Digital R&D in the Arts Scotland - Case Study 7 - Art Hunter
Each day in the run up to Nesta Scotland’s Spotlight on Digital R&D in the Arts event we are going to share a case study showcasing what the ten projects from both calls of the fund have achieved.
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Download the NGS Art Hunter app and enter a world of codes, competitive collecting and trophies. Experience artwork and galleries across Scotland in a totally new way.
National Galleries of Scotland had a productive partnership with technology provider Kotikan.
With so many sites, collections and special exhibitions to include, the story of Art Hunter demonstrates the strategic and operational processes an organisation needs to engage with so that they can deliver a digital product.
National Galleries of Scotland Art Hunter App
Case Study by Rhona Taylor
“We were trying to find a digital device that would pull everything together and encourage people to go from one gallery to the other” Tessa Quinn
The National Galleries of Scotland have developed ArtHunter, a multi-platform app, with their technology partner, Kotikan. The free app can be downloaded by visitors to the three NGS sites in Edinburgh as well as partner galleries and museums across Scotland. Visitors key in codes that are placed next to artworks to unlock further content online.
ArtHunter’s development helped to push through last year’s change of policy at NGS allowing visitors to use mobile devices in the galleries. It is the fourth app that has been developed by the organisation, and is part of its wider digital engagement programme supported by its digital department.
The galleries had already developed a working relationship with Kotikan, an app development company based in Edinburgh, through its previous projects. They began the Digital R&D project with an ideas session involving staff from both organisations.
“We’ve always been active in the digital field – every year there’s a digital project of some sort, for example redeveloping the website or the touch screens at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery,” says Tessa Quinn, Head of Digital Media at the galleries. “Our previous apps put our toe in the water to see what the demand was, and what the difference was working in the mobile field.
“The ideas session with Kotikan was our starting point — we looked at all the projects the galleries had coming up, and thought of ideas that would suit. We were working with partners across Scotland, so we wanted to develop a digital interface that suited that.”
Quinn and her team went into the session with an open mind as to what might come out of it. “We didn’t go into the ideas session with a firm agenda. We wanted to make sure it was relevant to the work we were doing and the work that was going on in the galleries. So the idea that came out was that we wanted to do something that was about people collecting artwork and unlocking extra content.”
After the initial idea was settled upon, the project was divided into three distinct areas: content, technical development and organisational development. NGS worked with Kotikan on the technical development, but undertook the other areas alone. The most significant challenge the NGS faced was developing the content of the app, and working out how that would happen.
The digital team had initially hoped that the content would be provided from across the organisation, but although NGS staff reacted positively to the idea of the app, it was difficult to get staff from different departments to free up the time to help them to develop it.
“People found it hard to understand what was required to contribute because it was quite hard to visualise what the app was, so we ended up producing a lot of the content ourselves within the digital team. We also tried to reuse existing content, but because a mobile is very different from a large touch screen or a website, it had to be amended, crafted or edited. Nothing was just slapped in and a lot of care had to be taken over the content to make sure it was appropriate to the interface and the whole concept.”
Finding the right technology partner was key to the success of the project, and that relationship was vital for its development. Working with Kotikan felt like a genuine partnership, and their close proximity in Edinburgh was seen as a huge benefit. “Often you go for that customer/supplier model – it’s a bit more dictatorial, and I don’t know that you always get the best outcome. Kotikan had a lot more ownership of this project because it was gone into in that kind of partnership way.
“As with any partnership you have to be really clear on roles and responsibilities. The cost scoping and the project plan are vital. It doesn’t mean you can’t deviate from the project plan but at least you know the impact of what that deviation means. The technology providers are commercial companies. They have to make money, from other customers as well. You can’t treat them just as your partner – you have to respect them for what they are.
“When we first started working with them on the first app four years ago, they were a small company. They’re now larger and so they have competing priorities, but they always made sure that ArtHunter was something they prioritised.
The development of ArtHunter was done specifically with two projects in mind: Artists Rooms, a collection of contemporary art acquired by the National Galleries of Scotland and Tate, and Generation, a vast national project celebrating the past 25 years of visual art in Scotland, involving galleries and exhibitions across the country.
Between June and October 2014, while Generation takes place at venues across Scotland, the NGS will devote ArtHunter entirely to the project, temporarily removing other content and allowing the organisation to assess the app so far.
“ArtHunter was developed with Generation in mind – we we were trying to find a digital device that would pull everything together and encourage people to go from one gallery to the other,” says Quinn. “That’s a principle that’s still very much behind ArtHunter.
“Generation is also the time we’re going to review some of the functionality of ArtHunter and sort out those issues. We’re thinking of last year as phase one of the ArtHunter and this as phase two.”
Feedback has been generally positive from users, some of whom have reported that it has changed their behaviour in the gallery, particularly as the galleries had previously banned mobile phones. “Somebody said to us that they felt it gave them permission not to look at every artwork – that they could just dip in and dip out,” says Quinn. “There is an expectation that people have a multiplicity of different experiences. It’s finding a way that the digital world doesn’t become too intrusive, and there’s still a balance with the other experiences that people want in an art gallery.”
The NGS has used a variety of information types on the app, including audio guides, written information and links to other artworks. “We have an expectation from audiences to provide interpretation, education or insight or expertise through any channels that they may wish. Bearing in mind how many people use digital devices for their main means of communication and information, I think galleries have to expect that that’s how people are consuming now.
“People respond to artworks in different ways. The audio has been very effective, but maybe that’s no surprise as audio guides have been used in galleries for a long time.”
The app also reflects a move towards the organisation becoming more digital as a whole, with attempts to integrate digital working more fully into other parts of the NGS, says Quinn. “We’re becoming much more digital as an organisation and are currently rolling out our digital engagement strategy,” says Quinn. “The first line of that will be working collaboratively across organisations. It means we’re moving away from the model of having a digital department that did everything to do with digital channels to broadening that out. Our whole organisation will be participating and collaborating to produce digital output.”
Challenges the partners faced included the limited wi-fi within the galleries, and broader issues with marketing the app. The project team set aside £2000 to market the technology, which, Quinn says, fell short of what was needed, and was one of the main learning outcomes. “I would advise people to really think about how you’re going to tell people about the digital product – how are you going to market it, how are you going to distribute it? There’s a lot of great digital products out there that have no audience because people don’t know about them, and that’s really critical.
“You also have to sustain your digital product – it’s not like a print publication, you don’t put it to one side. Digital developments do not stop. Once you’ve built it you have to keep looking after it.”
Quinn and her team have already used some of the information learnt from the project in developing another app that supports their latest exhibition, Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Art.
Overall, the project was a success, Quinn says, and part of that was due to taking some risks to innovate. Risk-taking is something she says the organisation would benefit from doing again. “I was asked, ‘Did you create something better because you tried to innovate?’ I think we did. It wasn’t easier, but I think ultimately it was probably more valuable.
“The R&D project has been hugely beneficial. The fact that we’ve got ArtHunter, which is an app we’re really proud of, is amazing. We found the whole thing very useful. It’s brought us out of our own bubble and made us see a little bit more what’s happening out there.”
Senior Curator at NGS; curator of “Artist Rooms: Louise Bourgeois, a Woman without Secrets”
“For every exhibition, Shona Cameron [from the digital team] speaks to the curators and talks about the themes and ideas that might work for ArtHunter, and we identify what might be appropriate.
“For Bourgeois, we felt the work Cell XIV (Portrait) would work really well for the theme that would be developed for the app around the colour red, because the colour is such a major symbolic part of Bourgeois’ work.
“We chose to do an audio piece, and we were able to point to other works in the exhibition where the colour red is a crucial component. We were able to pick a theme that’s very personal to Bourgeois’ work and that resonates not just with that work but with other works in the show.
“Our visitors want different ways of interpreting the work: some people like to read something on a wall, some people just want to see it for its own sake and some people want to go through their phone and see what they can discover. Having that additional level of content is really important, and it's something we're speaking about in very great detail for Generation.
“It's been good with ArtHunter to think about different kinds of interpretation — anything from a piece of audio or video or a related image. It could be another piece of text or literature, a biography of a third person who’s referred to by the artist. There are so many ways it can give that type of deeper engagement with the work – that's a really important and accessible way in for our visitors.
"It can change the way people interact with art in a gallery. We’ve only had a policy in the national galleries relatively recently where people can take photographs. But rather than just seeing an exhibition through the lens of your iPad, the way ArtHunter really works is to take you back to the work. You’re there with the object and it’s making you look at it again.
“I find working with Tessa and her team really fruitful. There’s a big desire for different kinds of content, and ArtHunter allows us to present a lot of content without cluttering up the space where the artwork is shown.
“As a curator, allowing people to see the art, allowing it to breathe in its own space and not being kind of cluttered by interpretative panels is really important. It’s a secondary benefit of having those things on a mobile device. You can do all those different things with it, and it’s discreet. You can take as much or as little as you want from it.”
End-user of ArtHunter; student at Edinburgh College of Art
“If I’m going to an exhibition, I’ll usually look at the gallery’s website first to see if there’s anything in particular I want to see. And when I’m there I find I’m endlessly picking up bits of paper if I think they’ll provide me with more information, and especially stuff that I can take home with me. That way I can go home and absorb it in the comfort of my own home.
“For the Louise Bourgeois exhibition, the ArtHunter app was really good — having the audio was especially great. It would be good to have more of the works in the show on the app, and it would be nice to delve even deeper.
“Being allowed to use your mobile probably encourages a wider audience to a gallery — I know I’ve snuck my phone in to galleries to take a quick snap and do further research on it when I get home. If you’re new to the whole gallery experience and are maybe of a younger generation, then it’s second nature using your mobile, even in a gallery.
“Overall I’ve found it a really useful tool — it feels like it’s all about inclusion, and that’s all-important.”