Smartify and the digital museum
Augmented reality in arts and culture at Watts Gallery - Artists' Village
One of the biggest challenges with interpreting Studio Museums is signage; how and where to display it. In a Studio Museum there's a constant push and pull between contextualising a preserved space and maintaining the integrity of the artist's home. Some of the museums within the Artist's Studio Museum Network deal with this dilemma by only offering guided tours, others rely on audio guides or itemised boards visitors carry around with them. At Watts Gallery - Artists' Village alongside talks and wall signs they're doing things a little differently…
As part of a study with The University of Surrey the museum has started using Smartify; a digital platform that allows visitors to use their phone to scan artwork and discover more about the pieces on display. Could mobile technology be the answer to maintaining authenticity and integrity in preserved studio museums? Read on the hear from Anna Lowe, Co-Founder of Smartify, about how the App works and the potential digital future of our museums.
Since launching Smartify in 2016, our mission has been to help people make meaningful connections with art and to offer museums a sustainable digital infrastructure to help engage audiences.Looking across the landscape of audio guides – from traditional handheld devices to bespoke apps, we see a repeating picture where museums are struggling to find the staff time, experience and funds necessary to create and deliver guides that meet the expectations of today's tech-savvy visitors.
"We see a repeating picture where museums are struggling to find the staff time, experience and funds necessary to create and deliver guides that meet the expectations of today's tech-savvy visitors."
Smartify was founded as a social enterprise to meet those challenges with a simple, cost-effective and stable platform. We work with over 140 museums; from large institutions like The Smithsonian and London's National Gallery to medium size organisations including the Mauritshuis, or National Trust properties.
There is sometimes a hesitance over mobile phone use in galleries and museums. This reluctance is tied to the idea that the use of mobile phones leads to less engagement. However, we've discovered that visitors using the free Smartify app have the opposite experience. The Smartify app uses the smartphone camera to instantly identify artworks, objects and furniture and then returns multimedia content. The visitor can save their favourite items into a personal digital collection to remember later and discover new artworks, artists or museums they might like to visit based on their previous scans and location.
"The visitor can save their favourite items into a personal digital collectionto remember later and discover new artworks, artists or museums they might like to visit based on their previous scans and location."
When we worked with the University of Surrey's School of Hospitality and Tourism and Watts Gallery - Artists' Village we wanted to understand what visitors think about the app and how it fits into the studio museum experience compared to a traditional museum. The results showed us two key things: the use of Smartify gave visitors more freedom and actually increased the time spent in the museum.
The app enabled visitors to explore the museum at their own pace with greater autonomy. Rather than following a set path, visitors can avoid crowds, discover hidden gems and save artworks for later viewing.This is particularly important in studio museums which often have limited space for wall labels. The use of Smartify's 'digital label' allowed visitors to scan and identify individual objects within tightly clustered displays in Watts' Studio where paintings, sketches and the artists' materials are presented as they would have been in Watts' time without identifiers.
"The app enabled visitors to explore the museum at their own pace with greater autonomy. Rather than following a set path, visitors can avoid crowds, discover hidden gems and save artworks for later viewing."
Free and easy to use for visitors, the content displayed is as simple for the museums to maintain: the app can be set up to automatically pull data from existing museum databases, YouTube, Wikipedia and other online sources. Museum's are also able to see which pieces visitors are scanning alongside dwell times within the museum - opening up opportunities to increase information or expand collections based on visitor analytics. Far from hindering museum visitors, Smartify is showing how mobile phones can be integrated in museums to provide an all-round more explorative, in depth and enriching experience.
To find out more about our work with Watts Gallery - Artists' Village, you can download the full report below for free.
Anna is Cofounder and Director of Partnerships as Smartify. Previously Anna worked in arts education at the National Museum of Fine Art, Argentina and for the London Borough of Camden. In 2019 she was appointed by the UK government as a Trustee at the Tate, making her the youngest ever trustee of a UK national museum.