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Cultural Institutions Turn to Tech to Heighten Customer Experience, On-Site and Off

Customer experience isn't limited to the world of retail or financial institutions or the realm of software vendors. Cultural institutions are also getting in on the act, exploring how technology, including augmented reality, can enhance their patrons' customer experience (CX).

"Arts institutions, such as museums and performing arts centers, are leveraging technology to improve the customer experience, from end-to-end both on-site and off-site," said Brendan Ciecko, founder and CEO of Cuseum, a vendor of digital tools designed for cultural institutions.

Ciecko said a growing number of arts organizations are looking to emerging technologies like augmented reality (AR) to provide a wide range of new conveniences and in an effort to attract younger and more diverse audiences. The introduction of the new tools has the added benefit of providing organizations with new, previously unavailable data points to inform future programming.

Art and AR, Perfect Together?
The British Museum in London has conducted a number of experiments with both virtual and augmented reality in the last few years. One pilot project used augmented reality to enhance the experience of viewing specific Rodin sculptures. A free app download directed patrons to specific marked points, where they were instructed to scan QR codes and interact with augmented elements on their touchscreen. An audio element shared different stories inspired by each statue, tailored to the existing shapes, forms and materials of the artifacts.

“We’ve always been passionate about AR’s ability to empower people to dig deeper — to use their smartphone camera to dive headlong into an additional level of interactive content, accessed through objects and spaces in the world around them,” said Caspar Thykier, CEO and co-founder of Zappar, a developer of AR experiences and tools. “Museums and galleries are a fantastic arena for this, with AR experiences transforming passive viewers into active participants and driving valuable conversations between visitors, artworks (and their subjects), artists and institutions alike.”

The advantage of AR, according to Thykier, is it uses digital space when physical space is often at a premium, enabling digital storytelling via smartphone, leveraging video, animations and mini-games to communicate everything from gallery heritage, to the exploration of artistic themes, to showcasing how a piece of art was conceived and constructed.

Related Article: AR and VR Could Be Mainstream Sooner Than You Think

Engaging Opera Goers
With the On Site Opera mobile app, audiences can follow along with supertitle translations on their device, and read along to learn more about the production and the artists. With the perceived language barrier being one of the things that intimidates potential opera patrons from attending a performance, this app brings a comprehensive resource to help audiences fully engage with the work.

"Initially, the implementation of a mobile app for supertitles was a necessary solution to a problem." said Piper Gunnarson, On Site Opera's executive director. "Even audiences who are fluent in the language of the opera’s text like to follow along with the text. But once we started using the app, we discovered that it opens up new possibilities, such as offering titles in multiple languages so that audience members can toggle to a language that is more comfortable for them. If the tech offers that capability, why limit ourselves and our audiences to a single language? It opens up a new conversation about opera, about audiences, and about story-telling."

Additionally, before the performance, the app shares information about upcoming performances and announcements of new productions and events, and afterward, provides audiences a peek into the productions with video content.

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Providing Audiences With the Whole Picture
At any given time, 90% of a museum's collection is hidden away from public view, carefully maintained in storage, said Jeff Hunt, the founder and CEO of Snap36, provider of 3-D spin photography solutions.

The Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Minneapolis Institute of Art all are using 360° and 3-D imagery for increasing access to the incredible variety of pieces they house. They have cameras with very high-resolution lenses (a typical lens shoots at 2500x2500, the museums needed 10,000x10,000) to carefully photograph tens of thousands of artifacts and priceless art, ranging from 2,000-year-old tapestries to abstract sculptures created by world-renowned artists.

Once the images were captured, the museums used a process called photogrammetry to stitch the images together to create CGI models, according to Hunt.

Some museums created apps that viewers could access on their phones. Others shared the images on their websites. And others used the images for interactive kiosks near the actual pieces so visitors could interact with the object they were seeing.

Related Article: How 5G Will Impact Augmented and Virtual Reality Use

Barnes Foundation Puts AI to Use on Its Website
The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia is home to a collection of impressionist, post-impressionist and modernist paintings. The institution partnered with Artrendex to create a website experience where potential visitors could browse the collection based on the visual elements of art, rather than by artist name, medium or era. The technology, ArtPI, employs neural networks to train its algorithms on images, using more than 250,000 artworks for its initial training phase. The more works encountered by the algorithm, the more nuanced the results. Visitors can choose to view images based on colors, lines, style, light or space and ArtPI curates a personal experience.

“AI is often used to label images and objects in them, and ArtPI can also find works by subject matter,” explained Ahmed Elgammal, Rutgers University professor of computer science and founder and CEO of Artrendex. “But you don’t always just want to find painting of dogs or putti. Sometimes you want a particular style of lighting or line. We’ve trained our algorithms to identify these elements and principles of art, based on foundational art historians’ approaches. By working with the visual elements instead of content labels or other metadata like artists or era, you can find art you didn’t know existed and see its connections with other works.”