Royal Holloway Picture Gallery

Supporting a small team to manage the Victorian Picture Gallery at Royal Holloway University of London

Royal Holloway Picture Gallery hosts a collection of Victorian paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings and watercolours including works by William Powell Frith, John Everett Millais and Edward Burne-Jones. Recent additions to the collection include works by Augustus John and Graham Sutherland. The collection and gallery space is managed by a tiny team with support from dedicated volunteers.

The challenge

Staff were looking for a way to engage students and visitors with the stories of each painting in their world-class collection. One of the immediate challenges was that the Grade 1 listed Picture Gallery was also used for event hire and University exams. The multipurpose space has no formal information desk, isn't staffed full-time and does not have traditional interpretation you would expect to find in a typical museum building. Staff were not sure what works visitors were most interested in and had no way to capture audience feedback. The University only had a small budget and needed a low-cost solution that would punch above it’s weight.

Our solution

Smartify worked with the Gallery in an iterative way over a two year period. During the first year we loaded up the collection into the app and began promoting the tool to visitors via a simple sign at the gallery entrance. We monitored analytics to see which works were scanned and saved the most. We also sent out a survey via the app to gain additional feedback from users about what content they would find useful. In the second year of our collaboration we used the data from visitors onsite experiences to inform the creation of three tours focusing on different themes within the collection and a tour with visual descriptions for visitors with low-vision.

The results

The implementation of Smartify proved an easy, low-cost and successful tool for engaging students and visitors with the collection. Check out the tours created either by downloading the native app or the progressive web app on the links below:

In the words of Royal Holloway’s collection manager and curator Laura MacCulloch, “Smartify has been so useful, particularly during COVID-19 – we would barely be open digitally if it weren’t for Smartify but we feel like we are keeping up with others in the sector despite being a small team because of Smartify.”

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