16 ago 2021|News|4 minuti

Social Distancing & Museums: don't touch the art ... or anything else copy

Why the global pandemic marks the end of the rented audio guide.

With museums in China and Germany reopening, and many others around the world planning their next move, we have taken a moment to think about the initial steps to remobilise the museum sector.

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People wearing face masks visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art as it reopens to members after the pandemic closure, on August 27, 2020 in New York City, NY. (Photo by Liao Pan/China News Service via Getty Images)

Many of the responses discussed various levels of social distancing, from queue management to how closely artworks are hung.

“You need to find a way to enforce social distancing […] think about how close objects are to each other. Can I look at painting A while you look at painting B safely?”

As one respondent puts it ‘“I go to grocery stores now. I’d go to a museum that was showing the same precautions.”

Museums Association director Sharon Heal has already suggested that smaller museums could be the safest to reopen as they are “well-suited” to appointment viewings with “set route[s]”.

Cultural destinations cautiously reopening in China are already implementing some of these measures with required face masks, limited visitors and online ticketing while museums opening in Germany are requiring visitors use credit cards instead of cash and are providing plexiglass shields for ticket desks.

Whilst social distancing now feels like second nature to most, there will be one change unique to cultural institutions: the global pandemic marks the end of the handheld rented audio guide provided by museums and even throws the viability of group guided tours into question for the time being.

Even with timed entrances, traditional hardware such as audio devices, headsets and even state-of-the-art virtual reality goggles are, at a base level, surfaces that may collect germs that put visitors at risk.

If we’re living in a world where we are all more hesitant to shake hands for years to come, the idea of visitors feeling comfortable picking up a device that has been potentially handled by hundreds if not thousands of visitors is unthinkable.

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Smartify app tour page and artwork stop © Smartify

This is where universal apps with easy to use content creation tools that work across multiple museums come in. For example, Smartify tours are built and edited directly by staff using our management dashboard with drag and drop tools.

With venue personalisation options and an already engaged audience of over 1.5 Million users this kind of BOYD option is not only safer for visitors but can also become the basis for a resilient digital-first business model.

Visitors can download tours offline if the museum has connectivity issues; the app can process payment transactions; and it shifts visitors from “leaning in” to read exhibitions panels to looking at their own personal devices.

Mary Beard Trail Screenshot mockup
Smartify museum tour dashboard © Smartify

The value of BYOD in this context is even beyond the assurance that the only person touching your device is you.

On a platform like Smartify, where museums receive feedback on audience preferences and routes through museums, it will be possible to highlight potential hot zones in museums before they become an issue.

AI assisted tour generation could mean suggesting routes through museums to visitors based on current capacity levels in order to avoid bottlenecks whilst offering interesting, personalised experiences.

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Push notifications on the Smartify app © Smartify

Push notifications can be employed for timed ticketing, exhibition advertising for off-peak times and even proximity alerts for guests. Not to mention an increase in accessibility with immediately available text-to-speech, large text object interpretation and multiple language translation available at the press of a button.

As museums explore everything from Animal Crossing art collections to telepresence robots that can be guided around museums in your place, now is the time for BYOD to become an integral part of the museum experience.

BYOD offers not only a more sanitary way to deliver important museum content but also potentially brings with it a number of tools to empower museums around the world to reopen safely.

This is a museum, please keep your phone in hand.

To learn more about Smartify, a membership-based Saas platform that offers the latest user-tested technology at a fraction of the price, please visit our products and services webpage.

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Molly Skinner

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