Blue Star Museums Blog (Archive)

Tech-Savvy Museums to Geek Out With

Believe it or not, the iPhone---a device that revolutionized mobile smartphone technology---was released less than six years ago. The first iPhone hit the market on June 29, 2007 and just half-a-dozen years later, nearly 46 percent of American adults are smartphone users.

It's a trend that museums around the country are wisely recognizing and incorporating into their education and marketing programs. Where phones were once forbidden and photography was off-limits, more and more museums are opening the visitor experience to a wider range of technological options. Across the country, museums of every discipline are getting on the digital bandwagon---from smartphone apps that allow users to create their own Warhol-inspired prints to a "soundscape" of New York Harbor that shares personal stories from refugees. Many institutions participating in Blue Star Museums are finding ways of using digital technology and smartphone apps to communicate and educate new audiences. If you're looking to experience Blue Star Museums in new interactive ways, check out these technological pioneers who are taking the "hands on" museum experience to a touch-screen, mobile device near you.

The Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

This museum's list of smartphone applications runs the gamut of creative, biographical, and augmented reality experiences. This blogger's favorite is DIY: Pop, the museum's app that allows users to create unique, Warhol-esque digital prints from their smartphone's image library, helping to reveal the artistic process behind Warhol's silkscreen technique along the way. Users can crop, expose, and apply the images with digital "paint" to finalize each work to their liking, and can then share the resulting piece of pop art on various social media outlets.

The museum's second application, Warhol: Art, provides insight into Warhol's life, creative process, and artwork through the collection's archival materials, letters, source images, film, video clips, and audio commentary. Even if you cannot make the trip to Pittsburgh this summer, Warhol: Art can help you pepper a little Warhol into your life. However, if you do happen to be in Pittsburgh, Warhol's hometown, and you feel the need to walk in the artist's shoes, no problem. The Andy Warhol Museum has another app for that. The Layar application uses augmented reality technology to transform your smartphone into a Warhol-finder, identifying locations pivotal to the artist's career overlayed on real-time images from your phone as you walk the city. The app also works in New York where Warhol's later career was centered.

A visitor to the Cleveland Museum of Art explores the massive touch-screen Collection Wall and thumbs through the museum's permanent collection at the Gallery One exhibit. Photo by Meghan Stockdale, Cleveland Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, Ohio)

Take one guess as to where you can find America's largest multi-touch screen. It's not at CNN headquarters or a top-secret basement nestled in Silicon Valley, but rather in the heart of the Midwest at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The museum's new Gallery One exhibit is bringing technology into the gallery space in a BIG way. The 40-foot-tall touch-screen Collection Wall offers museum-goers the opportunity to create their own tours of the museum by exploring the permanent collection's 3,500 objects. The hands-on technology of Gallery One also offers new ways for viewers to interact with visual art. For example, the museum's ArtLens iPad app allows visitors to explore the artistic process of select works, as well as learn about the artist experience.

In a gallery with panoramic views of New York Harbor, the Museum of Jewish Heritage features the Voices of Liberty exhibition, presenting refugee stories in an award-winning, interactive, digital experience to link the past to the present. Photo by Melanie Einzig

Museum of Jewish Heritage (New York, New York)

The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York has embraced technology as an educational tool through various sensory experiences. The museum's Voices of Liberty exhibit is described as a "soundscape of diverse voices," and uses smartphone technology as the apparatus to listen to first-hand tales of Holocaust survivors and refugees who sought a new homeland in the United States. The exhibit is held in a room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island, providing a visual backdrop as visitors hear the testimonies of individuals arriving in America for the first time. Users' iPhones or iPod Touch devices detect the movement of each exhibition visitor, and automatically plays new stories as they navigate the room. Mobile technology isn't a new concept for the Museum of Jewish Heritage however. Nearly two years ago, the museum launched a smartphone app to coincide with their 2011 exhibition, Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles. Narrated from the perspective of  Jewish-American poet Emma Lazarus, the free app functioned as a walking tour that physically and visually guided users back through time to the Gilded Age of New York City. GPS technology triggered users' mobile devices to play audio commentary and display historic photographs that correlated with the 19 notable locations featured on the app.

A visitor at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston tours a gallery with her handheld mobile guide. Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, Massachusetts)

In partnership with, a project funded in part by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has introduced a cutting-edge mobile museum guide. The mobile guide uses video and audio excerpts from museum professionals and artists to invite visitors to further explore the collection. Users can select various themed collections, artistic mediums, and highlights to explore as they walk through the museum, or can peruse the collection for seascapes, nudes, feasts, or even monkeys! Additionally, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston created a special mobile tour for children that use three entertaining and educational animated characters to introduce kids to the collection.

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