The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, has just introduced two immersive Antenna-produced walking tours that combine the latest technology and true drama. Narrators and a changing cast of characters tell stories that go far beyond describing brushstrokes. Imagine the artificial intelligence voiced by Scarlett Johansson in the movie Her, and you’re getting close to the experience.
Visitors are guided seamlessly through the museum via an app that can be downloaded to their own mobile phone or an on-site device. Once they press “start,” there’s no need to interact with a device any longer; they have embarked on an Antenna-narrated journey that feels more like a walking podcast than a traditional tour. Navigational directions are subtly embedded in the storytelling, and audio is triggered at the exact pace of the visitor’s movements, creating magical moments of discovery and wonder.
From masterpieces to little-known gems, the museum’s collection is brought to life in new and engaging ways. In one of the tours, a group of four friends share little-known facts they’ve discovered about pieces of art throughout the galleries. While looking at Gustave Caillebotte’s Portrait of Richard Gallo, visitors hear what sounds like a dinner-party conversation that reveals interesting tidbits—like why poubelle is French for “trash can” and why newspapers are nicknamed “rags.”
On the other route, visitors are immersed in heartbreaking and exhilarating stories on the nature of love. At Edgar Degas’s bronze Grand Arabesque, a real-life ballerina describes her passion for dance that is so deep, she gladly walks around with bloody feet.
Close collaboration and iterative testing between Antenna and the museum were vital to the project; Nelson-Atkins is only the second museum in the United States, after SFMOMA, to work with Antenna and use the Detour app’s location-aware functionality to create this kind of innovative story-led tour.
“This is all new, so we partnered really closely with Antenna to test, iterate, and finalize during the development of the soundwalks,” shared Anne Manning, director of education at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. “It had to work perfectly—seamlessly—so that the technology would disappear, and the visitor would focus solely on the story.”
Christine Murray, senior creative strategist and executive producer at Antenna International, agreed: “These immersive tours connect with visitors on a deeply human level. The technology allows us to choreograph these magical moments where mind, body, art, and space all intersect. Do you learn about the artworks? Of course. But you almost don’t realize it because you are so lost in the story.
“It’s hard to describe, but when you turn a corner and your guide gasps in wonder at the same moment you do, it truly feels like you are with a personal companion showing you around. It took real daring for the museum to create something so innovative, but it has really paid off for their visitors. This is a totally new, fresh and moving form of engagement.”
Manning is equally enthusiastic about the new tours: “We saw this chance to design experiences for our visitors that would transform their understanding of our collection—and we grabbed it with both hands. This is exactly what we believe in as a museum.
“What we have created together is even beyond what we’d hoped. We are seeing visitors have strong emotional responses—from laughter to tears.”
Here’s an audio sample from one of the tours: