This is retrospective because this project has taken on a time consuming life of its own – and the one thing to fall by the wayside has been actually writing up what we have done… Knowing that AACT is stuffed full of serious academics they will be horrified at this – but this is real life. Going back to the beginning: Annette and I had a long chat about what we were trying to achieve, and time and again we said – we’ll just see what develops. The point of the exercise is to work out a sustainable, inexpensive way forward to use IT to enable a better visitors experience to the Gallery for all abilities. We started with an iPad (provided by AACT) onto which I loaded information about a loan painting collated through iBooks Author. (see separate blog about that). We identified a list of about 60 things to think about, but in the end they all broke down into a few main categories: 1) Visitor user friendliness 2) Custodian user friendliness 3) Security 4) Effectiveness. Following the launch on 14th Feb we have had very positive feedback from those who have used the iPad – most, but not all of the users were familiar with the iPad, all found it ‘easy’ or ‘OK’ to use and without exception they all had high praise for the positive addition it made to their visit. So far so good. We launched initially without headphones as the speaker level (with Guided Access) was set to conversational level, and as the iPad was in a corner of the Gallery we decided to see if the audio level was intrusive. Several visitors actually ASKED for headphones – mainly because they felt embarrassed to be making a noise, and secondly they didn’t want other visitors to know if they skipped a bit! So we added two pairs of headphones and a splitter. This is not ideal for sharing. One issue with iBooks Author is that you create a virtual book – which cannot be looped, and so has to be swiped back to the opening page ready for the next visitor. This is a problem – if the visitor does not finish the presentation and get to the page asking them to swipe back then obviously they don’t and the next visitor starts half way through…… It would be great to find a way of looping the book – other than by copying the pages over and over – which would create a huge file and again pose problems on getting back to the beginning. Some custodians have embraced it and are very happy because of visitor reaction, others are more unsure, and there is some uncertainty about taking the app out of Guided Access in order to leave on charge overnight.( it will not sleep in guided access and heat build-up overnight might pose a problem.) We now have one iPad tethered to a bench and resting on a stand (we would have put it on the bench but decided it would be sat on if we did.. (the iPad, not the bench….) This is not ideal but the best we can do with space available. Custodians so far have reported no objections to it being in the gallery. I have had no report from them yet about the proportion of visitors who look at it – but hopefully will get that in due course. Subsequently were lent a second iPad by AACT. This became necessary as we started to expand the scope of our experiment and introduce the iPad into some more visitor experiences. Our ‘disabilities’ Custodian arranged a visit from the TalkBack group in Amersham. They are a charity empowering challenged young people, and it was decided to run a self-awareness project with them using the Self-Portraits currently in the Gallery exhibition. Ten students arrived, and the ipad was used to take photographs and manipulate them and email the results. It was a great success and added to their experience. Annette was present and can report on the day. More updates later…. Chrissy Rosenthal Volunteer, Stanley Spencer Gallery
Following her post on the Stanley Spencer Gallery, Chrissy Rosenthal introduces the Gallery’s iMuse project.
Ann Danks, our gallery archivist, spotted a talk that Annette Haworth of AACT was giving at Reading about the iMuse work at the Museum of English Rural Life and we decided it sounded intriguing. The use, and future use of IT in the gallery was something that needed addressing. We do not have a resident IT geek on our staff list. One member looks after the Gallery plant and till software, one runs the website and I am involved in creating presentations and illustrated talks using archive material – but we don’t have an overall strategy or IT guru to be definitive about our requirements. As volunteers we have to play to the strengths of the skill base available – and I’m afraid we don’t have the geeky ten year old on staff yet who can tell us instantly what we need and how we do it – so we are feeling our way slowly. We have discussions about blogging, twitter feeds and Facebook groups, and all the interactive possibilities the new technologies present – but we keep coming back to the same point : as volunteers we have limited time, knowledge and money. We have enthusiasm, but also a mature self knowledge that if you can’t do something wholeheartedly and properly it is better left alone. But is this just an excuse for not trying? Twitter is an amazing marketing tool if used properly – but do you risk ruining that if you are not constantly updating or finding new and engaging things to say – don’t you need to use the right language to keep the appeal – and how on earth do you know who you appealing to anyway? Large institutions have whole departments dedicated to market research and social media – we have a couple of retirees picking their way through the shifting sands……
This is why the iMuse project is so important to the Gallery. It opens up for us not only access to the iPad technology – for which we immediately came up with four or five uses – which we could not readily afford ourselves – but just as important is the skill base and the experience they have already gained. We now have back up and assistance as we pick our way through the minefield.
Working with Annette we have accepted the challenge of a six month experiment to see if we can create a sustainable way of using technology to engage visitors of all levels of ability and to add to their experience in the Gallery.
We have identified a long list of challenges – and are working on the solutions. Twitter can wait while we deal face to face with our visitors. They are a complete cross section – about a third ‘concessions’ i.e.over 60 – a third ‘adults’ and the rest students and under 16’s, mainly with school parties. We are accredited to the Museums Association so we have certain obligations ( which we would feel even without this official requirement) to those with special needs and are already working towards offering enhanced services.My next blog will cover the challenges we face and how we go about meeting them.
Chrissy Rosenthal, co-lead in this project, introduces the Stanley Spencer Gallery.
The SSG is a small but beautifully formed art gallery housed in a converted Wesleyan chapel in Cookham, Berkshire. That statement doesn’t do justice to the importance of this vital institution devoted as it is to one of Britain’s foremost artists.
Sir Stanley Spencer RA (1891 -1959) was the YBA of the first half of the 20th century – a very individual visionary artist with a wide oeuvre of work. He was prolific – creating over 450 oils and thousands of delicate and beautifully crafted and observed drawings. For Spencer each creation contained elements of himself, and his desire to join together the secular and the divine – what he called his ‘up there and down here’ feelings. A graduate of the Slade School of Art he was the stand out pupil of his year group, which included such luminaries as Christopher Nevinson, Mark Gertler, Paul Nash, David Bomberg and Dora Carrington. He had the distinction of being an official war artist for both world wars.
He became an early victim of the celebrity culture because of his honestly felt and naive attitude to the women in his life – married to Hilda, the mother of his two children, but infatuated by the lesbian Patricia. Following a divorce he married Patricia, only to be left virtually destitute and impoverished financially after he professed to wanting both women in his life, and being labelled as the man who wanted two wives. The Sunday Express of 1937 was outraged and public opinion scandalised.
He was however much loved, if not always understood, by the community of his native Cookham and the Gallery was opened just three years after his death as a place not only to house a collection of his work, but as a lasting memorial to their local genius. It is now, 50 years on, an institution of national importance as a centre for Spencer studies, and a destination for international art lovers. A look in the visitors book will show scholars and enthusiasts from around the globe.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about this institution, which on average welcomes more than 15,000 visitors a year, is that it is run totally by volunteers. Actually that is not quite true – a cleaner is paid to come in once a week. Today a team of about 50 do everything from organising exhibitions of loan paintings from other galleries and private owners, commissioning the printing of postcards and framed prints, collate archives, host conferences and lectures, run education and access programmes as well as maintain the building, plant and security. All this is done on a self financing model – with only occasional and very recent assistance from outside bodies. In 2006 Heritage Lottery Funding enabled a complete overhaul of the building and the old chapel became a beautiful 21st century gallery space. One special exhibition was assisted with grant money from the Foyle Foundation and recently small grants have allowed two important education projects to employ specialist practitioners to involve local school groups.
Chrissy’s next post introduces the Gallery’s iMuse project.