Museum Bridges Art and Tech with 40-Foot Collection Wall

The Cleveland Museum of Art is introducing new technology to enhance the visitor experience. With a special application designed for the iPad and a 40-foot interactive touchscreen, patrons can personalize and share tours, bookmark their favorite art, and access special videos and behind-the-scenes information for different exhibits. In the process, the Cleveland Gallery One program may serve as a model for museums and other venues.

“Every museum is searching for this holy grail, this blending of technology and art,” says David Franklin, the museums’ director.

“In the museum world, everyone’s watching Cleveland right now,” adds museum consultant Erin Coburn. “They’ve put a lot out there for other museums to learn from.” Coburn notes that while other museums are experimented with various interactive technologies, Cleveland’s program is “truly groundbreaking.”

The process starts with visitors standing before a 40-foot-wide touchscreen, where more than 3,500 works from the museum’s permanent collection are reduced to the size of a greeting card. From there, visitors can transfer the art they are interested in seeing to their iPad and create a personalized tour that others can also access if they desire. For those who do not have the Apple tablet, they can rent an iPad from the museum for 5 dollars a day.

“Standing 5 feet by 40 feet, the wall is composed of 150 Christie MicroTiles and displays more than 23 million pixels, which is the equivalent of more than twenty-three 720p HDTVs,” explains the museum website. “The Christie iKit multi-touch system allows multiple users to interact with the wall, simultaneously opening as many as twenty separate interfaces across the Collection Wall to explore the collection.”

Related videos offer patrons an opportunity to learn more about artists and processes directly from the tablet. “But putting the same video on a wall next to the artwork would have distracted some visitors,” suggests The New York Times. “The iPad app, said Mr. Franklin, lets the galleries return to their roots, as places where art is shown without a lot of bells and whistles, something he says Clevelanders, many of whom have been coming to the museum their entire lives, appreciate.”

There are also interactive applications to help visitors become more familiar with the art. “Look into a camera, make a face, and the screen displays pieces from the museum with similar facial expressions,” explains the article. “If there’s a serious point, it’s that for thousands of years artists, despite differing media and styles, have conveyed similar human emotions.”

“Another screen lets you take the elements of a large tapestry depicting the myth of Perseus, and rearrange them in either comic book or movie-trailer format,” explains NYT. While the interactivity is fun, its purpose is serious. Jake Barton, president of Local Projects design firm in Manhattan, suggests the idea is to help people understand the tapestry as “a storytelling machine.”

“People come to museums for storytelling and engagement,” said Barton, “and the technology needs to facilitate that.” Barton is planning on developing digital features for other museums including the National September 11 Memorial Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The Cleveland approach has so far been very successful and in the future the museum plans to offer versions for Android and other Apple devices while continuing to develop new features for the interactive display.