How museums can bring their collections to life: an interview with Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam ARtours Hein Wils

Stedelijk Museum is one of the pioneers in using AR mobile technology to bring an added dimension to its art collection.
Find out more about how the Stedelijk Museum uses augmented reality at the mobileSQUARED Roadshow in London, on September 29, 2010 (mobiThinking readers get a 25 percent discount this event).

How has Stedelijk Museum used augmented reality (AR)?

Stedelijk Museum has used augmented reality (AR) in several different ways:

• Our first project was ‘Ik op het Museumplein’ (Me in Museum Square), which explored the possibilities for (student) artists to use AR to exhibit work. In Museum Square in Amsterdam you can still see these 3D works of art using your smartphone and the mobile app, which uses the Layer AR browser.

• The ‘ARtotheque’ project included 170 artworks from the collection of the Stedelijk Museum, with each piece of art being given a unique quick response (QR) code. When pieces of art are out on loaned out to public events, people can use the QR codes to find out more about the works of art. ARtotheque was used first at the Lowlands Festival and just this past week ARtotheque was at the Picnic Festival in Amsterdam.

• The museum is now working on a designtour, that takes participants for an AR-based tour of the city, including those design objects from our collection that have a special story. This tour explores storytelling and strong narratives.

• Together with two young upcoming Dutch artists, we are planning indoor AR works during a temporary exhibition at the museum. This presents us with a different challenge: GPS doesn’t work well inside a building, so we have to look for alternatives.

• Other projects on our roadmap include a possible AR cooperation between museums in Amsterdam. Working with commercial partners like the railway company or the tourist agency, we are exploring business models, discussing copyright issues, dissemination and presentations.

What can AR do for Museums?
AR helps to tell stories. Stories about the collections, the history of the art and opinions can enhance an art experience.
It can be used both inside and outside the museum space. With mobile AR we can set up tours through the city, linking back to the digitalized versions of our collections, putting art in a different context/place. It’s also a great way to engage in conversation with our audience as AR hooks up easily with social media.
AR can reach a new audience, usually early technology adopters, and might encourage an interest in art and lead to a museum visit.
AR can help with educational tours by making a rich experience for students.
What are the pros and cons?

The advantages…
It reaches out to new audiences. Working with immersive technologies, it brings innovation to the way we exhibit our collections.
Museums can reinvent the relationship with their audience and create a new platform for (media) artists.

The disadvantages…
Today only a few people have AR-enabled smartphones.
It’s hard to work with mobile AR inside the museum because the very construction of the building interferes with the phone’s inbuilt compass. Marker-based AR could be a solution to this problem, but it needs space and additional hardware. Outside, especially on public events, the reliability of 3G networks can be a problem. You need good coverage for a good user experience.
In future, every museum should have a dedicated WiFi network to make sure the experience for the user is optimal, while also keeping roaming costs for foreign visitors to a minimum.
How successful has it been with museum goers?
That’s hard to say because it’s early days. The first initiatives have been very well received. There’s a critical mass with innovative museum workers and an audience of early adopters willing to try out new ways of experiencing art. Museum apps are popular with visitors – some of these have potential for adding the AR dimension.
How do you see this progressing in the future?
I believe that museums will embrace the possibilities of AR. Increasingly museums are reinventing their audio tours, turning them into multimedia experiences. The moment that AR becomes linked to web and social media initiatives of a museum it will be a powerful tool, reaching out and engaging our audience. It’s a great way of expanding the brand, giving the museum a more ubiquitous presence.
But there will still be a need for real museums because looking at an augmented or virtual piece of art will never replace viewing the original, live and in person.

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