Skip to main content

Museums and the Web

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

No Intrusions: MONA, The O and some great handheld adventures


On January 21, 2011, the cultural landscape of Hobart, Tasmania (Australia!) changed dramatically. The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) opened its doors to receive a flood of enthusiastic visitors who embraced a museum experience that simply ‘blew them away’.

The brain-child of David Walsh, the development of MONA followed paths that are often unavailable to publicly funded museums – paths that embraced risks, detours, passion and mischief.  Early discussions about how the MONA team would tackle exhibition layouts, wall texts, visitor circulation and other mandatory museum issues determined that subversion and anarchy might be the most appropriate philosophies to guide us. Underpinning this departure from standard practices was a willingness to adopt and utilize any or all modern technologies that could supersede existing methods.

A key driver in this process was an early decision to abandon wall texts as a means to convey information to visitors. Although almost universally employed by museums and galleries, wall texts have numerous inherent disadvantages including low aesthetic appeal, space requirements, cost and time to produce/update, visitor ‘traffic jams’ and so on. Monitors, touchscreens and other technological devices have been used by some museums to improve or vary information delivery with varying success. However, MONA’s approach was not simply to replace a printed wall label with an electronic one, but to take this opportunity to incorporate exhibition design, curatorial and visitor services needs by making wall texts portable, individual, variable and optional.

Initial research expanded to include visitor tracking, statistic gathering, visitor mementoes and the opportunity for developing ongoing relationships through online media. The team at Art Processors was involved from this very early stage and developed a new tour guide system, The O, which would provide visitors with information about the artworks in the museum.

Delivered on an iPod Touch, The O uses an internal positioning system to locate visitors when they request information about nearby artworks.  Visitors are provided with various types of content (written, audio and video) and are invited to love or hate the works they view on the device.  Given the option to save their tour, visitors can log in to the MONA website at a later date and view a 3D model of their tour through the museum and investigate all the information made available on the device (even for the artworks they missed).

Additionally The O has enabled a whole range of exhibition design and curatorial options – from simple things such as flexibility in gallery lighting levels to delivering a variety of texts about one single object. Evaluation and planning of visitor services are assisted through the statistics and flow information gathered by the device.

In this demonstration a combination of MONA and Art Processors staff will discuss all aspects of The O system and the way it has been implemented at MONA: from handing them out, the curatorial freedoms it enables and working with the Art Processors’ Enso platform.


Demonstration - show your project


Mary Lijnzaad's picture
Mary Lijnzaad is the Manager of the Library and Numismatics Collection at Mona. During her 12 years at Mona, her primary focus has been the library, with frequent detours into the areas of collection care and management, research, visitor services, database design and more!