How the Philadelphia Museum of Art is changing the way people interact with art - Philly


May 3, 2016 10:50 am

How the Philadelphia Museum of Art is changing the way people interact with art

“This isn't a library, we want people to talk and interact.” From hackathons to gamified mobile apps, here's how museum officials are embracing technology.

A group, tablets in hand, tours the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

(Photo by Jason Sherman)

The Philadelphia Museum of Art spent three months developing its new interactive iPad app and it’s nothing short of magical.

At first glance you might think it’s just another ploy to get people in the door. But once you actually get your hands on it, you will quite literally see a whole new artistic point of view.

When you first open the app, you get a map of the museum, so you always know where you are, and you know where everything is, so you won’t get lost. Next, the art museum installed 280 iBeacons all around the art museum that are continuously broadcasting a signal. The signals not only direct you (kind of like a treasure hunt), but they also tell you which items have more information available within the app.

The mobile app is meant to augment the museum experience.

The mobile app is meant to augment the museum experience. (Photo by Jason Sherman)

For example, one tour group stopped by a large Picasso painting of musicians, and the app immediately showed the painting as well as more information. It then had a notification saying to play the music, and when the visitors clicked play, they could hear what the painting would have sounded like when Picasso painted it.

In front of the Picasso.

In front of the Picasso. (Photo by Jason Sherman)

It’s fully immersive, both in sight and sound.


(Photo by Jason Sherman)

(Photo by Jason Sherman)

On average, a patron will spend roughly two minutes per item in the app learning about it. Instead of just looking at items, now you can actually learn about them. There is also a hint of gamification in the new app.

For example, you can unlock achievements for finding certain things. At one point, the tour group had to find a large blue section with a white X. They ended up having to find it on the ceiling with no help from the tour guides.

Look up. (Photo by Jason Sherman)

Look up. (Photo by Jason Sherman)

(Photo by Jason Sherman)

(Photo by Jason Sherman)

“This is a way to make the museum more of a social gathering,” said interactive developer Peter Alt. “This isn’t a library, we want people to talk and interact. And what better way but by using sound, visuals and more in-depth information all in a fun and unique app?”

This new interactive experience isn’t the only thing the museum is working on. It’s also in the middle of some pretty intense endeavors. One being a platform called “Apollo,” which lets you see objects in new ways (think: X-ray and underpainting, conservation, comparisons and close-ups). It will also feature more in depth descriptions and American Sign Language support.

"This is a way to make the museum more of a social gathering."
Peter Alt, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Museum officials have also been working in Mexico City on a mural program. Using touchscreen capabilities, life-size projections and high-end videography, they are capturing hundreds of murals at schools, buildings and other important sites.

Lastly, the museum is experimenting with hackathons. It hosted its first coding event in March, and organizers are hailing it as a success. Participants were given access to over 5,000 museum collection objects, the 280 iBeacons, PMA staff and a toolkit.

On balance, it’s another attempt to marry technology and art — a goal that museum officials hope to achieve, characteristically, with taste and beauty.

The view.

The view. (Photo by Jason Sherman)

Jason Sherman

Jason Sherman is a serial entrepreneur who writes about tech startups for Philly and the Examiner, where he has contributed since March 2012. The cofounder of B2B video platform See2B, he's a drone pilot and official videographer for various tech meetups, as well as frequent tech community mentor. Sherman majored in computer science at Delaware Valley University during the dot-com boom. He loves all things tech, art, music, film, food and his Shih Tzu, Wolfgang.

  • Megan Valencic

    This is really cool! I love this idea of being more interactive in the museum. I myself, am an art lover and really enjoy going to the museum to be in the presence of these beautiful creations. My husband on the other hand appreciates it, but doesn’t really enjoy having to stand there while I drool over a painting. I think this would be a really great idea to implement in other museums around the country as well. I love this article, thank you for writing it! I think if it’s okay I’d love to share this article on my own blog at

  • Revella

    Omg i can see so much potential there with art museum apps. Making it so interactive you can connect with surrounding art patrons in the area, have local challenges and live feeds across the board catering to the art community sounds like alot of fun and hope to see focus on getting children involved where they should start

  • Gabriela Zoller

    Hey, thanks for dumping on libraries. It would be nice if the culturals could all support each other!


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