Lowe Art Museum - Kress Collection
Community Voices Online & In-gallery
The Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami launched Hidden Stories – New Voices as an online digital interactive in Fall 2020. This online exhibition offers interpretative clues and background information related to 18 works of art in the Lowe’s Samuel H. Kress Collection of European Renaissance and Baroque art. Most importantly, it provides a platform for non-specialists to share their thoughts and ideas about the highlighted works; particularly as they are related to contemporary lived experience.
Funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, this project was originally designed as an in-gallery interactive experience. With the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, however, the Lowe’s team re-imagined the experience as a born-digital online exhibition. Debuting the application as an online digital interactive distributed through the Museum’s website (as well as other marketing channels) ensured the app could serve broader audiences.
Complementary programming, such as Zoom lectures, enhanced the app’s content while also helping to keep our community engaged despite the Lowe’s pandemic-related suspension of onsite operations. Perhaps most importantly, online access enhanced a core objective of the project: to “empower those who feel voiceless both within our walls and on our website.”
When the Museum reopens to the public, visitors will find a touch-free monitor in the Lowe’s Kress Galleries that previews the online experience as well as a related QR code so that they can explore Hidden Stories – New Voices on their own devices. Once touch screens are again permitted under CDC and UM guidelines, an in-gallery touch screen will be activated, in keeping with the project’s original vision.
- Advanced Interactives
- Web Form/Survey Tool
- Project Engagement
- In-gallery Interactives
- Online Exhibitions
The museum team started the project with a few fundamental questions:
- What does a 14th-century panel painting mean to a “Gen Z” student?
- How can museums help non-specialists, novices, or first-time visitors feel more at ease with and engaged by historical collections?
- And what can our field do to empower those who feel voiceless both within our walls and on our websites?
An important facet of helping visitors connect to the collection is helping to surface the narratives in each painting. The figures, objects, motifs, and even the materials used in the paintings were essential to the artist communicating a message to patrons and the public.
The digital medium enables easily digestible content depth through visual design.
Illuminating these hidden stories and signals was key to the content strategy. The CultureConnect team and Lowe Art Museum focused on approaches to surfacing the painting’s interpretation and sharing visual references to help visitors make clear connections. The final app structure introduces audiences to paintings through these lenses:
- The Artwork: first and foremost, the museum team wanted to ensure visitors could engage with the painting directly, without distraction, as they would during an onsite visit. The Artwork page offers a zoomable, hi-res image of the painting without text.
- Symbols + Stories: This facet shares the background narrative of the work paired with an image carousel that magnifies details and meaning behind important figures, objects, and symbols within the painting.
- Artist + Style: This section helps build context around the artist’s life, style, and artistic influences. When art history terminology is used, a definition is always highlighted to ensure the interpretation is accessible to both art lovers and novices alike. The digital medium enables easily digestible content depth through visual design.
- Voices: in service to the project mission, the museum team wanted to empower audiences to reflect and respond to each painting. Using the web form, this section lists 7 prompts to encourage users to share their reactions. An adjacent image carousel features previous responses.
- Time Travel: Global and historical context is provided so that audiences are able to see significant world events contemporaneous to when the artwork was created.
- Contemporary Connections: in the final section of each painting’s journey, the museum team helps create connections to our lives today. It quickly becomes clear that these paintings tell timeless stories and often reflect human struggles that we experience in contemporary society.
Gathering Voices with Web Forms
Creating opportunities for the museum’s audience to share their thoughts, reactions, and questions as they explore the Kress collection was essential to the project’s mission and, therefore, the application’s content strategy.
The Web Form is like a survey tool that can be customized & activated on any content page in a CultureConnect application. Elements that you can mix and match include: text, images, dropdown menus, multiple choice, checkboxes, multi-line inputs for responses, single-line inputs for email addresses and phone numbers, document download (e.g. PDFs), and more.
The Lowe Art Museum uses the web form to create two-way communication with their visitors and empower visitors to speak openly about their experiences with the collection. Most features in standard survey tools are available on the platform as well as detailed design controls so that the forms can seamlessly fit into the digital interactive’s look & feel.
The museum team provided prompts for the user to reflect upon after viewing and learning about the artwork. The same prompts were provided for each artwork and the user could choose to answer any or all questions and provide as short or long responses as desired.
The prompts were designed to be accessible to non-academic or non-expert audiences. Some prompts developed by the Lowe Art Museum team include:
- What 5 words come to mind when you first look at the artwork?
- Write three questions you want answered about the artwork.
- How do you relate or connect to this work of art? Or not?
- Who do you think this artwork was created for? Why do you say that?
- What does this artwork say about the people or time period in which it was produced?
- Create a Haiku. The first line has 5 syllables, the next 7 syllables, and the third 5 syllables.
- How might your own upbringing, beliefs, and biases shape your interpretation of the artwork?
The museum team collects the responses, curates a selection, and plans to periodically add new responses to the public facing application. This provides all users of the application a diversity of perspectives of the artwork, beyond the museum’s interpretation.
“This project drove us to think about how can we illustrate relevancy for classical art and offer opportunities for inclusivity.”
– Dr. Mark Osterman, Digital Experience Manager and Head of Education, Lowe Art Museum
Transitioning to an In-Gallery Experience
Due to the pandemic, the museum had to alter its initial plans for this project to be launched as a large touch screen interactive installed alongside the artworks in the Kress galleries. The project initially launched instead as an online exhibition that lives on the museum’s website, is
When the Museum reopens to the public, visitors will find a touch-free monitor in the Lowe’s Kress Galleries that previews the online experience as well as a related QR code so that they can explore Hidden Stories – New Voices on their own devices.
As a web-based application with responsive design, it can easily open on a user’s phone. Responsive design means the elements on the page rearrange for portrait orientation and a smaller screen, even though the application was designed initially for larger screen sizes.
Once touch screens are again permitted under CDC and UM guidelines, an in-gallery touch screen will be activated and replace the view-only monito and thus keeping with the project’s original vision. However, the QR code providing visitors the option to open on their own devices will likely remain.
Visit the Lowe Art Museum’s Digital Experiences Collection