Lost in Sound at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art

Chris Bicourt | December 2, 2017 | NEWS

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, has just launched two Antenna-produced immersive walking tours combining the latest in technology with real drama. Stories told by narrators and a changing cast of characters go far beyond describing brush strokes. 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 which can be downloaded to theira mobile or an onsite device. Once visitors press “start” they no longer need to interact with their device, embarking on an Antenna-narrated journey that feels like a walking podcast. 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, Antenna’s storytellers offer new ways of relating to the museum’s collection. Follow one of the tours and a group of four friends share the hidden facts they’ve discovered in pieces of art throughout the galleries. While looking at Gustave Caillebotte’s “Portrait of Richard Gallo”, visitors hear what sounds like a dinner partyconversation, revealing facts like why “poubelle” is the French word for “trash can” and why newspapers are nicknamed “rags”.

Follow the other route and visitors are immersed in heartbreaking and exhilarating stories on the nature of love. At Edgar Degas’ bronze “Grand Arabesque”, a real-life ballerina describes her passion for dance that is so deep, she gladly walks around with bloody feet.

Iterative testing and close collaboration between Antenna and the museum were vital to the project because the Nelson-Atkins is only the second museum in the United States, after the SFMOMA-Antenna collaboration, to create this type of innovative, story-led, location-aware tour using the Detour app.

“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.”

Anne Manning, Director of Education at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art comments: “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.

“This is all new, so we partnered really closely with Antenna to test, iterate and finalize during the development of the soundwalks. It had to work perfectly seamlessly so the technology would disappear and the visitor would focus solely on the story.

“What we have created together is even beyond what we’d hoped. We are seeing visitors have strong emotional responses, from laughter to tears.”


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