It is common knowledge that many art galleries and museums are finding it tough to market to younger, digitally-oriented generations.

Although millennials 'enjoy museums', they have also 'expressed concern that the content and mission of many museums may not be in sync with millennials' interest and values', according to millennialmarketing.com.

A report by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), revealed DCMS-sponsored museums and galleries saw an overall 0.8% decline in visitor numbers in 2016/17 compared to 2015/16. Many major institutions within this group contributed to this decline, including the National Portrait Gallery (down 11%), the National History Museum (down 14%) and the V&A (down 12%), amongst others.

As a frequent visitor of art galleries in central London, I am often surprised by the lack of interactive digital content to aid learning, exploration and navigation. It is common to find an occasional static touchscreen in a corner, which will contain pages of dry information about certain paintings and collections, perhaps accompanied by a couple of images. This is hardly inspiring, particularly in the eyes of individuals who belong to the millennial and Z generations, for whom technology has become the very centre of their daily lives.

It is obvious that managers and curators need to take seriously the interest and retention of these generations so as to secure a bright future for their organisations. Incorporating digital technology within the physical gallery space is one such way to do this, providing more interactive and engaging platforms from which visitors of all ages can learn.

Whilst it appears that most galleries have a lot to catch up on in this regard, a handful stand out as pioneers of integrating traditional art forms with modern digital culture. I've picked out some of the best examples below:

Augmented reality as an aid

Detroit Institute of Arts – Lumin AR Tour

The Detroit Institute of Arts is a fantastic example of how organisations can use Augmented Reality to improve both the educational and practical aspects of visiting galleries and museums. They introduced the 'Lumin AR Tour' in 2017, which can be implemented on a handheld device available inside the building.

By pointing the device at certain sculptures, paintings and artifacts, you can learn more about them. Pop-up snippets of information, detailed descriptions and additional photographs of the item (and related items) are just a few of the features included to aid further learning. One of the most interesting highlights is the option to 'x-ray' an ancient mummy, giving users the ability to view both the exterior and interior of the object in front of them.

Lumin AR Tour - Mummy X-Ray

The ‘Lumin AR’ tool can also be used for navigation. Simply touch an area of the interactive map that you would like to visit, and dots will appear on the floor through the screen, guiding you to that area from your current location.

 The tour currently functions in seven sections of their gallery space, and the gallery intends to roll it out to the entire site in the near future.  

Interactive creative spaces

Cleveland Museum of Art - ArtLens Interactive Studio

The Cleveland Museum of Art has taken interactivity to the next level with their ArtLens Studio Play. The studio, based in a room within the gallery, contains a variety of screen-based activities that require physical movement of the body to operate.

Throughout the room, some activities you can expect to participate in include:

  • virtual painting
  • virtual collaging with items found in the gallery collections (to create new artwork)
  • researching and learning about various featured artists and disciplines using both static and portable devices
  • front camers self-portraiture with the ability to edit with artistic effects
  • virtual pottery
  • drawing shapes and matching them (via AI) to items in the gallery database

Although interactive displays are becoming more commonplace in many galleries and museums, they are often produced tentatively and scarcely, with limited capabilities. This example from the Cleveland Museum of Art defies conventions of the standard, arguably dated static touchscreen display by involving the movement of the body as a means of control. Not only is this method more immersive for the user, but it is also a more social and collaborative way of learning more about the collections.

Visitors have the opportunity to create their own works of art which are then uploaded to the gallery’s official Tumblr page to download and share later.

Immersive exhibitions

National Museum of Singapore - 'Story of the Forest'

I was lucky enough to stumble upon this exhibition housed within Singapore’s National Museum when I visited on holiday in October 2017. The installation had quite an unassuming exterior, with very little information about it displayed at the entrance. Regardless of whether this was deliberate or not, it certainly made the whole experience more surprising upon entering.

Story of the Forest - Singapore

This incredibly immersive and colourful exhibition takes you on a sloping, spiralised walk down to a main dome at the centre. On the walls of the path are large screens that hug the curvature of the walls, making the visuals seamless at eye-level. An animated display of a forest scene is projected from the screens, inviting the viewer to spot various animals in the foreground and background. You can then use the ‘Story of the Forest’ App on your mobile device to find out more about certain animals in front of you, including habitat, diet and levels of endangerment. This can also be performed in the main dome area of the exhibit, where additionally you can lie down and take in a breath-taking view of the ceiling that features cascading spores and plants.

More images can be found on TeamLab’s website – (I’ll save you the holiday photos). If you ever have the chance to visit, I highly recommend it.

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), NYC - 'Hello, We're From the Internet' (unofficial)

According to their website, the exhibition 'is an unauthorised gallery concept aimed at democratizing physical exhibition spaces, museums, and the curation of art within them.'

'Hello, We're From the Internet' was created by a group of eight internet artists at the MoMA in New York City, and used augmented reality to overlay their animated content over the artworks featured in the Jackson Pollock section of the gallery. This content could be accessed through a mobile app available on Android and iOS.

The exhibition has been claimed a protest against elitism that art galleries arguably represent.

As with any establishment - be they media, church or government - the richest of galleries are canonized, to the point where the public's role and contribution is reduced to passive observer.

If we are to understand that art is the great measure of our culture we must also acknowledge it is owned, valued and defined by 'the elite'. We must also recognize then that the term "open to the public" is not an invitation, but a declaration of values. Values that are not our own. And so it has remained for 335 years. Until now.

Politics aside, this 'hijacking' dramatically increased the popularity of this particular collection, as evidenced by the number of visitors interacting with the app in the video below. It is a risky but interesting way of drawing attention to social issues via virtual vandalisation.

Take a tour in virtual reality

The Google Arts and Culture app, available on iOS and Android is like Google Street View for galleries and places of cultural interest. It can be implemented on mobile devices when viewing selected museum websites, and allows the user to explore highlights or entire floors of these buildings in virtual reality.

Let's take the tour of the Dulwich picture gallery as an example. You can browse 652 high resolution images of artworks using Google Arts and Culture, which are organised by style, medium and top trending.

Dulwich Picture Gallery Google Arts and Culture

Users are also able to take a tour around the gallery's rooms in virtual reality, with the ability to select images to view in close-up from the room they are currently based.

Dulwich Picture Gallery Virtual Reality Tour

There is no doubt that this can be appealing to users of the app, particularly if you are on a different continent to the gallery or museum in question. You are transported there in an instant, and can view the gallery at your leisure, without any other visitors getting in the way of your experience.

It could also aid a decision to visit a gallery in real life; for example if you were planning a holiday itinerary, However, it could arguably ruin any later physical experience of the space, as it would be devoid of any surprise elements.

Is virtual access to galleries, and the ability to share images of artwork online extinguishing the public’s desire to visit? It is a possibility, however some argue the opposite. 

Jia Jia Fei, Director of Digital at the Jewish Museum in NYC, believes that sharing these images and experiences online actively encourages others to visit those museums and galleries in real life. In a 2015 TedX talk, she speaks about her experience with a James Turrell exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, where she once worked as Associate Director - Digital Marketing:

Does the rapid digitisation of images reduce the experience you have? Is it reductive, or does it expand the meaning of that experience and object in an entirely new form, thereby reaching millions of people outside of the physical space who can never physically come to the museum?

...In the age of the internet, we only have something to gain by creating access; opening up access to photography, opening up access to our intellectual content and making these images available for the public.

I'm often asked, 'will the digital experience and the digital representation of the museum online through social media ever replace the onsite physical experience?' ... the James Turrell exhibition, with an incredible digital footprint, also brought in over 420,000 visitors who wanted to come to the museum to see it for themselves because they saw it on Instagram.

...We're opening up the opportunity for anyone in the world with an internet connection to learn about art, which is essentially the mission of the museum.

More on arts and culture:

Lizzy Hillier

Published 9 July, 2018 by Lizzy Hillier @ Econsultancy

Lizzy Hillier is visualisation and content designer at Econsultancy.

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Comments (4)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

That overall decline was less than 1%. "In 2016/17 there were 47.3 million visits to DCMS sponsored museums. This was a decline of 0.8% from 47.7 million in 2015/16."

BTW in case anyone from Department of Culture, Media and Sport is reading, may I add what I'd like? It's an indication on museum websites about whether they're full or likely to be full.

9 days ago

Lizzy Hillier

Lizzy Hillier, Visualisation & Content Designer at EconsultancyStaff

Hi Pete, thanks for your comment. I'll add the overall figure to the article for clarification. It is interesting that the decline from the 2015/16 report was a lot more severe (6% overall or 2.6% if Tyne and Wear museums were discounted) than the most recent 2016/17 report. It would be fascinating to see what specific action has been taken to improve the figure to 0.8% in just one year – judging from the 2016/17 report the Tate Gallery Group seemed to bolster this improvement.
The 2015/16 report can be found here for comparison:
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/595440/Sponsored_Museums_Performance_Indicators_revised.pdf

8 days ago

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Jane Alexander, Chief Dogital Information Officer at The Cleveland Museum of Art

Hi Lizzy:
Thank you for mentioing ARTLENS Studio - part of the emersive experiences in ARTLENS GALLERY - https://youtu.be/XYRjaZl08lQ
I just wanted to point out that the experiences are at THe Cleveland Museum of Art -- (The Cleveland Institute of Art is our neighbor and a wonderful Art School. More information about all the immersive experiences -http://clevelandart.org/artlens-gallery/about

6 days ago

Lizzy Hillier

Lizzy Hillier, Visualisation & Content Designer at EconsultancyStaff

Hi Jane, thanks for reading! I do apologise - I have edited the article accordingly. Keep up the excellent work!

6 days ago

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