Art Maps

Tate holds the national collection of British art from 1500 and international art from 1900 (c.68,000 works in all). About one third of the collection has been indexed by Tate with information about locations, typically the site represented. For some works this information is quite specific but in many cases it is quite general, referring only to a city, region or major geographical feature. The Art Maps project aims to improve the quality of the geographical data relating to these works, with members of the public contributing information about the specifics of the imagery and viewpoint used or associated sites. It also will allow people to record and share their memories and emotional or creative responses to the places associated with the artworks in ways that will generate learning experiences and create new communities.

Over the course of 2012 and 2013 the Art Maps project will develop one or more applications for use on smart phones that will allow people to relate artworks to the places, sites and environments they encounter in daily life (a website will also allow desk-based users to view and annotate maps but the project will focus primarily upon the use of mobile technology). By looking at a site in relation to artworks, they will become more familiar with both the site and the art, gaining insights into how artworks relate to or differ from the sites they represent, how sites have changed over time, and how sites have been represented and experienced by different artists. Importantly, the new software will enable audiences to explore ideas of site, place and location, environment, representation and memory, both on their own and collaboratively in groups (for example, families, friends and schools).

It is expected that the new app will enable members of the public to help Tate pinpoint the locations of particular images and identify the viewpoints used by artists through sending comments or uploading their own photographs or videos of the sites for publication on Tate’s website. The app will analyse users’ locations and display artworks that are associated with that location (typically because they represent it or were created there). With works that are not specifically ‘about’ a location (for example, abstract works or performances), Art Maps will offer audiences the possibility of annotating the works in relation to, for example, the site of a performance or the artist’s studio. Additionally, Art Maps will facilitate the creation of journeys through cities according to a particular artist’s work (J.M.W. Turner’s views of Venice, for example), a movement or a theme.

Through the creation of new software, the project aims to:

  • develop ‘art maps’ for exploration by place through mobile devices and an associated website;
  • invite and capture associative responses to place and space;
  • test whether the new software will engage users in new ways with artworks in the collection, particularly the less well known ones;
  • explore how mobile technologies can support individual and group learning beyond the gallery;
  • develop protocols and processes around the publication of user content on Tate’s website;
  • test how information about the locations of artworks in Tate’s collection may be crowdsourced;
  • explore the value of crowdsourced information and associative contributions by the public;
  • develop and offer (under open source) a mobile web interface as a tool that can then be used or repurposed by others.

Art Maps is developed by researchers at the University of Nottingham and University of Exeter with funding from Horizon, an RCUK-funded Research Institute for Digital Economy Research, in collaboration with Tate. Established in 2009, Horizon brings together researchers from a range of disciplines to investigate how digital technology can enhance the way we live, work and play. The prototype application will consist of an Art Map of Tate’s collection; future Art Maps may involve other collections. 

For further information about the project, contact Gabriella Giannachi at

See also