Canadian Museum is First to Join Global Arts and Culture App with New Digital Guide

By: Lee Rickwood

December 9, 2022

Among the more than 2,700 or so museums in Canada, one has taken the prestigious top spot as the country’s first to join forces with a major global arts and culture organization to create a new digital guide that supplements its in-person and existing online art experiences.

The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto has launched its digital guide on Bloomberg Connects, the free arts and cultural smartphone app created by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

It’s the first museum in Canada to appear on the Bloomberg Connects app, joining hundreds of other international arts and cultural institutions. The app is available for download from Google Play or the App Store.

Twitter page with tweets about Aga Khan Museum

Bloomberg Connects tags the Aga Khan Museum with news about the Museum’s new digital guide available on the Bloomberg Connects app. Twitter screen grab.

The new digital guide takes virtual visitors behind the scenes with exclusive content highlighting current and upcoming exhibitions; there’s information about its extensive public programming, including the Museum’s special activities planned for this holiday season, and much more.

The guide is designed to be accessible for either on-site or off-site visits; it supplements rather than duplicates content already on the Museum’s website, describes Marketing and Communications Director Kelly Frances.

“The intention of the app is not to reproduce what you see on the website, or what you can read on the labels in the Museum; it also works for people sitting on the other side of the country,” she describes, noting the content – including photos, audio and video – was created entirely by Museum staff.

Frances adds that information about the Museum’s Shop and Diwan restaurant give visitors an idea of what they can expect from a day at the Museum. Additional audio content, such as the Diversity Tour, offer an interactive and accessible way to learn more about other art and cultural objects in the Museum Collections.

But it’s clear the pride extends even further: “It is a lovely coup for us, and exciting to be the first Canadian museum on the app. Bloomberg definitely has intentions to grow its list of participating galleries and museums, and it is great that they will definitely expand beyond the Aga Khan Museum, but it is a nice place to be: top of the list for Canada.”

The digital guide expands on the Museum’s overall mandate and mission while adding a real sense of personality to the visitor experience, such as through the special introduction from the Museum’s Director and CEO, Dr. Ulrike Al-Khamis, who stated when the app was announced that “We are proud to feature on the Bloomberg Connects app as the very first Canadian institution, and we are grateful for the opportunity to bring our mandate of connecting cultures and fostering intercultural understanding through the arts to a truly global audience alongside other world-class cultural organizations.”

man walking outdoors uses smartphone to look at arts app.

The Bloomberg Connects platform comes as part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ longstanding commitment to supporting digital innovation in the arts; the organization offers free digital guides to cultural organizations around the world. Bloomberg Connects image.

The Bloomberg Connects platform is part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ longstanding commitment to supporting digital innovation in the arts, and the organization offers free digital guides to cultural organizations around the world so people may better access and engage with arts and culture content using their mobile devices when visiting in person, or anytime from anywhere.

The content is exclusive to each partner organization, which can, as the Aga Khan Museum did, create its own content, featuring expert commentary, wayfinding maps and illustrative video, audio and text material.

Museums can create their own content, but they are not left on their own to do so, Frances explained.  “Bloomberg works closely with their partner museums; they did not say ‘Go figure it yourself’. The Connects team has gained experience with what content works on the app, how long it should be and so on, she said. “We met with them every week for several months; it was an excellent process to get the right style of content, to give the right Information, to be engaging with audience.” There is no charge to museums or galleries to be on the platform.

Using technology to open the access to arts and cultural institutions worldwide only has gained popularity since COVID hit, and many such institutions made the necessary pivot from in-person physical spaces to the virtual world, creating open access online experience when their doors were closed.

woman uses smartphone to take picture in museum.

Showcased at the Aga Khan Museum through this holiday season, Afghanistan My Love features paintings and murals by art collective ArtLords, alongside designs and textiles by contemporary Afghan-Canadian artist, Shaheer Zazai. Afghanistan My Love Photo Credit: Alnoor Meralli

That pivot to virtual was very important at the time, and Frances says the Aga Khan Museum (as with many other similar art galleries and museums) will in future always have some sort of complimentary digital elements.

“A hybrid approach is critical,” she agrees. “The ways in which we enhance the actual in-museum visit with digital interventions may vary depending on exhibition, but there will always be creative digital ways to tell a story in an engaging way, or to see an object come to life.”

It is a holistic approach, driven by lots of data and surveys about major exhibitions and how people engage with content.

One point that has shown through is a trend towards a younger museum-going demographic, Frances says. Deep diving into the available audience data shows a younger demographic coming in. The audience tends to 18 to 55 now, with large concentration of 25 to 45 years. Prior to 2019, a larger number of attendees were over 55.

“It’s a good split, but the demographics have shifted,” Frances underscores. “We are better recognized in a younger cohort, but we still appeal to all demographics.”

And tech comfort levels.

Frances shows how simple the Bloomberg app is to use, with a button push to access the Director’s talk and notes that Wi-Fi is available for free in the Museum, making downloading on the spot very easy.

If you’re not comfortable scanning a QR code, if you’re not familiar with tech, you won’t miss out, she says. The ease with which technology can be integrated into the physical experience of walking through a gallery or museum does not interfere with the timing and flow of that experience, and new digital guides like that from the Aga Khan Museum and Bloomberg Connects can be used to enhance the in-gallery visit or that virtual online experience.

“We want people all over the world to visit the Aga Khan Museum,” Frances says. With its digital guide now associated with the global Bloomberg brand, those visits can originate almost anywhere.

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coloured projected lighting illuminates outside of Aga Khan Museum.

From December 27 to 29, the exterior of the Aga Khan Museum will come to life with Light Up the Dark. This animated light projection is inspired by masterpieces from the Museum Collection, designed by a group of OCAD University students and graduates, and accompanied by a musical composition by Humber College students. Light Up the Dark. Photo Credit Aga Khan Museum.


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