content in this blog post by Randall Packer:

The Real History of Multimedia

Technical details: Catalysts is a six-week, online course delivered asynchronously via a licensed, hosted, multi-media platform called Haiku (, Video streaming is optimized through JW Player ( and digital badges for successful completion are offered through Credly ( Students register online through CVENT, ( a hosted registration software solution. MoMA is the exclusive copyright holder of the course content; media-based art works are included in Catalyst with permission from the artists, mostly through their representative Electronic Arts Intermix (, all other artworks are reproduced with permission from copyright holders as listed in the course content credits.

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