Bringing the 21st century to Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral
Country: United States
City: San Francisco
Institution Type: Sacred/Solemn
Year Founded: 1910
Content Type: Multimedia
Tour Type: Kids/Teens, Adult
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Client testimonial
“You have made a world of difference here…it has been a joy to work with you.” Katherine Thompson, Canon Director of Development, Grace Cathedral
Client profile
Grace Cathedral is an active Episcopal cathedral in San Francisco, one of the city’s most iconic buildings, originally constructed in 1910.  It features Jan Henryk De Rosen mosaics, Gothic architecture, and a Keith Haring altarpiece. The church welcomes all people and has strong connections to the LGBTQ community.
Challenge: welcoming a mixture of visitors and congregation
Grace Cathedral is open to everyone, regardless of faith, background or age, and offers music concerts, art exhibits, public talks, yoga and labyrinth walks, along with traditional church services and programs serving community needs. It is one of very few US churches built in a Gothic architectural style, providing an interesting counterpoint to the Cathedral’s deep engagement with social justice issues and activism.
The Cathedral wanted to share the history, architecture and art of the Cathedral, and to communicate the Cathedral’s role as a spiritual and community center,  where dynamic and interesting things happen. It was important to the Cathedral to engage their visitors, but with limited available volunteers and resources, they needed a self-guided solution.  Grace Cathedral chose to collaborate Antenna International to develop a downloadable app that would allow for self-guided exploration.
Solution: the right information for the right audience
The first step was to develop a visitor-centric understanding of the Cathedral’s goals.  An Antenna-led strategy session helped the Cathedral identify four distinct target audiences they were trying to reach – tourists, children, local San Franciscans, and congregation members – each with different needs. Tourists were likely to have limited prior knowledge of the Cathedral, San Franciscans might be looking for information about the next jazz concert, while congregation members might be looking for church events and services.  A single ‘encyclopedic’ app aimed at all audiences would be confusing, so Antenna helped the Cathedral narrow their focus.  The result was an app for tourists that provides an introductory overview of the Cathedral and its unique place within San Francisco culture.
The downloadable app “GraceGuide” features an adult tour and a children’s tour, with additional crossover content that both audiences can enjoy, such as a music playlist.  The tours were created in tandem.  Paper and digital prototypes were tested with focus groups of children to refine content and designs. This proved to be a crucial part of the development process.
The children’s tour is a scavenger hunt that uncovers “secrets” hidden around the Cathedral. Clues direct children to ten different nooks and crannies around the Cathedral and the app tracks their progress. The scavenger hunt is experiential – children can put their fingers in the baptismal font to feel the water, do yoga at the center of the labyrinth, walk onto the altar, and play a digital pipe organ. After finding all ten “secrets,” a special message directs the child to a prize, hidden in a special compartment inside a Bishop’s chair. Discovering secrets and being given permission to enter “off-limits” places creates a sense of subversive fun. 
The adult app uses inclusive, neutral language and a personal message from the Bishop of California offering a warm welcome.  The thirty-minute tour includes close-up images of architectural details, stories of social activism, and highlights iconic objects within the Cathedral, such as a portion of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and an altarpiece made by the artist Keith Haring just weeks before he died.  In addition, visitors can listen to reflective music, or experience a guided meditation through the labyrinth.
Adults and children tour the same stops in the Cathedral, enabling a shared experience. Children are provided with information not included in the adult tour, and are encouraged to quiz their adult companions. Giving children this type of experience not only encourages family interaction, it reinforces the idea that learning is power.
Results: moving forward with digital strategy
Launched on Android and IOS in May 2016, the app helps visitors feel welcome, guiding them through the space, providing the context and information that they need, without causing interruption to the day to day services, or draw on limited staff resources.
The Cathedral has been inspired by the experience to develop a digital “roadmap” and move forward as a ‘Connected Cathedral’. Antenna is working with the Cathedral to develop a digital roadmap, exploring ideas for “GraceGuide 2.0,” aimed at serving the congregation’s needs.

About Us

We are innovative storymakers and creative technologists devoted to visitor-first experiences.

We make audio tours, mobile apps, multimedia guides, podcasts, interactives, and superior story-driven content for the museum and cultural sector.

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