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Cool App Roundup: Arts Organization Edition

Cool App Roundup: Arts Organization Edition

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This Cool App Roundup from the App It Up project will focus on apps for arts organizations, with a practical twist.

We'll share some interesting apps developed for arts organizations, but also some insights into the development process and lessons that these organizations learned.

Discovering Public Art with Public Art Omaha

Wouldn't it be cool if there was a way to help people find, learn about, and engage with public art? What if you could walk by an amazing sculpture or mural and instantly learn more about it using your mobile device?

Public Art Omaha created a searchable online database and mobile apps (for Apple and Android) that do just that.

The really cool thing is how Public Art Omaha did it: their public art database and mobile apps were created by Information Science and Technology students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. This was a great way for the students to contribute to their community and to get practical, hands-on app development experience.

And check out Code For America's roundup of mobile art discovery tools for even more ways to use mobile devices to discover and engage with public art.

Engaging Audiences at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

James Im, New Media Manager at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), was kind enough to share his organization's experiences with us here at TechSoup.

YBCA has developed apps with both educational and social components: they created a mobile exhibition guide to complement an interactive multimedia exhibition, exploring connections between the artist's influences and the exhibit, in the artist's own words. They also created a mobile app in conjunction with a Valentine-themed evening event to create a real-time "dating game" (with an artsy slant, of course).

Here's what YBCA learned:

  • Apps can provide opportunities for learning and engagement. For example, YBCA's audiences loved having access to artists' own unfiltered words.
  • But beware of sensory overload. The multimedia components of their app sometimes competed with the already media-rich and interactive exhibition.
  • Educate app users. They found that audiences wanted more education on using the particular app and generally about using mobile apps in an arts exhibition context.
  • Don't forget the human component. As YBCA Executive Director Ken Foster told ArtsFwd, "When we first started we were in love with the gadgets. We thought, Oh, how cool that I can carry my phone around and I can have this conversation. Our first surprise is that people said, I’d rather react to a real person than talk to my screen."

Deciding on a Native App or a Mobile Web App

Many organizations, like the MoMA, choose to build a "native" app, developed for a specific device or operating system (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, etc.). But this isn’t the only option. Unlike a native app, a mobile web app is "device agnostic," meaning it can be used on almost any device with a mobile web browser.

The Dallas Museum of Art offers web app-based smARTphone Tours that are compatible with most mobile devices. They also have some mobile devices that can be checked out free of charge for use in the museum, expanding access to the mobile tours even further. The DuSable Museum of African American History's mobile web app likewise runs on most mobile devices with a web browser.

Native apps and web apps each have advantages and disadvantages. To learn more, take a look at EDUCAUSE’s 7 Things You Should Know About Mobile App Development.

And to see how other museums are innovating with mobile, including multimedia smartphone guides, check out what The New York Times has to say here.

Tell Us What You Think

Are you an arts organization? Do you use apps, or have you created one for your organization? What would you like to see in an app? Or, if you are an arts lover, what would you like your favorite arts organization to offer in an app?

Learn More

Many thanks to the arts organizations who shared time, thoughts, and recommended resources with us, as well as to TechSoup's Michael DeLong for capturing and sharing their insights.

Photo: 1 hr photo

by Ariel Gilbert-Knight, Director, Content, TechSoup

  • Thank you for the pingback to Ken Foster and the brilliant team at YBCA are a great reference as they experiment with new technologies as they come and learn very quickly to shift away if something is not working with their audiences. They know to plan ahead for the pace of technology, while not adopting every new thing just to say they have an app for that.

  • ArtsFwd, thanks for such a great series of interviews! It was inspiring to read about how so many different organizations are innovating with technology, and so helpful to hear the back story on how/why they did what they did, and what they learned.