The data collected during the Art Maps demo website installation at Tate Britain (12 February – 2 June 2013) has offered the Tate-Horizon team an invaluable insight into the way users relate art and place, while also raising some unexpected points of reflection

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  • Art Maps project

    Different groups of visitors at the Art Maps kiosks

    © Cristina Locatelli

  • Art Maps project at screen

    Visitor engaging with Art Maps

    © Cristina Locatelli 

  • Art Maps screen shot

    Screenshot of a comment stream on Art Maps

    © Cristina Locatelli 

The Art Maps display, situated in relation to the free exhibition Looking at the View, was made up of two computer stations, a short documentary about earlier public engagement events (run in April and October 2012) and three pieces of written interpretation. Some software and design adjustments had been made to ensure that Art Maps – an application intended for personal use on desktop computers or mobile devices – would work and be meaningful to visitors in the public and static context of the gallery.

The in-gallery adjustments mentioned above meant that it was impossible to use Google Analytics or other similar tools to effectively gather and analyse data on the application’s usage. Instead, we conducted roughly 35 hours of observations and administered 15 interviews over a total of 11 days between February and June 2013, during which over 200 visitors interacted with the display for a total of about 13 hours of active engagement. The composite of quantitative and qualitative data in relation to the Art Maps users’ experience was further enriched by the monitoring and moderation of the Art Maps comment board and the analysis of 154 comments.

The majority of people who engaged with Art Maps were female (55.8%) and between the age of 19 and 59 (59.1%), which is in line with figures reporting on general visits to Tate Britain in the period January - June 2013 (Table 1). An interesting difference though, arises when comparing the age groups making up the remaining percentage. While general figures report that Tate Britain visitors’ second most represented age group was the over 60s (24.5%), our observations indicate that a substantial percentage of the people who engaged with the Art Maps display were under 19s (32.2%), while less than 10% (precisely 8.6%) were over 60s. This difference suggests that a greater percentage among the young people who visited Tate Britain in the period analysed, got attracted by the Art Maps kiosks in comparison to over 60s, hinting at the different interests and level of technological confidence of these two audiences.

Art Maps table

Table 1
Tate Britain’s visitors figures (Jan–Jun 13) against Art Maps observations’ figures (Feb–Jun 13)

In terms of actual engagement, roughly a fifth of our users read the interpretation material (21.1%) or watched the short documentary (20.6%), while only a small group of people (7.2%) visited the ‘About’ page and watched the tutorial video demonstrating the application’s functionalities. For the most part, our users browsed the digital map in satellite or hybrid mode (63.9%), while a small group (12%) used the ‘Search’ box to find places they were presumably already familiar with, or to search by artist’s name or by keyword in the Tate database. Thanks to the interviews we know that some visitors did not realise they could look at places beyond London, where the digital map was centred by default, although the global span of the project and of the application were mentioned in the interpretation material.

A third of users (34.6%) opened an Artwork page, but only very few then actively engaged, either suggesting a different location and moving the pin on the map (4.3%), enlarging the artwork’s image (3.8%), or leaving a comment (3.3%). Again, from the interviews, we know some users were not interested in this kind of engagement, with one explicitly stating: ‘I wasn’t expecting to actively participate, but just to look around and browse’.1 Other interviewees though, explained that they ‘couldn’t understand the point of it’,2 thus alerting us to the fact that the affordances of the application, that is what users could and were invited to do and why, were not immediately clear to all. To help our audiences understand the developmental and interactive character of the application, it was decided to implement a pop-up dialogue box every time an Artwork page was being opened, explaining what users could do within it, i.e. enlarging an image, moving a pin or posting a thought. We wanted to make clear that, regardless of the nicely presented display, and of its location right at the heart of the Tate Britain galleries, Art Maps was and still is a research-based ‘work in progress’, which users are called to contribute to. Despite this, interviews administered after the pop-up had been implemented, suggested the aims and functionalities of the Art Maps application still remained unclear to some.

To fully understand the ways visitors interpreted and used the application, a look at the comments posted on various Artwork pages and then collected on a single comment board, is essential. Although, as mentioned above, these comments represent only a small percentage of the people who engaged with Art Maps, they nonetheless shed a light on what users made of the application’s affordances. Of 154 comments, roughly half (48%) were related to the artwork’s marker position on the map, or to the location itself, suggesting that these users understood the intention and felt they could contribute with their personal knowledge and experience of a place to Tate’s own and to the general knowledge.

7 Mar 2013, 16.22
It is true, this artwork was made at the Rambouillet Castle (Chateau de Rambouillet). Il live here and I can confirm it, but it is located near the Castle garden and the small river!

13 Mar 2013, 16.09
I have been to the street many times over the years to visit Watkins, the occult bookseller. Assuming that we are looking West or left, your marker is about right. Is Seligmann still there? It is on the far left of picture.

A fifth of the comments (21.4%) were about the artwork, suggesting that some users were drawn to analyse artwork’s digital reproductions in more detail so to be able to place them in space, or even in time.

6 Mar 2013, 10:52
There are two paths in the background to this painting so I have moved the pin to somewhere where you might see this.

21 Mar 2013, 15.33
I have suggested the shadows because it looks more like a art work, which has the title ‘Friday NIGHT camden town’

Very few of the posted comments (1.9%) talked about the artist, while a fifth (19.4%) were unclear, unrelated or blank comments. This again raises the issue of Art Maps’ clarity of aims to be tested in the context of the gallery, rather than as an application accessible from the comfort of users’ home or on the go via their mobile devices.

Interestingly, a small group of comments (7.7%) were related to the Art Maps application itself, suggesting changes or additions (mostly of the Street View functionality) and indicating that the experimental character of the application at that stage was clear to some, and that people felt they could contribute to its development.

Overall, Art Maps kiosks’ data has reinforced our intentions, while also raising some unexpected findings. Our findings have confirmed that personal experiences and memories of a certain place have the potential of empowering users to contribute their specialist knowledge to Tate’s records and to the wider community, and potentially foster in them a sense of place and belonging. They have also demonstrated that the task of locating an artwork, far from being an objective endeavour, can prompt a personal connection where users look at artworks more closely to try to interpret them spatially, or even in time. At the same time, the data has prompted us to reflect on the considerable impact that the Tate branding and presentation can have on users’ understanding of a project such as Art Maps that is in a developmental stage. The stylish in-gallery installation of the Art Maps demo website and the values implicit in the Tate brand seem to have supported some visitors’ expectation to engage with a fully finished product, and to access undisputed geographical information sanctioned by the authoritative voice of the museum. However, the very nature of a crowdsourcing project such as this one, which relies on user’s contributions, on their subjective opinions and on peer-reviewed information, eludes the possibility of ever reaching a ‘finished’ stage, even once the beta trial phase will be over. These considerations have informed the way Art Maps is presented, and its affordances conveyed, to ensure the application is effectively perceived as a ‘work in progress’, a key element in motivating users to further contribute to its development.

While findings from forthcoming engagement events will continue to contribute to the application’s development, we look forward to the public web launch in 2014 to fully appreciate Art Maps’ potential ‘in the wild’.

Cristina Locatelli, Prof Gabriella Giannachi and the Art Maps team were awarded a Research Impact Award for Arts and Culture at Exeter University on Dec 10, 2013.

  • 1. Interview 4, 10 May 2013
  • 2. Interview 8, 14 May 2013