Removing the barriers of Gallery One: a new approach to integrating art, interpretation, and technology

Jane Alexander, The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA, Lori Wienke, Cleveland Museum of Art, USA, Phillip Tiongson, Potion, USA


Gallery One has been an unqualified success for the Cleveland Museum of Art. After opening in 2013, individual attendance at the museum increased by 31% and the attendance of families increased by 29%. The pressure of improving on the successes along with the resistance to change expressed by some of our patrons has created unique challenges for our team. How might we reinvent the space while preserving the elements that our visitors value most? Through evaluation we have learned that visitors, although highly engaged in the digital interaction, do not always make the connection between the artwork on the screen and the physical artworks on view in the gallery. We wanted to understand why this was happening and to take the lessons learned from the first iteration to make strategic improvements in the second iteration. A primary challenge is to design a process that enables visitors to shift focus intentionally between artwork and digital, rather than have the two compete for visitor attention. We want to leverage the strengths of the scale and immersion of digital projection, combined with the physicality of gesture, the personalization of mobile devices, and ultimately, the power of an unmediated experience with artworks; we want to excite visitors to cross the conceptual and physical divide created by the museum’s atrium and dive into CMA’s permanent collections armed with new tools for looking closer. Our new focus is to create a tighter relationship between the artworks on display and the interpretive space of Gallery One. Come hear how our team has tackled these hurdles and how we hope to exceed the expectations created by the success of the original Gallery One, and how we plan to avoid the infamous fate of the “second album.”

Keywords: GalleryOne, digital, interactive, interpretation, innovation, future, ARTLENS Gallery


In June 2017, the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) will introduce the world to the ARTLENS Gallery, the second iteration of Gallery One. The ARTLENS Gallery will consist of the same four components as Gallery One. However, the components have been renamed as follows: the ArtLens Studio, the ArtLens App, the ArtLens Wall, and the Artlens Exhibition. ARTLENS will carry on the museum’s mission of using technology in a revolutionary way—that always and in all ways highlights and connects visitors to the world-renowned collection at the CMA. In launching the new and improved ARTLENS Gallery, the museum is reaffirming its commitment to interpretative technology as part of its permanent mission, and solidifying its position as a world leader in the integration of art and technology.

Figure 1: a preliminary plan for the new ArtLens Gallery at the Cleveland Museum of Art, highlighting ArtLens Studio, ArtLens Exhibition ArtLens Wall, ArtLens App and the ArtLens Gallery technology help desk

Why change Gallery One?

The original Gallery One has been an unqualified success for the Cleveland Museum of Art. There have been articles about Gallery One in many major publications, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. After the opening of Gallery One in 2013, individual attendance at the museum increased by 31%, and the attendance of families increased by 29%. Gallery One was featured as a Deep Dive symposium at a Museums and the Web Conference, and has been used as a case study in multiple publications, and for museums throughout the world. Over the last four years, almost every major museum has sent a director for site visits. Gallery One has won two Edison awards, four Museums and the Web awards, four Media and Technology Muse awards, and multiple major design awards.

Ultimately, the Gallery One project has successfully reinvented the museum experience for visitors of all ages and has promoted active engagement and personal discovery throughout the museum. The obvious question is, “Why change Gallery One?” The answer is simple. From its initial inception, the museum considered the original Gallery One to be more of a “proof of concept” than an endpoint. It was always the plan to improve and update each of the components. The last four years have provided an excellent opportunity to gather information: to interview visitors, track usage, and evaluate the effectiveness of each component. Using that feedback, successful new redesigns have already been completed for the ArtLens Studio (opened June 2016) and the ArtLens App (launched September 2016).  The next step is an update of the exhibition portion of ArtLens—the truly unique area in which a sophisticated and unprecedented integration of art and immersive technology provides interpretive content right alongside the artwork.

Figure 2: a rendering for the new graphic design of the ARTLENS Gallery on the atrium entrance

The changes planned for the ArtLens Exhibition space are ambitious and extensive in scope. From the physical conceptualization of the space through minute content details, everything is being re-evaluated and, when necessary, re-imagined.  In the original Gallery One, top quality works of art—including many visitor favorites—were organized into thematic groupings that cross culture, chronology, and media. Multi-touch screens embedded in the gallery space invite close examination of the objects on view. Placed 14 feet in front of the groupings of art objects, the screens offer interpretation and digital investigation of the art. In these interactives, each artwork in the installation is interpreted through storytelling hotspots with opportunities to explore artworks visually through magnification and rotation, and to discover their original context and location. Each interface has a series of “games” that invite visitors to engage with the art on view through questions and experiences.

For example, one of the first art installations that visitors encounter is titled “How Do Our Bodies Inspire Art?” It offers a broad look at CMA’s encyclopedic collections of sculpture, including an ancient Roman marble athlete, a ceramic Japanese Haniwa figure, a wooden African sculpture, and a bronze head by Rodin. The games in the interactive that interpret this installation encourage visitors to connect actively with the collection and see themselves in the art on view. “Strike a Pose” invites visitors to explore figurative sculpture by asking them to match the pose of a sculpture they see on the screen. A motion sensor records their pose, and the interactive determines how closely the visitor has approached the artist’s sculpted body. “Make a Face” offers visitors the chance to investigate the museum’s collection of portraits through face-recognition software—a webcam records their facial expressions and matches them to works in CMA’s collections. “Build in Clay” encourages visitors to make a sculpture in clay by virtually kneading, rolling, coiling, cutting, and assembling. Visitors can share all of their creations through email, Facebook, and Twitter.

In the original Gallery One, the “lenses” created the illusion of transparency; visitors looked through the lenses to the artwork with the goal that the content become part of the viewing experience. However, our research found that while engaging, the connection between the screens and the physical artworks in the gallery was not always clear. In other words, instead of the desired transparency, visitors experienced the lenses as a barrier between the technology and an understanding of the actual artwork. Once we could articulate what was happening and why, we were able to make strategic improvements to the second iteration in order to enhance the visitor experience.

In many ways, Gallery One was initially designed with digital interpretation at the center, using artwork to illustrate interpretive concepts such as Painting, Sculpture, Globalism, the 1930s and Stories. In the new iteration, we seek to reverse this relationship, to place artwork and its curation back into the physical and conceptual center, and create a stronger relationship with the digital interactive interpretation that supports it. A primary challenge is to design a process that enables visitors to shift focus intentionally and yet effortlessly between artwork and digital. Our goal is to leverage all of the strengths of the scale and immersion of digital projection, combined with the physicality of gesture, the personalization of mobile devices, and ultimately the power of an unmediated experience with artworks.

Figure 3: a young visitor at the Cleveland Museum of Art looks closely at the details of a sculpture in the original Gallery One’s Make a Pose lens

Why change the name?

The first step to removing the barriers in Gallery One was to remove the barrier of understanding Gallery One as both a concept and a physical place. Visitor feedback indicated that many were confused by what the Gallery One space actually was, partially because the four components had different names. The original names were Studio Play, Gallery One proper/Lenses (the central space that displays artwork alongside digital interactives), the Collection Wall, and the ArtLens App. In an effort to mitigate this confusion and streamline the branding of the space, the second iteration of Gallery One will be renamed ARTLENS Gallery, bringing the original four components together under the ARTLENS brand: ArtLens Studio, ArtLens Exhibition, ArtLens Wall, and the ArtLens App. By consolidating the branding under the umbrella of ARTLENS Gallery, the confusion is removed and the focus is on providing different lenses that can work together or stand alone for visitors to look closer at artwork.


In February 2014 we invited creative thinkers to an all day brainstorming session to help envision the next iteration of Gallery One. Included in these sessions were Cleveland creatives, as well as digital colleagues from seven museums including MET, MOMA, MIA, and V&A. In addition, we invited a cross-collaborative team of CMA staff that had not been involved in the initial launch, as well as a new group of game designers, to participate. The purpose of this meeting was to get new and fresh perspectives, and to hear feedback on the current implementation of Gallery One. In particular, we wanted to learn more about how well the themes and games in the current Gallery One prepared visitors to get the most out of their museum experience.

Figure 4: the international, national, and museum-wide team gathers to brainstorm potential new themes, games, and engagement approaches to the ArtLens Exhibition

Before the brainstorming session, we asked the participants to visit Gallery One and to focus on the themes, games, and activities in each space. Everyone came with notes and reflections about what they liked most, as well as areas that were lacking. By the end of the session, the group had enthusiastically generated hundreds of ideas to improve Gallery One.  Several attendees commented on the fact that Bill Griswold, the Director of CMA, participated in the day-long event. Indeed, Bill Griswold’s enthusiastic participation exemplifies his strong support of the project and its importance at CMA.

Figure 5: the team’s final task was to explore potential new names, with input from CMA Director Bill Griswold

Collaboration and collaborative partners is our key to success

The original Gallery One and ArtLens app represented a true and equal collaboration among the curatorial, information management and technology services (IMTS), education and academic affairs, and design departments at the Cleveland Museum of Art. This collaborative organizational structure is groundbreaking, not just within the museum community, but within user-interface design in general. It elevated each department’s contribution, resulting in an unparalleled interactive experience with technology and software that have never been used before in any venue; content interpreted in fun and approachable ways; and unprecedented design of an interactive gallery space that integrates technology into an art gallery setting. For this second iteration, CMA once again took full advantage of its highly qualified staff and has called on talent from nearly every department to contribute to the ArtLens Exhibition launch. This collaboration also serves to ensure that the various and eclectic aspects of the project are cohesive.

Figure 6: The Cleveland Museum of Art’s cross-collaborative ArtLens Gallery team, including curatorial, design, education, and IMTS, works on object placement for the ArtLens Exhibition

The Cleveland Museum of Art always strives to be on the cutting-edge of technology. An important component of this includes hiring innovative and creative design firms for each iteration of the ARTLENS Gallery spaces. In the first iteration of Gallery One, the museum partnered with award-winning outside consultants to realize the project. In 2013, Gallery One opened to the public on-time, on-budget, and with every digital experience performing as designed.

With the second iteration of Gallery One, CMA wanted to continue to lead the way not only in the robust blend of art and technology throughout the gallery experience, but in museum practice itself. The museum continued to work with Zenith Systems (AV Integration), Piction (CMS/DAM development), and Navizon (way-finding). The museum also wanted to continue its relationship with award-winning design firm Local Projects; however, the museum found that retaining the same firm for the second iteration of a space made it difficult to think outside of the box, especially when the second iteration would be radically different from the first. Therefore, the museum decided to break the ArtLens Gallery project into its separate parts: Beacon, Studio, Exhibition, Wall, and App. The museum continued working with Local Projects on the second iteration of ArtLens App, but specifically looked for expertise to best fit the new, refined goals of each of the other spaces.

The museum retained Design I/O for the second iteration of the ArtLens Studio, which served as a testbed for using kinetic, touchscreen-free technology. For the upcoming iteration of the ArtLens Exhibition, the museum is working with Potion. The museum went through a rigorous RFP process to ensure selection of a vendor that offered more than just cutting-edge technology. Through the process, it was clear that Potion truly understood the importance of prioritizing and communicating the museum’s educational content. The design of the Beacon was particularly important because it ties into all of the spaces, the new branding, and the experiences happening in the permanent galleries. For the Beacon at the entrance of the ArtLens Exhibition, the museum retained Dome Collective, a firm that includes designers who previously worked for Local Projects on the first iteration of Gallery One.

Figure 7: Phillip Tiongson, Principal at Potion, meets with William Griswold, Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, to communicate the vision for the ArtLens Exhibition

The ArtLens Gallery project: what has been completed?

The ARTLENS Gallery has been upgraded in stages over the past year. In June 2016, CMA completed ArtLens Studio (formerly Studio Play). The goal was to create a space that offers an introduction to the museum’s collection while building a foundation of visual literacy and art appreciation. By using barrier-free, motion-detecting technology, CMA created a breathtaking environment of wonder and awe with a stunning, 25-foot digital display wall of artwork that magically zooms and focuses on artwork based on the physical movement of the visitor. At the Create Studio, visitors have four different ways to make their own artwork using innovative touchscreen and touch-free technology.

Figure 8: visitors at the Cleveland Museum of Art snip and clip details from artworks that span the museum’s collection to create new and unique collages; they are then provided with the information to find the artwork they used for their collage in the museum

In September 2016, the ArtLens app 2.0 was released. Optimizations significantly reduced the size of the app, enabling download times of less than a minute. The new interface is cleaner and more intuitive, and the addition of dozens of iBeacons makes wayfinding in the museum smoother and more responsive. All of our systems pull live content, writing it once and then updating it everywhere, including fun, unusual, and tweetable facts about many pieces of art. The updated ArtLens now uses native Bluetooth functionality to connect to the ArtLens Wall, making synchronization seamless.

Figure 9: the upgraded ArtLens app now connects seamlessly to the ArtLens Wall using Bluetooth

These re-launches will culminate in the re-launch of the ArtLens Exhibition—the centerpiece of the ARTLENS Gallery experience. ArtLens Exhibition will help bridge the gap between our visitors’ everyday world and the transformative potential of face-to-face experiences with great artworks in our collection. Our goal is to eliminate any “competition” for visitors’ attention between the digital and the physical by designing the experiences to have an integrated relationship with one another. Rather than touchscreens standing before the artworks, we have reversed the relationship and created a digital experience with artwork in the foreground. Visitors first approach and engage with the artwork before activating the interactives in the background. Each digital screen is an interactive “art history 101” experience, where visitors use their physical presence to learn more about the themes of composition, gesture, emotion, purpose, and symbolism.

The interactives are purposefully designed to inspire visitors and direct them to closely re-examine the artworks in the space with new interpretative tools. When visitors want to take what they have learned into the museum proper, they encounter a personal taste interactive that uses facial recognition to recommend different missions to discover artworks throughout the museum. In an interesting twist, the interactive will recommend not just artworks that the visitor might like (based on previously gathered information), but also works they might find challenging, surprising, or inspiring. Recognizing the multiple roles of art to evoke a full range of emotion, the interactive encourages visitors to push themselves beyond a safe museum experience. Visitors’ facial expressions, along with the artwork inspiring those expressions, may be uploaded to the ArtLens Beacon at the entrance of the space to inspire others to engage with the interactives.

Much progress has already been made for the ArtLens Exhibition space. We have solidified the game themes and concepts, artistic content, and just last week, we began working on the actual design of the space with the chosen artworks. We have already prototyped two of the 16 new games. These live prototypes have been evaluated by our research team, and the feedback has informed ongoing development. Each interactive game concept is in final review with Potion. Now that the concepts have been finalized, the game design and development is being implemented with constant adjustment and calibration on both the technical and user-experience sides of the game. One such game is Gaze Tracker, which uses eye-tracking to reveal the visitor’s areas of focus on an artwork. Visitors will see how their eyes move over an artwork, identify internal structures within compositions, examine foreground over background, or focus on certain details over others. The eye-tracking map that the visitor creates over the artwork will be compared to an interpretation of an artist’s intention, as well as the results of other visitors. This is just one of the innovative ways we are using technology to encourage visitors to look closer.

The ArtLens Studio: what changed?

On June 16, 2016, the Cleveland Museum of Art opened the doors to the ArtLens Studio. Building on the success of the first Studio Play, the updated space solidified the museum’s position as a trailblazer and a worldwide leader in the development of digital experiences.

ArtLens Studio was designed with the entire family in mind and uses cutting edge technology, movement, and play to introduce new ways of looking at art. Astonishing in its visionary breadth, the magic of ArtLens Studio is deceptive in its simplicity. While visitors are having fun, they are also looking closer, making connections, and gaining comprehension that will enhance their appreciation of art throughout the museum.

Figure 10: young visitors at the Cleveland Museum of Art work together to reveal the details of an artwork by waving their arms, using innovative motion-tracking technology.

ArtLens Studio uses cutting-edge technology to give families the opportunity to use movement and play in order to connect to the collection. Reveal and Zoom is a large 4k video wall where visitors use their bodies to reveal artworks or zoom into an artwork in great detail. The Create Studio, which allows visitors to create their own artworks, consists of four stations: Pottery Wheel, Collage Maker, Portrait Maker, and Paint Play. These installations use a combination of time-of-flight depth cameras, custom C++ software, and real-time graphics to create interactive experiences that allow visitors to play with traditional artistic techniques in a playful, gesture-based way. Visitors may save creations by sharing them on the museum’s Tumblr site.

Figure 11: Design I/O at their favorite Cleveland coffee shop after completing the ArtLens Studio, which re-invented the space to allow dynamic art creation and closer connections to the museum’s collection

ArtLens Studio: collaborative learning stations

Reveal and Zoom: Using innovative motion-tracking technology, Reveal and Zoom allows visitors to use their bodies as a tool to explore masterworks in the museum’s collection. Interaction and exploration are encouraged, as visitors can Reveal and Zoom individually or in groups.

Reveal begins with a blurred image filling an entire wall of ArtLens Studio. As the visitor moves in front of the screens, the corresponding areas of the artwork come into focus. Sweeping gestures result in subtle changes over a large area of the screens while more narrow and focused movements extract finer details. The process continues until the item from the collection is “revealed.”

With Zoom, your body acts as a magnifying glass. The closer you stand, the closer the magnification; as you move away, the perspective becomes more distant. Zoom exaggerates the process of examining a piece of art, and in doing so, reveals the possibilities behind every gaze. Through Zoom, the minutest details become larger than life, allowing you to explore art like never before.

Figure 12: visitors at the Cleveland Museum of Art use their bodies as life-sized pinch and zoom magnifying glasses to look closely at an object in the museum’s collection

Line and Shape: Our most popular game from the original Studio Play, Line and Shape takes center stage in the redesigned space. Now much larger and with upgraded graphics, the game seamlessly makes connections between the user doodles and major works of art. Visitors use a touch screen to draw any line or shape they can imagine. The interactive then rapidly scans more than 7,000 works of art from the museum’s collection to find a detail that echoes the image drawn. The magic of Line and Shape lies in the discovery of new details and new items in the museum’s extensive collection.

Figure 13: a young visitor at the Cleveland Museum of Art plays at the Line and Shape wall in the ArtLens Studio. Here, a visitor’s line or shape drawn on the wall is matched to object in the museum’s collection. This wall is expanded and upgraded from the first iteration of Studio Play

The Matching Game: This popular game from the original Studio Play returns in an updated iteration. Visitors are given several themes such as “Glass,” “Work,” “Freedom,” or “Justice.” They are then asked to match different pieces of art with one of those themes. This game engenders a close analysis of the artwork and suggests different interpretations of the artwork that might not have been previously considered.  In order to accommodate varied skill levels and ages, there are multiple levels of difficulty for this activity.

The Memory Game: Modeled after the time-honored family favorite game, this interactive invites you to “flip over” different cards, two at a time, to try to make a match. Unlike the physical counterpart, the images on the cards change each time the game is played, drawing from the extensive museum collection. Presented as a companion for the Matching Game, the Memory Game is a quick, easy, and fun way to introduce visitors to the vast array of artwork found throughout the museum.

Figure 14: two young visitors at the Cleveland Museum of Art work together on the Matching Game interactive in the ArtLens Studio

ArtLens Studio: Create Studio

The Create Studio is a place to unleash your inner artist and let your creativity soar. The Create Studio offers four different ways to make your own artwork. Each area is set up like an actual artist’s studio to foster and heighten the artist within us all. Everything that you make in Create Studio is yours to take with you as a memento of your visit.

Portrait Maker: Instead of a “selfie,” Portrait Maker allows you to craft your likeness in the style of the portraits that line the walls of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Choose from oil, charcoal, or watercolor to create a one-of-a kind self-portrait that is as realistic or abstract as you desire.

Figure 15: a visitor at the Cleveland Museum of Art draws in a photo of themselves, based off of the palette and materials of artwork in the museum’s collection

Collage Maker: With a snip and a clip, users are able to create their own collages using a wide variety of images from the museum collection.  Visitors can pair details from their favorite Picasso with scenery from masterworks by Monet to create something new and entirely their own.

Pottery Wheel: A spinning block of clay is molded into shape as you mimic the movements a potter would make at the wheel. A gentle motion up top and the pot slightly narrows and extends. More sustained gesturing near the bottom results in a larger widening above as the virtual clay realistically reacts to your hands. Using depth-tracking cameras, this interactive magically recreates the experience of a potter at the wheel.

Figure 16: a family at the Cleveland Museum of Art works together using the Create Studio Pottery Wheel to magically create a unique piece of pottery based on the museum’s collection, using barrier-free kinetic technology

Paint Play: Using motion-tracking technology, a “painting” is created through the user’s arm and hand movements. Just as when using an actual brush and paint, broad gestures result in a wider paint splatter while smaller gestures create areas of more concentrated color. Invoke the spirit of Jackson Pollock; no drop cloths necessary and no clean up required.

ArtLens App (September 2016)

The ArtLens App 2.0 is a completely re-engineered version of the award-winning collection application. A collaborative creation, ArtLens App combines the most current technology and innovative design with a wealth of interpretive content provided by the museum’s curatorial and interpretation teams. ArtLens App includes a high-definition image and object information about every artwork on display in the museum and is updated in real time, ensuring that users have access to the most accurate information available. Moreover, ArtLens App enhances a visitor’s museum experience by providing the option to design individual tours, offering tools to better understand artwork through augmented reality and guiding users with interactive real-time maps.

Figure 17: a visitor at the Cleveland Museum of Art uses the ArtLens App’s state-of-the-art wayfinding technology as a map around the entire museum

Listening to user feedback, the CMA ensured ArtLens App has enhanced its usability. ArtLens App is faster and more user-friendly; for example, the app download time has been reduced to 45 seconds. Improved optimizations have reduced the size of the app, making ArtLens App comparable in size to popular social media apps like Snapchat. The redesigned interface is clean and intuitive, and the wayfinding is responsive and comprehensive. ArtLens App now uses Bluetooth to connect to the Collection Wall, making synchronization seamless. Improvements to the maps and new descriptions of each gallery make finding the information or artwork easier for visitors. Also, the app may be used on-site or anywhere in the world.

ArtLens App includes the following features:

  • Galleries: The most significant changes to the app are in the “Galleries” feature with updates to the maps, content, wayfinding and nearby objects.
  • Maps: Galleries are color-coded and grouped thematically to facilitate easier navigation. Tap any gallery number to see what type of art is on display in that location or find gallery descriptions by tapping the gallery name.
  • Wayfinding: Create a path to explore artworks. Push the Find Me button at any time to find the exact location in the museum.
  • Content: All artworks on display are identified and findable in ArtLens 2.0 with additional content available for selected artworks. New content is generated on an ongoing basis.
  • Nearby Artworks: Nearby artworks that might be of interest are suggested based on the artwork selected.
  • Scanning: Using innovative image-recognition software, ArtLens 2.0 seamlessly recognizes a selection of two-dimensional artworks and provides additional curatorial and interpretive content.
  • You: “Favorite” artworks by tapping the heart icon on the Collection Wall in Gallery One or on individual artworks in the app. All favorites are saved under “You.” Favorites can be used to create personalized tours, find specific artworks in the museum, or share on social media.
  • Tours: Select from both museum-curated and visitor-created tours. The mapping feature locates specific artworks and navigates the entire tour. Choose to create a personalized tour that may be added to “visitor-created tours” and shared with the world.
  • Search: Search by artist’s name or by keyword to discover corresponding works on view in the museum. Find the exact location of an artwork identified on a map with a quick tap.
  • Bluetooth: ArtLens now uses Bluetooth to connect to the Collection Wall making synchronization seamless.
  • Top Ten: Explore the museum’s dynamic list of visitor favorites, as well as curators’ top picks of must-see artworks.
  • Museum: Get a daily snapshot of exhibitions and events occurring at the museum as well as the location of restrooms, restaurants, and exits.
Figure 18: a visitor at the Cleveland Museum of Art uses the ArtLens App to scan an artwork, learning more using innovative augmented reality technology

Completing and launching: what’s left to do before we open in June?

The Cleveland Museum of Art was excited to hear that Museums and the Web would be hosted in Cleveland in April 2017, but the museum had already planned to develop the ArtLens Gallery in stages and push the opening of ArtLens Exhibition to June 2017. Although not able to show off the complete project, we will have alpha prototypes running for MW2017 participants to test and explore. We are thrilled that we will be able to get final feedback from the top digital museum experts in the world.

The museum is currently developing game themes, content, and initiating schemes for the physical redesign of the ArtLens Exhibition space. As mentioned above, two of the 16 intended games for the space have been prototyped, as well as formally evaluated by the museum’s research team. The visitor feedback from this evaluation is vital to the game concepting, currently in final review with Potion, the museum’s vendor for this project.

With the concept and design for the ArtLens Exhibition being finalized, the technology and innovation stages are just beginning. This is the bulk of the renovation, and one of the most difficult parts. The game development needs to balance the rigorous pedagogy formulated by the museum’s collaborative cross-departmental team, while also being a fun, magical, and cutting-edge digital experience. The themes of each game need to be clearly communicated to visitors, who should leave with a better understanding of composition, gesture, expression, purpose, and symbolism. Every game has to be fully realized through prototyping, holding its own as an independent game and within the suite of 16 games. On the back-end, the game development must keep up with delivery deadlines until the debut of the ArtLens Exhibition in the beginning of the 2017 fiscal year. Even in prototyping, software design, backend systems, and hardware all need to be fully integrated.

In keeping with the plan to have all four components of ARTLENS Gallery unified, ArtLens App is being upgraded to work seamlessly with ArtLens Exhibition. Each game station will have a dock for visitors to connect a personal iOS or Android device via Bluetooth, which will save all artworks and visitor encounters during the game to take with them into the rest of the museum. The app will have an ArtLens Exhibition section, providing interpretive content from the games for users to return to during or after their visit.

Figure 19: it’s a wrap! Local Projects, the designers for the ArtLens app and the original Gallery One, finish up the second iteration of the ArtLens App. The newest version of ArtLens downloads in less than a minute and takes up minimal space on visitors’ devices, and also features improved wayfinding, personalized tours, and multimedia content

Replicating beyond CMA?

Although the ARTLENS Gallery will be a suite of integrated experiences, the significant technological improvements will make the spaces more conducive to replication with each component being technically independent and standalone. As both a free museum and a teaching museum, the plan was always to share the results of the organization’s efforts and research with other institutions. However, through a discussion with the Knight Foundation, staff members realized the museum had not fully considered the best way to share the actual technology. Based on this conversation, CMA initiated a change in the underlying technology used in the ArtLens Studio and Exhibition.

The new technology for the ArtLens Exhibition will be sustainable and scalable. These improvements will not only make future changes to the space more manageable for the museum, but also make the interactives more replicable by other museums. Because the interactives are not as technologically customized as the original designs, they may be reproduced on a smaller scale by other museums. As the Cleveland Museum of Art keeps up with new and innovative technologies, it will implement changes within its existing structure and share them with the museum world. Institutions of all sizes and capacities will be able to select different interactives to replicate, with the museum’s interactives serving as a customizable template. In fact, other organizations have already reached out to the museum about using different games from the ArtLens Studio.

Since its opening, Gallery One has been a destination spot for museum officials from all over the world.  Almost weekly, the museum hosts visitors or has phone conversations with representatives from other organizations seeking to replicate the success of Gallery One. The museum has always been incredibly open and completely transparent in sharing what has worked and what has not throughout the development of Gallery One and now the ARTLENS Gallery.  The process, findings, and experiences have always been shared with those who are interested. With the ArtLens Exhibition, the museum is committed to creating interactives that encourage other organizations to replicate the museum’s efforts. The museum is excited about the new scheme and is hopeful that portions of the ArtLens Exhibition will be replicated all over the world.

Figure 20: Sree Sreenivasan makes a face at an original Gallery One lens, while visiting the Cleveland Museum of Art on behalf of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

ArtLens Exhibition: the central experience of the ARTLENS Gallery

The first Gallery One was an incredibly ambitious project. The ongoing goal is to connect to museum visitors, and educate them in new ways to look closer so that they can enjoy and appreciate art in new ways. Our hypothesis is that by bringing digital interactive interpretation into a direct relationship with amazing artworks, the juxtaposition will enable visitors to create meaningful relationships between them. However, this is also the hardest part of the experience: to have the artworks and interactives work together, rather than compete.

The current Gallery One proper lenses attempt to create a one-to-one relationship with surface level recognition information: a human smile matches a figure’s smile, an individual’s data input mimics the computer’s output. In the new ArtLens Exhibition, CMA elevates this experience to promote each individual’s subjectivity. Through that subjectivity, we hope to allow visitors to uncover the essential elements that make art art.

Our conceptual framework is driven by dialogue, introspection, and awareness, both of one’s self and about the art itself. An individual’s emotional response to an introspective question—how do you express joy?—can be reflected in the many different formal qualities of a work of art: gesture, expression, composition, and symbolism. CMA hopes to inject consideration of an artist’s intent into the interactive process so that visitors can gain a more personal understanding of artists and their artworks. In this way, what our visitors will get out of the experience is not just, “Jean Dubuffet uses smiles in his art” but rather “Dubuffet expresses a feeling of joy in his art in the same way that I feel joy.”

Based on the museum’s self-evaluations, the museum understands that though visitors were often deeply engaged by the digital interactives in Gallery One, these visitors did not necessarily transfer their knowledge to new experiences with artwork in the museum proper. Our challenge was to develop new ways to help our visitors bridge that gap; to develop digital interactives that not only engage, but work in concert with artwork to equip visitors, especially those new to a museum, with a set of tools they can use throughout the museum.

As part of our design process, we researched three key elements: 1) how visitors currently behave in Gallery One; 2) the spatial relationship of artwork to the digital interactive experiences; and 3) how interactivity communicates the key concepts selected by the museum to understand and decode art.

Digital interactivity is designed to engage visitors. Ironically, this power of engagement also may draw attention away from the artworks they were actually designed to support. In observing use of the original lenses we saw how visitors were especially drawn to those that encouraged participation in an active way, as in Make a Pose and Make a Face. These lenses were particularly successful because visitors could see their own facial expressions and poses juxtaposed with artworks in the museum’s collection. However, despite their engagement, visitors were not transferring the underlying concepts of how artists create facial expressions and gestures to further their exploration of the museum. Other lenses used touch interactivity more extensively; however, visitors tended to engage less than in the embodied games.

Figure 21: CMA Director Bill Griswold strikes a pose at an original Gallery One lens on his first day

The physical design of the original Lenses caused unanticipated difficulties. In the original iteration, each lens was placed physically in front of the artworks represented on screen. The lenses were designed to create the illusion of “transparency” as if you were looking at the artworks through a digital lens. Artworks were placed in a rigid and inflexible arrangement, so that the lens could frame the artworks related to a specific theme or concept. The interactive software was then hand crafted to rely on this fixed arrangement, not allowing for any changes or movement of the artworks on display.

When surveying the whole gallery, the digital interactive lenses inhabited the center of the space, with artworks distributed around the perimeter, several meters away. However, because the “transparency” effect was not a truly live effect (visitors walking in front of the lens were not projected into the display), visitors interacting with a digital version of an artwork often did not realize that the actual artwork was physically directly in front of them. The result was a set of highly engaging standalone interactive kiosks that were surrounded by artworks that could not be reorganized or changed. Moreover, because of the disconnection between the interactive and the artwork, visitors were rarely looking more closely at the artworks after interacting with the digital display.

We want to resolve these issues using two strategies: 1) clarify and restore the proper relationship between the artwork and the interactive, and 2) restore flexibility for the museum to change and stage new exhibitions in what we re-envisioned as the ArtLens Exhibition.

We started by bringing artwork into the center of the gallery, and allowing the staff to arrange artwork in a flexible manner. Lenses no longer require a 1-1 relationship with artwork.  The artwork now stands on its own and in concert with other artworks to create a cohesive installation. We relocated the digital interactives onto the walls of the gallery, creating a datum of artworks that envelop the gallery. By projecting the images of the artworks onto the walls of the gallery, but in dramatically different scale, we hope to create a true foreground/background relationship, where visitors naturally shift their focus from artwork to digital interpretation, and then back to artwork. With the artworks in the foreground of the gallery, the digital interpretation creates a supportive surround competing for the visitors’ attention. Moreover, the museum will have the ability to physically rearrange the artworks into unlimited configurations, unlike in the original Gallery One.

Figure 22: floor plan of the intended ArtLens Exhibition space, including art placement

Next, we challenged ourselves to redesign as many digital interactives as possible without a touchscreen, and instead engage visitors in exploring artworks by using their bodies. Each new interactive was designed to help users develop physical gestures to point at features and embody interactions connected to themes represented in each artwork. Because of their large scale and through multi-person sensing, the interactives are inherently designed to be social experiences that visitors can explore together. Instead of using heavy screens that require intrusive enclosures, we shifted the displays to monumental projections, that can essentially “disappear,” when needed, to shift focus back to the actual artworks on display. Projection provides us with a way to intentionally bring the focus back to the actual artwork in the ArtLens Exhibition.

Figure 23: young visitors at the Cleveland Museum of Art work together at Paint Play to draw, throw, and splatter paint using only their body motions. With the gobo floor projections, visitors can paint and then erase their artwork by simply stepping forward or backward. This technology, now familiar to visitors, will be implemented in the ArtLens Exhibition

We also changed how the interactives are organized. In Gallery One, lenses were organized around a pedagogical theme, and each artwork served as an example of only a single concept, e.g., an artwork could appear in the Lions lens or Globalism lens, but not in both. However, we all know that artists often employ many different strategies in the creation of a single artwork. In the ArtLens Exhibition, the artworks can be associated with multiple concepts, and the interactives are organized around teaching all concepts relevant to an artwork. In other words, the artwork is considered as a whole rather than reflective of a singular theme. Potion designed each digital interactive so that the artworks being explored can be completely changed through a Web-based Content Management System. This gives the museum the ability to not only change individual artworks in the ArtLens Exhibition, but to design totally new exhibitions with the freedom to select any artworks that exemplify the concepts they are teaching.

Finally, we want to create an organic connection for our visitors between the experiences in the ArtLens Exhibition and the artworks in the museum proper. In order to do that, we created missions for the visitor to go seek out artworks in the galleries, and show off their understanding of those artworks on social media. We are proposing a social media campaign to challenge visitors to express their personal taste in art by taking pictures of themselves with actual artworks using the skills they have learned in the ArtLens Exhibition, and posting them back to the museum. The staff can pull in these images of real visitors with artworks anywhere in the museum, and use them in the ArtLens Exhibition to encourage others to participate in their own missions.

The Gallery One lenses helped the museum to understand exactly how digital interactivity can be used to engage and to educate. The ArtLens Exhibition is the important next step. It is designed to give the museum the flexibility it needs to curate, design, and change new exhibitions, while seamlessly integrating a background of digital interactivity and engagement. The digital interpretation will naturally support the art, both visually in the background of the space, and conceptually by allowing visitors to touch and explore the art digitally, engaging social, whole body experiences. The digital elements continually drive visitors back to the real artworks, not only in the ArtLens Exhibition, but also throughout the entire museum.

The Beacon

Located at the entrance of the ArtLens Exhibition, the Beacon will communicate the unity of the ARTLENS Gallery experience, and serve as an introduction to the space. Designed by Dome Collective, a firm that includes lead designers of the original Gallery One, the goals of the Beacon are as follows:

  • Introduce the new ArtLens branding;
  • Be alluring, elegant, and informational without competing with the rest of the ARTLENS Gallery;
  • Feature visitor-generated, live content;
  • Reinforce wayfinding and connect the Studio, Exhibition, Wall, and App;
  • Propel visitors into the primary galleries.

By using analog materials such as stop-motion paper cutouts, the Beacon will illuminate understanding of the ARTLENS Gallery while being playful, unique, and not overlap with the existing digital experiences.

Figure 24: a rendering for the Beacon at the entrance of the ArtLens Exhibition, using analog materials to communicate the experience of the ARTLENS Gallery.

ArtLens Exhibition games

The new ArtLens Exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art will be an experiential space that puts the visitor in conversation with masterpieces of art. ArtLens Exhibition will eliminate the use of touchscreen technology and highlight art in the foreground, by using barrier-free and motion activated interactive projections behind the artwork to create an immersive experience that facilitates engagement with the art on a personal, emotional level. Visitors will first approach and engage with the art object, and then activate the interactive games in the background. These games will augment visual literacy skills, providing an experience in which visitors can learn more about composition, gesture, expression, purpose, and symbols, inspiring them to look at the artwork again with a new understanding.

Gesture and emotion: Gestures and emotions may be the most identifiable elements in a work of art, but they can also be the most complex to decipher. The Gesture and Expression experiences mirror the visitor’s expressions, and empower visitors to alter works of art to understand how expression can change meaning.

  1. Mashup: Visitors change the emotion of a portrait by making a face, and witness how a change in expression can change the meaning of an artwork.
  2. Make a Face: Visitors are shown a portrait to interpret the figure’s emotion, then their facial expression is matched with another portrait. Visitors will appreciate how meaning is created through facial expression in an artwork.
  3. Body Language: Visitors guess the different emotions expressed by figures in an artwork by mirroring the poses of each figure. By matching gesture with emotion, visitors realize the narrative of an artwork through the interaction between the figures.
  4. Strike a Pose: Visitors are prompted to mirror the pose of a character in an artwork, in order to truly feel the physical exertion of the movement and pose. Visitors will better understand the emotions of the figure, as well as the contextual emotion of the artwork.


Figure 25: visitors at the Cleveland Museum of Art test out a prototype for the new ArtLens Exhibition (formerly Gallery One), which will be temporarily closed for renovation in Spring 2017 and re-open with new artwork and barrier-free interactives in summer 2017. In this game, visitors strike a pose to emulate and look closer at a sculpture in the museum’s collection

Symbols: The exploration of symbols necessitates an understanding of an artist’s secular, religious, and personal beliefs. These interactives provide satisfying and simple entry points into the complex world of encoded artworks.

  1. Hidden Meaning: Visitors use their shadow to uncover the meaning behind symbols in artworks, revealing how artists embed symbols in their artwork to represent non-concrete concepts.
  2.  Symbol Sleuth: Based on contextual clues, visitors guess which symbol represents a certain theme in a work of art. Visual and thematic clues in a work of art can help a visitor to deduce a symbol’s meaning.
  3. Decode Symbols: Visitors guess from a selection of symbols which symbol goes in the area that has been blurred from the artwork. Visitors learn how symbols can transform the meaning of an artwork.
Figure 26: a motion study of the “Decode Symbols” interactive for the ArtLens Exhibition
  1. Purpose Discovery: Visitors decide how an unfamiliar object was once used by placing it on different parts of a mannequin. Through looking at an object closely, a visitor can deduce its use.
  2. Now and Then: Visitors guess the modern equivalent of an object from a range of options. The modern understanding of an object can differ from its contextual use.
  3. Dress Me Up: A variety of wearable objects, from fashion statements and cultural wear to unfamiliar pieces, are on display for visitors to select and wear on their body. Visitors realize the functional purpose of unfamiliar objects.
Figure 27: prototype of the “Dress Me Up” interactive for the ArtLens Exhibition

Composition: The composition experience uncovers the underlying structure that holds an artwork together. Fun, intuitive, full-body gestures and gaze tracking games explore the concepts of geometry, all-over, and multiple focus compositions, and provide an entry point into the more nuanced pedagogy of image organization.

  1. Shape Seeker: Visitors reveal geometric shapes in an artwork to decipher the compositional arrangement of elements. Visitors see how the structure of a shape gives meaning to a work of art through its dynamism, stability, symmetry or asymmetry.
  2. View Finder: Visitors explore works of art from the museum’s collection to find areas of focus and points of emphasis. Visitors uncover how artworks with multiple focuses are composed of separately identifiable elements that work together to enhance meaning and understanding.
  3. Become an Artist: Visitors create an original artwork based on the color, composition, or pattern of an artwork in the museum’s collection. By re-interpreting an artwork while maintaining its aesthetic integrity, visitors can better understand the composition of artworks with no central focal point.
  4. Become an Artwork: Visitors generate a unique all-over composition through a snapshot of themselves and based on works in the museum’s collection. Visitors learn how works of art can be composed of rhythm, pattern, and repetition by using the palette of their own body and clothing.
Figure 28: a motion study of the “Become an Artwork” interactive for the ArtLens Exhibition

Gaze Tracker: Innovative eye-tracking reveals where a visitor focuses when looking at a work of art, increasing the visitor’s understanding of how an artist’s compositional choices influence how they look at art.

Express Yourself: This personalized experience is rooted in the aspiration that visitors can discover artworks in the ArtLens Exhibition that are viewable in the primary galleries of CMA, creating an engine to send visitors out into the larger museum to explore more. It helps visitors broaden their palates, better understand their own opinions on art, and be affirmed that those opinions are valid.

Figure 29: a rendering of the “Express Yourself” interactive.

Iterative prototype testing

The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Research and Evaluation staff conducted a prototyping sprint in early January 2017 to inform future development. Utilizing input from Potion and the internal project development team, two waves of user testing were conducted on beta versions of the Embody Character and Geometric Composition games. In addition to the beta software, the featured object, Hercules and the Hydra, was moved into the prototyping space to investigate any relationships visitors would create. To ensure that the testing was done with the target audience, it was scheduled around major events that attracted millennials and families that were less frequent visitors to the museum. A private video live-stream was set up so Potion and CMA staff could review both cued user tests and the un-cued visitors who happened upon the prototype. Signage around the prototype alerted visitors to the video capture and also provided a space to begin marketing the new activities.

The first wave of testing was conducted over a three-day period, after which the results were shared with the CMA development team and Potion. Tweaks were then made to the prototype and it was redeployed. A second wave of testing was conducted over the subsequent six-day period with additional target audience users as well as museum and technology professionals. The Research and Evaluation team then analyzed any commonalities or differences between each round of testing.

Figue 30: ArtLens Exhibition prototype installation in January 2017

The findings proved incredibly useful both for further refinement of the Strike a Pose and Shape Seeker games as well as the other 11 interactives planned.

ArtLens Exhibition: artwork selection

In conceptualizing the ArtLens Exhibition, the project team was faced with the challenge of creating a cohesive installation of artworks that lacked a shared art historical context or overarching thematic concept. In addition, artworks were required to possess a strong presence in order to hold their own against the vibrant and animated imagery of the projection-based interactives. Finally, the installation needed to include a representative distribution of artworks from across the collection.

For the installation it was important to keep the concepts of transparency, movement, and surface in mind. The earliest iterations of the installation checklist included artworks that shared a muted, natural palette in an attempt to create cohesion. These initial artworks were primarily three-dimensional to activate the space around objects and ignite visitor interest. This approach turned out to be less than ideal, as the lack of two-dimensional objects and vivid colors left the installation flat. Additionally, many of the artworks did not support the interactive games as conceived by Potion.

As the process evolved, two dimensional artworks with vibrant colors and alternate three-dimensional artworks that better supported the interactive games were integrated into the exhibition. Ideally, each artwork would be investigated in two interactive games. A few important works, essentially anchors of the exhibition, only worked for one game but their presence was understood as too valuable to remove from the installation. Two of these anchor artworks are a large Pae White textile and an enormous Frank Stella sculpture that share a connective visual thread that investigates the billowing of smoke as it escapes from its source.

Figure 31: Frank Stella’s Çatal Hüyük (level VI B) Shrine VI B.1 and Pae White’s Smoke

Other large-scale artworks in the installation are intended to draw visitors into the space with approachable and welcoming imagery. These include Stephan Balkenhol’s Standing Man and Frans Pourbus’ Portrait of King Louis XIII of France, which both invite visitors into the exhibition space from the main entrance. Also included is the Joel Shapiro sculpture Untitled, which is an elegant abstraction of movement that offers interesting shape, surface, and color variations based on the viewer’s perspective.

Fig. 32. Stephan Balkenhol’s Standing Man, Frans Pourbus’ Portrait of King Louis XIII of France and Joel Shapiro’s Untitled

The visual references and connective imagery between artworks are the basis of the installation’s cohesion. This is clearly evident in the juxtaposition of Massimiliano Soldani’s sculpture of Apollo and Daphne with Henry Church’s painting Self-Portrait with Five Muses.

Figure 33: Massimiliano Soldani’s Apollo and Daphne and Henry Church’s Self-Portrait with Five Muses

These examples offer visitors a unique juxtaposition of artworks from different times and cultures as well as different media but the visual dialog between them is compelling. The twisting, transformational imagery of Apollo and Daphne is reflected in the fluttering wings of the muses that surround the artist’s image in Church’s self-portrait. Although seemingly disparate within an art historical context, mythological imagery from classical sources is employed by both artists and their compositions share a visual language that invites visitors to join the conversation.

ArtLens App: the glue to the ArtLens Gallery experience (June 2017)

Though CMA immediately needed to re-engineer ArtLens App to download more quickly and take up less space, we also knew that we wanted the app to be integral to the new Exhibition space and be the portable curator that could connect a visitor to any experience and explore closely in the galleries. Thus the app is instrumental in connecting to the new suite of interactives that will replace the current Lenses. Alongside these new interactives, there are several proposed changes to design and functionality in the ArtLens App, most importantly being the integration with the Exhibition interactives. These changes will be implemented by Local Projects and will be part of the official opening in June 2017:

  • Integration of Bluetooth sharing: Local Projects will provide the required consulting and provide minor tweaks to enable the new exhibition interactives to use the artwork sharing feature of the ArtLens App. The interactives will leverage the existing docking and sharing mechanism currently used by the ArtLens Wall. This feature will use, without modification, the existing API and mobile app code and behavior to save artworks from the new exhibition. The “heart” docking screen and its behavior will remain the same, although the instructional text on that screen (currently “Artworks and tours you favorite on the Collection Wall will be saved to your device”) will be changed to a more general message. The artwork will appear in the You section of the app alongside other favorites and there will be no distinction showing whether it is saved from the wall or an ArtLens Gallery interactive.
  • Onboarding sequence redesign: The onboarding sequence used to accommodate the new interactives as well as clarify the instructions for the existing features will be redesigned. This will entail new graphic and motion designs as well as entirely new HTML and JavaScript for slides in the onboarding sequence. It is assumed that there will be at least one, (but no more than two) new slides (there are currently four) and that the new and redesigned slides will maintain the current design conventions.
  • Saving user-generated assets to device: A number of the new interactives will produce user-generated content, specifically visitor-created image assets. If the visitor docks their phone to an exhibition interactive, they can then save these assets into the photo gallery on their device. These assets will not appear in the app itself, but the app will serve as a proxy for getting the files from the interactive onto the device. For this functionality to work, the app must be open and in “docked” mode and the relevant assets must be saved to a location reachable via http from the app.
  • Artworks screen redesign to incorporate exhibition content: A new section on the artworks screen will show image and text (title and description) content from the exhibition interactive content. This content will exist in Piction in the object and secondary asset schema. There may be multiple content units, i.e. image and text groups, per artwork. The display of this content will require a redesign of the artworks screen as well as changes to the ArtLens CMS data schema and API.
  • App design rebranding: An additional mobile app is being designed to accommodate the rebranding of Gallery One and the Collection Wall as ArtLens properties. LP will need to explore which text and/or graphical assets in the existing ArtLens app will need to be added/edited/deleted to maintain consistency with the new branding. The gallery list view in the gallery section of the app must show the thematic groupings for all floors, not just the current floor. This will require a redesign of the list view, as well as certain UI/UX considerations for handling floor designations, amenities, etc. Navigation behavior upon tapping thematic groups or amenities will remain unchanged.
  • Update ArtLens CMS and app to use SSL: Update ArtLens CMS and make necessary changes within the mobile apps to point to all https API endpoints. The purpose of this change is so the Application Transport Security can be enabled within iOS versions of the app to support upcoming Apple App Store requirement.
Figure 34: integration of the ArtLens Exhibition into ArtLens App

Changes to the back-end systems

Artwork information has flowed from the museum’s back-end systems to the Gallery One Collection Wall and the ArtLens App since the original implementation in December 2012. The particular systems that store and manage artwork inventory information, object photography, and interpretive content has changed significantly over the past four years, and the data flow between them has been refined and expanded, for both reliability and breadth of content.

Fig. 35. Updated and color-coded diagram representing back-end digital strategy of all applications.

Collections Catalog and Management System (CCMS): In December 2015, the museum transitioned from its antiquated Apelles custom collections management system to a new, bespoke collection catalog and management system, Athena. Apelles had been mission-critical for the museum’s registrars for more than a dozen years, with a robust task management system and hundreds of specialized pre-defined reports for every conceivable use. It was the system of record for artwork ownership and inventory control, but nothing else; curatorial research, exhibition planning, and publication tracking was done outside the Apelles system in word processing documents, carefully maintained spreadsheets, and venerable old MS Access databases. Just 12 “tombstone” metadata fields from Apelles were available for use in the museum website’s collections online and other downstream projects.

CMA designed and built the Athena CCMS to provide a single, shared workspace for all artwork-related functions—a true system of record for all the artworks the museum handles, as well as the following:

  • Persons and corporate bodies (artists/makers, donors, borrowers, lenders, agents, and experts); exhibitions, including venue-level checklists;
  • Conservation reports, with supporting authority files for reagents, techniques, and equipment;
  • Shared projects (annotates lists of artworks related to specific research or needs);
  • Requests, including location control and artwork movement, object photography, and condition reporting/examination;
  • Numerous utilities for configuring dynamic, data-based notification and approval processes; controlling preferred forma and global changes; managing data and document security.

The Athena system is tightly integrated with the museum’s main Digital Asset Management System for object photography, as well as a separate document management system and content management system for non-CMA artwork images. Athena’s reporting and publishing platform provides more than 500 metadata fields and is accessible via Tableau and ODBC link.

Digital Asset Management System (DAM): CMA partnered with Piction LLC to manage its digital object photography in 2007; its main DAM system has been growing and evolving for a decade, and expanded to include editorial photography as well. The system has undergone five major upgrades in the past decade, and was restructured in 2014 to absorb a second, public-facing Piction DAM, and support both internal (e.g., staff research, integrated object photography for the CCMS) and external users (e.g., collection online, the Gallery One Collection Wall, ArtLens App, general API). Several new bits of information were added to the available artwork metadata, too, including an app-specific didactic and exhibition history.

In October 2016, the museum physically relocated the main DAM to the BlueBridge Networks Cleveland data center, to provide 24/7, 365 uptime, and secure expert management of its data storage (20TB and growing) and out-of-state replication/redundancy.

Content Management System (CMS): In mid-2012, CMA implemented a third Piction system to manage the interpretive content created specifically for the Gallery One Collection Wall and ArtLens App. Because of the evolving data needs of the receiving applications, IT staff loaded and managed data through an administrative interface. The system expanded—with new collections, metatags, loaders, and enhanced RESTful API—to support two iterations of the museum’s special exhibition app (Senufo: Art and Identity in West Africa, March-May 2015, followed by Art and Stories from Mughal India, July-October 2016). A user-friendly graphical workbench supports data management functionality for the 2016 Studio Play interactives.

Looking forward: For the ArtLens Exhibition (opening June 2017), additional structures and AV asset types have already been added to the Piction Content Management System to support the gesture-based interactive games. A workbench interface will allow interpretation staff to change game descriptions; add, edit, and deactivate game pieces (artworks), and load and manage supporting AV assets.

  • CMA is planning for a major overhaul of the machinery that currently flows artwork metadata from Athena through the main DAM and to the CMS and website with two objectives: 1) present more information about CMA’s permanent collection from Athena—including detailed provenance, publications history, artist/maker bibliographies, and significant groupings of artworks (from African-American artists or by decades of May Show artists); 2) present the most up-to-date information possible, by accessing key artwork information in real time or compressing system-to-system data flow to the bare minimum (e.g. incremental changes pushed hourly or better).

Gallery One technicians: daily maintenance and visitor service support

When Gallery One opened in late 2012, an existing IT help desk staff member was put in charge of technical support for the space. Shortly thereafter, an additional part time support person was hired to help cover evening and weekend shifts. We found that staffing the gallery with one full time person led to burnout, so after several months CMA’s Help Desk staff and Gallery One tech support staff began rotating between the two support roles. This setup became somewhat difficult to manage logistically, so when the positions needed to be rehired, they were once again separated. CMA currently employs three regular Gallery One technicians. Two of the staff members are part-time hires working approximately 20 hours per week, and the other is a full-time staff member that splits his duties with our media services department. We also have one technician, formerly a regular part-time hire, who fills in occasionally.

Our technicians’ main duties are to monitor and troubleshoot the technology in the gallery and to assist visitors with installing and using our ArtLens App. Technicians regularly walk through the gallery and monitor interactives via webcam to ensure that stations are clean and working as expected, and troubleshooting if necessary. A repository of troubleshooting documentation is kept on our network drive for easy reference, and the team e-mails through a distribution list to keep all staff members informed. If a problem arises that cannot be resolved by in-house tech staff, the issue is elevated to our hardware or software vendors for assistance. Staff also monitor the Collection Wall and Artlens App for artwork data errors and report them to the applications staff for investigation.

Figure 36: visitors at the Cleveland Museum of Art interact with the ArtLens Wall. As a visitor selects an artwork, the wall alternates in the background to highlight pieces in the collection that are related to each other by different themes. The Gallery One technicians troubleshoot the Collection Wall and aid visitors

The technicians are also responsible for monitoring technology in other areas of the museum, including digital signage in public areas and video installations in special exhibitions and permanent galleries. Before any new technology is installed, the technicians are trained in how to support each setup and documentation is added to the repository. We have a supply of loaner devices for visitors to borrow, which the technicians are responsible for charging, updating, cleaning, and renting. They also prepare iPads for school groups and tours that visit the gallery. Technicians take part in training our gallery guards so that they can answer basic questions about the ArtLens App in the galleries, and train volunteers that help in the Studio Play area.  Our library staff provides training to staff in the exhibition area so that they have the resources to answer collection related questions from visitors.

Archiving Gallery One

As the Museum began planning a relaunch of the Gallery One space, the archives, interpretation, and IMTS departments contemplated how to preserve the history of Gallery One. Since the interactives would disappear and monitors and other hardware would be re-purposed, we needed to decide what to retain in archives and figure out how to collect and preserve whatever we wanted to keep. These decisions brought up familiar archival questions and asked us to apply them to complex digital materials: What about this gallery installation had enduring value? Was it enough to retain a record of the look and feel of the space? Which records will be useful to future researchers?

In the end, we decided to retain the following:

  • Code: All of the code for Gallery One;
  • Virtual machines: IT staff will retain virtual machines that could allow future researchers or other users to spin up the environment;
  • Video of the interactives: To capture the functionality and the look and feel of the interactives, interpretation museum staff filmed them in action;
  • Other documentation: In addition to these records the archives will collect documentation of the development and implementation of the gallery such as committee minutes, checklists, gallery labels, and design specifications.

Looking ahead

The Cleveland Museum of Art has been awarded a generous NEA ArtWorks grant to use toward the new ArtLens Exhibition experience as a catalyst to develop new metrics for measuring the sustained engagement value of technology for art museum visitors. This research will not only improve the CMA’s visitor experience and engagement opportunities with art through technology but also propose a set of standard metrics that can be used by the field to measure these types of engagements. The study, which is being conducted in collaboration with Rockman et. al., will be completed in 2018.

Figure 37: rendering of the new ArtLens Gallery entrance, opening June 2017

It is very hard to write this in the midst of completing the two-year redesign, but we hope that when we open in June 2017 our core goals will be met. ArtLens Exhibition will be an experiential gallery that puts viewers into conversation with works of art, facilitating engagement on a personal and emotional level. ArtLens Exhibition will create a stronger connection between visitors and art by asking questions which ignite their emotion and intellect. We encourage our colleagues to come back after June and to provide us with valuable feedback.


As in the concept of Gallery One collaboration, this paper includes contributions from the following Cleveland Museum of Art staff: Elizabeth Bolander, Director of Research and Evaluation; Emily Hirsch, Gallery One Project Manager; Allison Kennedy, Assistant Director of Support Services; Niki Krause, Director of Application Services;  Cynthia McGrae, Advancement Consultant; and Susan Hernandez, Digital Archivist and Systems Librarian.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the Gallery One team: Mark Cole, Curator of American Painting and Sculpture; Rusty Culp, Associate Director of Design and Architecture; Heather Lemonedes, Chief Curator; Cyra Levenson, Director of Education and Academic Affairs; Jeffrey Strean, Director of Design and Architecture; Barbara Tannenbaum, Curator of Photography; Mary Thomas, Graphic Designer; and Mary Suzor, Director of Collections Management.

Thanks to our vendor partners for their images and/or input on this paper: Potion, Design I/O, Local Projects, and Dome Collective.

Finally, special thank you to our museum colleagues for visiting and spending a day at the Cleveland Museum of Art and sharing their ideas during our workshop in February 2014.

Cite as:
Alexander, Jane, Lori Wienke and Phillip Tiongson. "Removing the barriers of Gallery One: a new approach to integrating art, interpretation, and technology." MW17: MW 2017. Published February 16, 2017. Consulted .

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