The fundamental mission for many art museums is to collect, preserve, interpret, and present their collections in a way that is accessible to the public. As new technologies emerge in the market, museums are now able to enhance visitor experiences through innovative tools, allowing for increased accessibility and interaction with the visitors.
Here are five exciting technologies that are upending traditional notions at many museums across the world, and changing the way museums can present their exhibitions and in-gallery experiences.
1. 3D Scanning
Digital 3D scanners first appeared in the 1980s. As optical technology advanced, 3D scanners transformed into non-contact, non-destructive devices that use lasers to collect data points for objects. 3D scanning captures an object’s exact shape and size as a digital 3D file, which can be manipulated on the computer or exported out as a 3D reproduction. 3d scanning is not a new technology, and it is mostly used in industries that involve product development. However, some art museums are starting to use 3D scanning in their education and accessibility departments.
The Louvre was one of the first museums to serve the visually impaired community with reproductions of artwork; in 1995 it created the “Tactile Gallery,” a permanent gallery where visitors can touch reproductions of art from the Louvre’s collection. With sophisticated 3D scanning technology, it is now possible to create extremely precise reproductions of artworks with detailed textures of brushstrokes and colors. This innovation can help museum visitors experience collections through tactile interactions with artwork.
2. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
Massive Open Online Courses are a mechanism of education that provides low-cost, high-quality online education options for the public. Higher education institutions and museums alike have started experimenting with this new model of expanding education programs.
On February 10, the Museum of Modern Art released its first MOOC for the general audience surrounding their exhibition, Seeing through Photographs. Research conducted by the MoMA shows the majority of their course participants were not familiar with the institution before taking the course, which makes it an interesting channel that fulfills the museum’s mission while reaching a wider audience and enhancing the museum’s brand awareness.
Recently, beacon technology has gathered a lot of attention in the museum sector. Beacons are a location-based technology in the form of small wireless sensor. When a visitor walks in proximity of a beacon with their Bluetooth-enabled devices like a smart phone, the beacon automatically sends messages and content to the visitors’ devices. Beacons are mostly used in retail enterprises to promote sales and attract customer into the store, but they can work equally well in a museum setting: visitors could receive prompts related to pieces of art they see, or they might receive advice to go into nearby exhibitions. The technology offers the opportunity to trigger interactive and immersive moments on visitors’ devices when they go through museum spaces equipped with beacons.
Many museums and galleries around the world are now experimenting with beacons. ART BEEKN, the first “beaconized” art exhibition, opened in Germany on October 2014 and placed beacons at the center of the visitor experience. Each work of art had beacons attached that distribute exclusive content such as audio commentary or videos showing the artistic process. This exhibition offered a creative way for museums to push relevant information to audiences while creating a unique digital experience.
If you are interested to know more about beacons, “Intro to Beacons for Arts Managers” is a good place to start.
Telepresence Robots have existed for several years. These robots are basically screens on wheels that users remotely operate using an app or web browser. They are used for long distance communication, but they can also be a convenient tool for conducting digital museum tours for visitors that are home-bound.
Recently, the Anchorage Museum in Alaska tested out the potential of hosting long distance gallery tours via the Internet with Telepresence robots. Compared to the museum viewing experiences provided by the Google Art Project or digital collections of individual museums, these Telepresence robots offer the opportunity to “visit” a museum’s current exhibition from thousands of miles away, coming closer to simulating a personal visit. However, telepresence robots tour are be a big investment for nonprofits; a robot alone costs at least $1,500, not to mention the organization still has to set up an infrastructure to smoothly operate this program addition. The use of robots might not be realistic for smaller organizations, but is an interesting concept to improve accessibility and reach a new audience.
5. Projection mapping technology
Projection mapping is a projection technology that turns a non-flat object or landscape into a display surface for video projection. This technology has been used on building facades to temporarily change the appearances of historic buildings in an artistic way, some recent examples are the Hangar 58 event space at Bokrijk in Limburg and a Svelvik church in Norway. Projection mapping is generally used for outdoor installations, but it can also be used to enhance visitor experiences with museum collections: the Metropolitan Museum of Art used projection mapping technology to project historic painted scenes on the Temple of Dendur walls to present the artifact as what it would look like in the past.
Projection mapping technology can help to innovate curatorial practices such as working in a non-destructive way with the museum collections. Tt can also improve visitor engagement in the museum by creating interactive and immersive activities in the gallery spaces.
Technology offers new opportunities to look at visitor experience in the museum sector, and many museums have already begun experimenting technologies to enhance their interpretive and accessibility strategies. By embracing new technologies that improve museum activities, museum is transforming into innovative and creative space that is seamless with people’s modern everyday life, and not becoming an artifact itself.