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Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

Art App-reciation: Fostering engagement and reflection in museums through a social mobile application


Novice museum visitors often lack the skills for interpreting and engaging with works of art on display. We have observed visitors glossing through exhibits lacking the capacity to make meaning from art viewing. A social mobile application that we have created and tested helps novice visitors to actively engage with works of art, develop their vocabulary, and enhance their art-viewing skills. Supporting novice users in building art-viewing capacity is essential for making a lasting impact on visitors and encouraging life-long learning in the arts.

This paper presents the design, development, and evaluation of Art-e-Muse, a social mobile application that helps novice viewers develop the skills needed to actively engage with works of art. Art-e-Muse has been developed and tested in the Davis Museum and Cultural Center, an academic fine-arts museum on the Wellesley College campus. Through the deployment of Art-e-Muse we investigate how the use of mobile human-computer interaction paired with social networking can offer advantages for museums seeking to redefine the museum experience for novice visitors.

Art-e-Muse was designed using a participatory design methodology and is implemented as an iPod Touch and iPhone application utilizing the Facebook Connect API. During the period of May through July 2010, we conducted a series of workshops with museum staff, students, and faculty. As a result, we set three goals for Art-e-Muse: 1) fostering engagement with works of art, 2) promoting dialogue about art between members of a community, and 3) encouraging repeat visits to the museum. To accomplish these goals, Art-e-Muse diverges from the traditional museum guide approach in which experts provide information for visitors to consume. Interaction with Art-e-Muse is initiated when visitors use the device camera to scan a two-dimensional code placed next to a work of art. Art-e-Muse then presents users with a series of prompts that serve to create an interactive and reflective experience. Prompts are short and specific for each work of art. Prompts may include questions that encourage deep looking, anecdotal facts, and brief exercises requiring users to consider narrative, style, artists’ intent, and technique. A game mechanic rewards users with coins from the museum collection when certain milestones are accomplished. To create a sense of social presence and foster a dialogue, the application allows users to share insights, responses and accomplishments with their friends on Facebook.  The game mechanic leads to deep engagement and encourages users to make return visits to the museum.

The system was preliminary evaluated during August 2010. Findings indicate that novice users were engaged with works of arts, spending a significant amount of time with each work. Users were eager to use Art-e-Muse and expressed their satisfaction learning new ways to think of works of art both from the prompts and from others’ responses. Following this evaluation, we deployed Art-e-Muse in a permanent collection gallery and are currently evaluating its use. Our methodology includes direct observation, data collection through system logging, surveys, and in-depth interviews.

This paper will describe the design, technical development, and results from the evaluation of Art-e-Muse. 


Paper - in formal session


oshaer's picture
Orit Shaer is the Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Computer Science and a co-director of the Media Arts and Sciences program at Wellesley College. Her research in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) focuses on novel forms of human-computer interaction. She is particularly interested in how...
jolson's picture
Jim Olson received his B.A. in Art History and Political Science from the College of the Holy Cross and his M.A. in Art History from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is currently the Director of Integrated Media at the Peabody Essex Museum. He taught a course called Museums and New...
medwards's picture
I’m MaChérie Edwards, a senior at Wellesley College majoring in Media Arts and Sciences. I'm the Technology Intern at the Davis Museum and Cultural Center, and I'm currently working with Wellesley's Human Computer Interaction lab to develop and iPhone and iTouch application for the museum.
cvaldes's picture
I am a senior Computer Science major at Wellesley College. I entered ARTeMuse this last summer; redesigning the user interface and assisting in the iterations of the application. I work at the Wellesley College Human-Computer Interaction lab on this project and others; including updating a...