Building Community Beyond Campus

Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute creates transformational arts experiences that enlighten, educate, and inspire. With digital interpretation available onsite, online, and on visitors’ personal devices, the Museum team strives to share their permanent collection in the context of the art history canon while going one step further to reveal hidden issues of race, gender, and class. Using technology, the Museum team helps visitors discover their collection’s layered history, diverse historical experiences, and contemporary community perspectives.

Since launching their first digital interpretation app with CultureConnect in 2018, the Munson-Williams team has quickly become one of the most active organizations on the platform. They’ve launched a mobile guide, scavenger hunt, in-gallery kiosk program, and been a partner in the development of image recognition technology. Through technology, the Museum team is able to serve the campus community, the larger Utica community, and broader national audiences.

Services
  • Project Engagement
  • Custom Development
Products
  • Mobile Guide
  • Scavenger Hunt
  • Digital Labels
  • Scoring Modules
  • Image Recognition

An Historic Mansion with a Diverse Collection

Munson-Williams first launched an audio guide with CultureConnect in 2018. The guide helped visitors learn about the Museum’s permanent collection as well as navigate between the Museum’s two spaces: the Victorian-era historic mansion, Fountain Elms and the modern Museum of Art building designed by Philip Johnson.

Patron, Artist, Muse: Women of MWP was the first in the series of public tours, and takes the visitor through the collection by tracing the roles of women – as founders and collectors, as inspiration and subject, and as the makers of masterworks.

The content is conversational in style and includes audio and text comments from Museum curators and artist Kay WalkingStick. Once publicly launched, the Museum team quickly moved forward with new public tours to expand conversations around the collection and exhibitions.

Current Tours include:

  • Let’s Talk Art: a conversation-based Museum guide suitable for a diverse range of ages and abilities which works especially well with memory care patients and caregivers
  • Hidden Treasures: A scavenger hunt leading visitors outside the Museum and through the city, tracing the Munson Williams Proctor family’s legacy from city parks to the public library with creative challenges along the way
  • Surviving Pandem-onium: a scavenger hunt journey exploring the impact of plagues, epidemics and disease throughout history
  • Emma Amos: Color Odyssey: an interactive exhibition tour that invites visitor responses to quotes from artists, activists, and community members about the artist, her art, feminism, and civil rights
  • Coming Into View – Call and Response: features eight members of the greater Utica  African American community responding through audio, text, and other media to artworks in the exhibition

"The audio is almost as compelling as the artwork itself."

– Museum Visitor

Close Looking with Image Recognition

The audio guide is distributed across multiple channels to ensure ease of access for all audiences. Munson-Williams distributes their app via the App Store, Google Play, and their website. In 2020, the Museum Education Department approached CultureConnect for a custom development project, Image Recognition technology. 

Image Recognition is the technology foundation for the Munson-Williams’ current series, Coming Into View. Through the use of image recognition, the Museum team could simplify way-finding, encourage a sense of discovery and exploration among visitors, and streamline access to their interpretive content. 

Coming Into View – Image Recognition

The Coming Into View series has two primary goals:

  • Delight and educate through technology: image recognition prompts visitors to literally look closer at collection artworks and discover deeper stories. Once content is triggered, visitors can engage with audio, video, images and gifs as well as discover connections with collections from other American institutions. 
  • Delight and educate through meaningful content: the Coming Into View series highlights BIPOC artists and artisans working in America over the past 300 years. The first Coming Into View series creates connections between the artists and artisans accepted in the art history canon, for example, between Thomas Cole and Robert S. Duncanson. Cole’s work is in the Museum’s collection, and his contemporary, Duncanson, an African American painter is not represented in the Munson-Williams collection but his work in the Smithsonian American Art Museum is reproduced for comparison, with a link for more information. The second series, Coming Into View – Call and Response opens up the collection interpretation to members of the Utica community. Here, members of the local African American community respond to artworks in the Call and Response: Collecting African American Art exhibition, and share their personal experiences and interpretations through text, personal images, audio, and video. 

For onsite visitors using the mobile guide to explore the Museum and its collection, these Coming Into View content experiences are available throughout the galleries. By activating the Image Recognition tool, visitors can discover media-rich interpretive content about the permanent collection but also have the opportunity to engage in deeper learning across multiple museum collections.

A Look Inside – Historic Home Interpretation

While visitors are encouraged to explore via the Museum mobile guide, kiosk interpretation is also made available within four Victorian American style period rooms in Fountain Elms. Post COVID, a kiosk will be installed at the entrance to each room which includes the dining room, parlor, library, and master bedroom. The content is also available on smartphones and offsite. To explore the period rooms, visitors will activate the digital label image by selecting hotspots placed on key furniture, textiles, and decorative arts objects to dive into the stories behind each room.

The digital labels not only focus on interpreting objects, they help visitors understand Victorian Era domestic life, Victorian social etiquette, and the staff and tools required to maintain a large home. The labels also focus on revealing overlooked inequities in labor, trade, and civil rights that existed in the 1800s. These themes carry through all four period room digital labels and help make up core themes.

These shared themes included:

  • Nature Hunt: depictions of animals, real and mythological, are found throughout the rooms. The Nature Hunt experience encourages visitors, especially younger ones, to spot the animals around them and understand their symbolism.
  • Collection Spotlight: a video dive into one collection item on display in each period room. Viewing hidden spaces and surprising features, visitors have a rare opportunity to better understand the object’s construction and use.
  • Consider This: many museum collection stories come from a colonial perspective and Munson-Williams uses this section to acknowledge the imbalance in recorded histories and explore the problematic truths behind some of the objects in the collection and their production.
  • Museum Insider: video interviews with the “experts” at the museum – the Decorative Arts curators – give the visitor a glimpse of the issues and challenges that face museum staff: provenance, interpretation, conservation, and attribution.
  • Further Reading: want to know more? Each digital label offers a list of interesting reading if you’ve stumbled across a story that inspires you or makes you curious.

The digital labels make me wish that I lived across the street from the Museum so I could see the rooms in person.

– Virtual user from Virginia

Historic Home Exploration During COVID-19

With the onset of COVID-19 and consequent restrictions and limitations on visitors to the Museum, the Museum team quickly responded by launching a Virtual Resource landing page on their website. By making the web applications for their audio guide as well as their digital labels available to visitors at home, their community could continue to explore multimedia content, play games, and engage with the collection.

As the museum team transitions away from COVID-19 restrictions, the digital labels will once again be made available to visitors on kiosks however, visitors will also have access to the digital label content remotely as well as onsite on their personal phones by scanning QR codes.

“CultureConnect is the third platform we've worked with since we began developing audioguide over 20 years ago. They are very professional; encouraging experimentation, making you feel like anything is possible; and very importantly, prompt in their response and communication. While their production standards are high, their design isn't simply slick, but is appropriate to the product, the client, and users. What really hits home is how personable they are; we have rarely experienced the feeling that a company is as invested in us as is CultureConnect. Emily feels like a friend - we feel like we know her and she knows each of us.”

– April Oswald, Museum Education Director