The Museo Diocesano becomes mobile with the app “Chagall and the Bible”

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The Diocesan Museum is located in the setting of the cloisters of Sant’Eustorgio, integral part of one of the most antique monumental complexes of Milan. The Museum is a “gem” on its own: dedicated to the encounter between art and christianity is an example of how an institution dedicated to a far less “mainstream” subject than more famous museums, can experiment with digital media.

In a rainy afternoon at the end of the summer, #svegliamuseo meets Maria Elena Colombo, Digital Media Curator, to try “on the field” the new app developed with ArtGuru to support the interpretation of the exhibition “Chagall and the Bible” (on view through February 1st 2015).

As Maria Elena explained to us – “This app is a challenge, either in terms of timing for its realization as well as in terms of innovation of the tools. The exhibition “Chagall and the Bible” is a section of the bigger retrospective dedicated to the author, on view at the Royal Palace”.

Let’s discover the details of this project!

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THE MOBILE APP

The App “Chagall e la Bibbia” uses visual recognition to add a rich layer to the set up of the exhibition, designed by Morpurgo de Curtis Architetti Associati. Thanks to the meeting with Marco de Sanctis, ArtGuru CEO, the Museum turned an apparent difficulty – the risk that the exhibition would be “cannibalized” from the bigger installation at the Royal Palace – into an opportunity for experimentation. While the big institution had the resources to equip the display with a traditional audioguide, with different content for  adults and children, the Diocesano preferred to rely on BYOD – Bring Your Own Device – to cut the costs of maintenance and distribution.

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Splash screen of the app

Once downloaded from the App Store for 1.79 euro, the app – only available for iOS – allow the user to point at a bi-dimensional work and activate the related audio content. This is available as text-to-speech mode and can be visualized on the screen as well.

V: Why this app? What does it allow to do that wouldn’t be possible with “traditional” media and what are the features that are proper of the mobile media?

ME: ArtGuru’s proposal arrived at the right time, with innovative features in term of flexibility, updating, functions and tools that were really interesting for us. The Museum has a target audience that is fairly mature, and with this app wanted to experiment with the possibility to engage with a younger public.

We liked the immediacy of the gesture: frame the work and listen to a voice that provides some context maintaining the freedom for the visitor to roam around the gallery. We think is an accessible and pleasant experience from an educational standpoint.

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The possibility to share via social network or to “like” a work of art is a typical feature of digital tools, as we can see for example from Google Art Project to the Rijksmuseum website. Ideally, developments of this platform will allow users to be “pinged” when in the proximity – even in other museums – of other works for which he/she declared interest. We found this very interesting also in terms of “museums network”.

Another feature of the app that we are particularly excited about is the possibility to have analytics so that we will be able to gain useful insights on users’ behaviors.

V: What are the main challenges when approaching a project as such up to realization and deployment?

ME: The challenges are all connected to communication and the possibility to adapt the content to the exhibition space, in a way that is supposed to be different from the scientific one published, for example, in the catalogue.

The flexibility of the CMS allowed us to refine the content gradually and eventually act on the graphic on site. Together with the conservator Nadia Righi we tested the content and the experience until we reached a level of satisfaction, very different from the first draft!
Another significant challenge is to communicate the existence of the app: we placed signs at the entrance and at the ticket counter and we promote it, thanks to the support of ArtGuru, on Social Network, natural place for the promotion of a digital tool.

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V: What is the future of this product? How is it going to be used once the exhibition is over?

ME: The app doesn’t support two paths for the permanent collection and a temporary exhibition. At the end of Chagall and the Bible, we will replace the exhibition content with the one dedicated to the permanent collection. We are hoping that the audience that got interested in the Museum because of the Chagall’s exhibition, may want to come back and explore the Museum with a new tool.

V: The app in collaboration with ArtGuru is not the first mobile project for the Museum. What “key learnings” have you gained from these projects that you feel would be “exportable” to other museums?

ME: The first fundamental learning is that the digital activities shouldn’t live in the “ephemeral” but would in some way remain alive to highlight the effort of the museum in this sense. This could take the form of a section on the website that would gather the approach and the experience of the institution, from our Google Art Project to the Costantino app.

It is not required to be the Tate to do something like that. I particularly like the example of the Acropolis Museum, just to give an example.

A second learning is to be open and willing to listen;  We are overwhelmed by proposals, not all of them are valuable or right for us, but by being open we can gain new competences with regard to the offer in the field and possibly being able to take advantage of the opportunities.

The preciosity of working with interdisciplinary teams, as for example for the Mela Project in which we worked with the Department of Design of the Politecnico in Milan, as well as that “we can do more with less” – as Boeri claims – are other important learnings.
In other words, try, try and try again, look for solutions and create new ones.

THE PROJECT FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF ARTGURU 

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In the italian landscape, the app of the Museo Diocesano represents an interesting case in terms of experimentation of new models. In this sense, ArtGuru represents a fundamental component of the success of the product. In the increasingly changing landscape, what a vendor can offer is not only a technical solution but rather a partnership in which the mutual expertise come into play.

For this reason, #svegliamuseo gathered the point of view of Marco De Sanctis, CEO of the company.

V: One thing that you learned from the project with the Museo Diocesano

M: This project has represented a good challenge in terms of technology because of the features of the works of art on view. The week colors of the gouaches, stand out less than other techniques so we had to balance properly the algorithm.

V:  More and more museums rely on external companies for the creation of digital products and services. What do you think are the main challenges in this sense based on your experience?

M: The main challenge is to put two worlds in contact, the technical and the artistic/curatorial one. Usually, reactions to our products are curiosity but also some skepticism. We make a great effort to overcome this last one because we believe that by adopting technologies that are close to everyday life, exhibitions may become more accessible and interesting for the public.

V: What does it take for a company that offer services as such to work in the field?

M: Develop knowledge of the market and invest in order to gain credibility. This means that it takes time before starting to have revenues.

#svegliamuseo PRO AND CONS

PRO CONS
The app is built around a temporary exhibition, giving to the Museum the possibility to gather precious data on usage of the tool. Thus the next version, that will be transferred on the permanent collection, will be refined based on this pool of data and research. The text to speech function allows to significantly save resources compared to the creation of more elaborated audio content. All in all, the result is good but the quality of the content is affected. For some considerations with regard to the impact of quality narrations in audio content read this post by Ed Rodley
The point of sell of the traditional audio guide disappear with a mobile experience that doesn’t require device distribution. Thus, the app becomes “invisible”. Marketing is crucial in this sense.
The Museum:
-Place signs in “strategic” positions – on the ticket counter and the entrance – taking advantage of the “funnel” created when audience queue to buy the entry ticket. This results in a moment of “pause” in which users can evaluate the Museum’s offer and potentially adopt the guide.
– The entrance has free WiFi so that visitors don’t have to rely on their data plan for the download.
– In the exhibition, availability of content is reaffirmed by small graphic signs on the labels.
The app is available for iOS 7 and further upgrades, excluding different brands and older operating systems that remain quite common.
The gesture to trigger the content functions in a fluid way, making the experience fun and immediate. This is important if compared to the barriers, both practical and aesthetic, that emerge in using QR Codes. The final product don’t take maximum advantage of the mean and the technology. In fact, “the eye” of the device is used as we normally use our own eyes rather than to really “augment” what we have in front of us.