GLAMi nomination: The SFMOMA App

nominated by: Keir Winesmith, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, USA
institution: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
category: Museum-Wide Guide or Program

The SFMOMA app is the first mobile experience in the cultural sector to combine cutting edge location-aware technology with rich and diverse audio storytelling, in what we hope is a new standard for the field. The app features a new breed of guided narratives that take you through the museum’s seven floors of galleries and public spaces, as well as onto the surrounding streets of San Francisco. These 15–45 minute Immersive Walks feature a range of fascinating and unexpected hosts, including high-wire walker Philippe Petit, Avery Trufelman from the 99% Invisible podcast, Academy Award-winning documentarian Errol Morris, and comedians Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani from HBO’s Silicon Valley. Production values are akin to those of This American Life or Radio Lab, with richly layered soundtracks accompanying personal narratives.

Visitors can also choose from hundreds of snack-sized (60-90 second), on-demand Nearby Audio stops, featuring reflections and responses to artworks in the galleries from composers, comedians, artists, playwrights, aerial dancers, pagan ministers and even experimental “elevator music” commissioned specifically for the app. A selection of Nearby Audio content has been translated into Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French, and German, including detailed Audio Descriptions of artworks designed to afford blind and low-vision visitors a new way to experience the art.

In addition to revolutionary content, the SFMOMA app also provides visitors with map-based point-to-point directions to exhibitions, events, and even curated groupings of must-see artworks. As visitors move around the museum, these listings auto-update to display the closest content first using a path-based sorting algorithm.

The app also auto-generates a Timeline, which organizes audio tracks heard and photos taken into a shareable visual log of the user’s visit.


Finally, the SFMOMA app’s unique Sync feature allows friends and family to listen to the same content together, providing a social listening experience that has never before been available in the museum setting, which according to Wired magazine, “will forever change how you enjoy museums.”

Whether visitors takes an immersive walk or chooses to listen to nearby audio, they will discover a wide range of stories, in line with their own passions and interests. A selection of top priority requirements are listed below:

  • Serve as an essential part of the SFMOMA experience with the express goal to target first-time visitors to the museum, with an emphasis on visitors aged 13 to 45
  • Engage the community in unexpected ways with artists and art for our time
  • Contextualize SFMOMA and its collection in ways that are accessible and informative, surprising and humorous, making visitors feel like SFMOMA is a place for them
  • Connect visitors with each other as well as the art and building around them
  • Deliver streaming content for visitors who use their own devices
  • Select language localization

Below are some listening samples for those unable to visit SFMOMA in person: