There you are at the Carnegie Museum of Art admiring your favorite painting in the Impressionism collection. You may have looked at it dozens of times and read the caption accompanying it, but do you know the story behind it?

Now you can take advantage of the digital display below the painting to enrich your experience. The screen prompts you to scroll through an interactive timeline of the painting’s history before it became part of the museum’s collection. You can learn about the collector who unearthed it in a basement, or how the piece was rediscovered recently in the museum archives. With the display, you can scan through the painting’s timeline, tracing its movement across the globe and onto the wall in front of you, gaining a newfound appreciation for a favorite work of art.

Want more? With a touch and swipe on your Carnegie Museum of Art app, you can digitally navigate the gallery to find more works from this period and artist. Using your location, the app guides you to other images, creating a personalized experience.

The Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh’s newest initiative, the Innovation Studio will help to continue to make this all a reality.

Last week, the Carnegie Museum of Art launched Art Tracks, the interactive experience in the Impressionism collection that allows visitors to track the movement of any artwork in the museum collection.A collaboration between the Carnegie Museum’s Digital Media Lab, and its educational and curatorial departments, Arts Tracks is a step toward blending technology and culture to create a more meaningful museum experience.

Innovation Studio logo, courtesy of the Innovation Studio.
Innovation Studio logo, courtesy of the Innovation Studio.

“There’s a misconception of museums as old, stagnant places where we keep our things and show them on the floor,” explains Jeffrey Inscho, head of the Innovation Studio. “If museums are to grow and thrive for the future, we need to think about experiences that can stand alongside technology.”

Inscho comes from a museum background, with experience working at both the Warhol and the Carnegie Museum of Art. He jumped at the chance to create an overarching team that will create interactive experiences for the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

The team at the Innovation Studio is a diverse mix of technologists and generalists brainstorming new ideas for the museum experience. “It’s very collaborative; everyone dabbles in everything,” Inscho says. “We all have our own kind of strengths. Everyone on the team is curious, everyone likes to learn.

“We’re committed to sharing knowledge and code,” he adds. “Everything we’re going to do is going to be open source. Everything we do is going to be very transparent. We’re going to write about all our projects and share as much knowledge because museums are cash-strapped and staff-strapped. Anything we can do to help out other museums and vice versa, that’s what we need to do in the nonprofit world.” 

The software and code for Art Tracks is open source and available to anyone online. Inscho hopes that museums in other cities will add to the program, creating a data-rich experience for museum-goers.

In addition to Art Tracks, the team is working on rolling out a joint iPhone application to incorporating the Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History. iBeacon technology will also show visitors their location in the museum within the app, and proximity to nearby exhibits.

The Innovation Studio Team. L to R: Ed Motznik, Jeffrey Inscho, David Newbury, Regina McDonald Russian. Not pictured: Drew McDermott. Photo by  Bryan Conley.
The Innovation Studio Team. L to R: Ed Motznik, Jeffrey Inscho, David Newbury, Regina McDonald Russian. Not pictured: Drew McDermott. Photo by Bryan Conley.

While bringing technology into the museums is a major initiative of the studio, the team also wants to bring together technology and culture in Pittsburgh to spark creative collisions, Inscho says. “The Studio is interested in figuring out how we can get the technology community and the vibrant cultural community here in town to start to marinate together in interesting ways.”

The studio has created the “Innovation Salon” series to bring together these two groups. The first salon will take place on Thursday, September 24th at the Carnegie Museum of Art Theater. Elizabeth Merritt, head of the American Alliance of Museums’ Center for the Future of Museums, will be the first speaker. Her focus will be emerging trends that are impacting museums, libraries and art galleries in the modern age. The event is open to the public.

In addition to the Innovation Salon, the Innovation Studio is planning to co-host a hackathon event in November with the Museum of Art, another way to marry technology and culture to create meaningful experiences for guests.

“It’s thinking about modern experiences that our visitors can react to and delight in,” Inscho explains. “We’re all about creating these delightful experiences on the floor of our museums.”

Emma Diehl

Emma Diehl is a writer, blogger, and social media marketer working in tech and startups in Pittsburgh. She loves local craft beer and a well-crafted pun.