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How ThingLink’s AR App and Virtual Tour Made an Art Exhibition More Accessible

Kyla Ball

In the fall of 2023, Ohio State University’s College of Arts and Sciences Office of Distance Education (ASC ODE) began a collaboration with the college’s Barnett Center for Integrated Arts and Enterprise. The ODE would be assisting the Barnett in championing a campus-wide initiative celebrating disability justice and community awareness. As part of this initiative, the Barnett Center would be working with the organisation Art Possible Ohio to host a two month exhibition showcasing their annual Accessible Expressions Ohio series.

University Instructional Designer Sarah Dove proposed creating a virtual tour using ThingLink, to increase the accessibility and inclusivity of the exhibition. It would mean that those who were unable to access the center physically could take a tour of the objects within it. It would also provide an introduction to the building before visitors arrived, to give a sense of navigation around the space.

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ThingLink provides not one but two solutions

At the time, ThingLink’s AR (Augmented Reality) app was in the final stages of development, and by good fortune was going to be ready to be deployed just when the exhibition was also in its final stage of preparation.

The dual approach could create multiple ways that people could experience the exhibition and engage with the artworks, whether in person, virtually, or a combination of the two. ThingLink was able to provide the solution to create and host both approaches – a Guided Tour and an AR experience. The two were developed in tandem, saving development time.

The virtual tour was launched in early October 2023, followed by the AR experience at the beginning of November 2023.

AR App – so easy to set up and use

Sarah reports that setting up the AR App was “incredibly easy.” Each artwork was photographed, the image uploaded to ThingLink AR App, and the interactive tags added in the same way as you would in the main editor. (Further instructions and link are provided at the bottom of this blog.)

Sarah created a poster for the exhibition which featured two QR codes: one to download the app, and one to visit the artwork collection.

In the video below, you can see that the tags appear instantly as an overlay when visitors scan the artwork with their mobile device. It was so straightforward that the center staff required no additional training on using, or supporting visitors to use the app – and to date, all visitors have enjoyed a smooth and straightforward experience. Just like in the Guided Tour, visitors are also able to purchase the available artworks via a link in the AR app.

How the Guided Tour was created and how it functions

The Guided Tour 360 images were created with a Go Pro camera, with more detailed images of groups of artworks provided within the tour. Visitors to the guided tour can click the tags on any artwork they would like to learn more about, or see in more detail. If the artwork is for sale, there is also a link to purchase via the Art Possible Ohio Shop site. Explore the full Guided Tour below!

It also contains an introduction video from Art Possible Director Megan Fitze which you can watch here:

You don’t necessarily require a 360 camera to create a similar tour. An instructor at OSU has created an example virtual gallery tour for her course students using the new solution Pano to 360 by ThingLink.

Feedback from creators, museum, artists and visitors

The ThingLink resources have been extremely well received both by the director of the Barnett Center – Scott A Jones, and the Director of Art Possible, Ohio – Megan Fitze.

“We work with artists all over the state, some of whom are homebound due to their disabilities. Having this virtual exhibition provided the artist and their loved ones the opportunity to see and share their work on view. The benefits can literally not be measured. Artists were simply excited to share the works with their friends and families and often left affirmative comments on our [social media] posting.”

Megan Fitze (Executive Director, Art Possible Ohio)

“The virtual tour and related supportive technologies added a rich and meaningful dimension to this art exhibition in the Barnett Center this semester. The initial conceptualization for the exhibition was strictly for an in-person audience. Through the thoughtful efforts of Instructional Designer Sarah Dove, the exhibition became available to viewers from around the world through the web-based nature of the technology. While this was my first interaction with such technology, I found the platform easy to navigate and enjoyable.”

Dr. Scott Jones (Director, Barnett Center for Integrated Arts and Enterprise)

On accessibility:

“The tool itself makes it so easy to include the things that need to be considered for accessibility. The added benefit of people being able to translate it straight into another language just adds even more inclusion.”

Jessica Henderson

“It’s a really nice marriage of UDL (universal design for learning) and accessibility.”

Sarah Dove

On ThingLink overall:

We have been very impressed and encouraged by how quickly things are updating and how quickly new things are being added. Because ThingLink is very invested in accessibility already it makes integrating these new features so much easier for us.”

Sarah Dove

“You always have the flexibility to find creative solutions with ThingLink”. 

Jessica Henderson

Impact and legacy of the exhibition

Art Possible Ohio intend to keep the Guided Tour active indefinitely as an online fully asynchronous exhibition space. In this way it will also represent archival material – a catalogue of the exhibition and a learning artefact. They will also be sharing it in presentations with stakeholders and potential future partners.

How does the AR app work?

Creating interactive content for the AR app is very straightforward in ThingLink.

  1. Take a picture of an object (e.g. a painting)
  2. Upload the picture to ThingLink and add hotspots using ThingLink’s main media editor.
  3. Go to the AR section in your ThingLink profile, add the scene to an AR collection, and then generate a share code for your collection

For detailed instructions, go to our easy-to-follow article on our support pages.

Should I choose a Virtual Tour or Guided Tour?

One aspect of inclusivity and accessibility which can often be overlooked is the fact that museums and galleries can be overwhelming, confusing or intimidating for some visitors. Feedback about a virtual tour of the Orton Museum on campus (explore below!) showed that most of the recent in-person visitors had explored the virtual tour first, suggesting that familiarity with the space encouraged a subsequent physical visit.

For this reason the team decided that Guided Tours would be even more useful in this regard than the free-form self-guided virtual tour alternative. The guided tour welcomes viewers to the Barnett Center virtually before coming to the physical exhibition, guiding them through a route that they would take from arrival to the exhibition – rather than relying on the visitor to navigate their own way around the spaces.

On the other hand, Virtual Tours work well when you have a lot of information that you would like to include on each object, such as in the Orton Museum tour above.

Thank you to Sarah Dove and Jessica Henderson for their help in putting this case study together.

Further case studies and blogs you may be interested in

Royal Ontario Museum’s New Virtual Tour

How Stuhr Museum’s Blizzard Scenario Brings History to Life

Highland Folk Museum’s Virtual Tours

Budapest’s Major Museums Create Virtual Tours for Schools

V&A Dundee Widens Access with ThingLink

How Museums and Technology are Collaborating

ROM’s Virtual Tours Solve Access Issues

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