In October, the Bates College Museum of Art opened an exhibit titled, Phantom Punch: Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia in Lewiston. The title plays off the famous bout between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston in 1965 in our small town. The exhibit is culturally enlightening and eye candy to those of us who are A/V fanatics. This is the first exhibit the museum has put on that includes large amounts of audio visual technology. In total, the exhibit has three projectors and three monitors displaying the content of the exhibit. The museum space at Bates consists of two floors, the top being a high ceiling, wide open space with wood floors. The lower floor is also wide open with wood floors, but has a lower ceiling.
Thankfully at Bates we have two excellent people on our AV staff who were ready to jump to the challenge. Our senior AV analyst, Ben Lizzotte (@benlizzotte), took on the challenge of designing the system. The challenge included designing audio for the large cavernous space upstairs, along with keeping the budget under control. Ben settled on Epson projectors, including one short-throw projector, BrightSign digital signage boxes for content, and Audio Spotlight speakers by Holsonic. The speakers were chosen in order to present localized audio in an open space without a lot of bleeding sound into the other exhibits. Our AV analyst, Ben Pinkham (yes, they are both named Ben), assisted with the install of the equipment.
As a group, we struggled with the budget constraints and the value of the investment in the technology. Some things, like the BrightSign players, are offered at a low enough cost that they made sense to purchase straight out. Additionally, there seems to be many uses for these devices around campus, so we were confident we could reuse them. However, other things, like the 80” display and the short throw projector, are costly and don’t have an immediate use on campus after the exhibit. Finally, we had to wonder about the hidden costs of our staff designing and installing the equipment. We estimated that over 80 hours of staff time was dedicated to the design and install of the system. While our client was very happy with the product, and the visitors love what they see, we need to think about the best way to handle such a request in the future.
We did some investigation with our local integrators, but they did not have a model for such a request. If we were to rent this equipment from them for three straight months, we would clearly spend more than if we bought the equipment. The firm we spoke with was not prepared to offer different costs for longer term rentals. Once the install was done, we computed the costs of the install and equipment, we began to realize that this type of installation could provide a business opportunity to integration firms. If the integration firms already have a rental division they have a head start. The firm could rent us the equipment needed, at a cost slightly under what we would have paid if we purchased it. This allows them to make a profit on the equipment while increasing their rental inventory. The new equipment would be valuable to the firm, as they would not have to wait through the length of time it normally takes them have a return on their investment for rental equipment. It would be immediate. It would provide value to us, by saving us money, and not leaving us with equipment that we need to store and may never use again.
Installation is also an area where an integrator could provide us value. We were fortunate that this installation came at a time when our schedules were light(er). Ben(s) installed the exhibit over two weeks in October. Had this happened during our very busy summer schedule or the first month of classes, they simply would not have been able to get it done. Even during the slower month of October, some things had to be put off in order to get the work done. If you have read my columns in the past, you know that I argue for colleges completing installs internally. This is because I believe keeping the knowledge of the install inside the institution provides great value in the future. However, a temporary (three- to four-month) install does not qualify for this same long term value. Using our internal technicians to focus on other projects, while outsourcing this install seems like the wiser long term value.
While this example is about our museum, we have encountered similar issues with our theater and dance departments. They have demanding AV needs for a short time during their rehearsal and performances. Once those are done, they may go a long time without needing technology, and when they do need technology, it may very well be different from prior needs. With most colleges and universities having theaters and museums this seems like an opportunity for integrators to open up a profitable new segment of their business.
As always, I am curious to hear what others do about these installs. Do you do them internally and purchase the equipment? What do you do with the equipment when you are done? Do you rent the equipment and outsource the installation? If so, how does that work for you?