The Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio has teamed up with Potion Design to create a system whereby ‘virtual exhibitions’ can be created at will from its extensive collection. The gallery, which boasts a permanent collection of well over 6,000 works of art from around the globe, usually sees over three-quarters of a million visitors each year. However, as with so many institutions in the museum sector, this number has fallen dramatically because of the health crisis.
Part of the gallery’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic was to develop virtual ways that people could experience its artworks. However, rather than opting for a virtual tour or live streaming what it would normally have on offer, the gallery’s Chief Digital Information Officer, Jane Alexander, decided to take a more novel approach. She decided that she would like an art-based app that would have the ability to unite teams of workers. This, she suggested, would not just generate a significant degree of companionship among displaced employees but also afford the opportunity to have some fun.
Potion Design, a software design consultancy that is based New York City, came up with a bespoke variation of its preexisting virtual exhibition app, ArtLens, for the gallery working with the popular team messaging service Slack. ArtLens for Slack, now means that anyone who has downloaded it can become inspired by the museum’s collection and also discuss anything relevant to the gallery in a digital work space.
An App for Enriched Virtual Workplaces
According to the Cleveland Museum of Art, ArtLens for Slack blends a traditional museum experience with a workplace one, where you might just start chatting to a colleague in another team over a coffee or by the water cooler. “Like visiting the museum with co-workers,” the gallery’s website states, “ArtLens for Slack creates a virtual experience that is akin to a team-building exercise.” Crucially, the app only operates in the digital realm so people are able to interact with one another – and the art that is on show – from the comfort of their home offices.
The design principle behind the project is that it means being able to create an art exhibition rapidly using nothing other than software. When this is done, it will present high-quality depictions of the works of art held in the gallery’s collection. The idea is that present-day conversations can be more meaningful if relevant images are selected to go with the sort of things people are talking about in the digital realm. For example, while the world has been obsessed with personal protective equipment, there is an image of a chain mail shirt that could contextualise the issue in a new way. It is to be found in the gallery’s European armoury collection.
ArtLens for Slack has access to the museum’s entire collection of art and will allow anyone who wishes to do so to curate a new exhibition and share it with their colleagues. Therefore, every virtual exhibition can be a one-off for any company that uses the app. The system is up and running during weekdays with the hope that it will offer a great deal of enrichment to the rather stolid world of online remote working. Although the app is perfect for museum staff and those who are already interested in art, it can be used in any online environment where people are working together in a virtual sense.
From Conception to Project Delivery
According to the developer behind the app, it took just a fortnight to come up with a concept that they could propose to the museum. This was then followed by a period of initial coding to show that the project was technically possible. After that, a future delivery road map was drawn up and the project was then handed over to the museum’s digital team to run. ArtLens for Slack took five weeks to go live from the initial concept stage. This begs the question of whether other institutions with similarly interesting collections could make use of Slack to help enrich other virtual workplaces.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.