Traditionally, the only way to experience a work of art was to be in the physical presence of the work; and by experience we refer to the emotional response a person has to viewing an artwork. 

Reproductions and prints could widen the audience for an artwork but still only provide a similar visual experience to the original. Digital technology however gives us scope to provide wholly new experiences of an artwork. Access to digital technology and the access it provides to the Internet is now commonplace in the developed world and is growing rapidly in the developing world, with the ability to send and receive digital content from anywhere in the world the physical barriers that limit access to works of art are lowered.

The Art Maps project, from a technical development viewpoint, is about developing two strands in providing new ways of experiencing the Tate’s collection. The first is about developing some new experiences based on the Tate collection and trialling these with members of the public. The second is about developing an infrastructure that firstly allows the public to have access to the Tate digital collection so they themselves may create their own experiences, and secondly allows the public to feed information back to ‘grow’ the Tate collection in a process of crowd-sourcing.

Initially, we will be focusing on crowd-sourcing geographic information about the artworks. Many of the paintings in the Tate collection have some concept of ‘place’ or where they were painted attached to them but this data is very variable, in some cases accurate geographic coordinates are given but in most cases the accuracy given is only down to the level of town or region. One simple way in which members of the public can add to the Tate data is to provide more accurate coordinates of where they believe a painter stood whilst painting a landscape. Modern smart-phones are commonly equipped with GPS positioning sensors that can get the location of a user to within a few meters. Beyond this, there are several other types of geographic information that we can collect about an artwork, where the painter was born, where the materials used in the work came from, a place that reminds a member of the public about a painting. We hope that by providing the public with the tools to add this information we will capture their imaginations and interest in providing the requested information.

After this first stage of data collection, we can then start to look at ways of using this information to plan new experiences for the public. One simple experience we will produce will be to provide an interface that generates walks through the countryside that feature waypoints along the way that inform the user about the artworks mapped to that location, this will be provided as a smart-phone app that users can download.

With the first public engagement event planned for a few weeks time, we are busy in the development stage but we will be blogging about our software experiences and creations here and gradually releasing technology to allow the public to get involved.