Honey, I Shrunk the Staff! Adventures in Museum Audio Tours

By: Andrew McGivern, curator of exhibitions on March 1st, 2012

Have you used an audio tour to enhance your visit to an art museum?

In 2007, the Woodson Art Museum purchased MP3 players, headphones, and began using free audio-editing software to offer visitors insights into changing exhibitions.

Visitors embraced these self-touring units and today our audio tours are an integral component of our educational message. Although this system has served us well over the years, we are exploring options for upgrading the Museum audio tour program.

In June 2011, we met with museum technology consultants Kris Wetterlund and Scott Sayre of Minneapolis-based Sandbox Studios to discuss possible enhancements. Kris and Scott shared information about audio tour systems they developed around the country and helped us understand options. Last month, we joined Kris and Scott in Minneapolis to visit and talk with staff at three museums and to learn about their self-guided audio tours.

Informal discussion at the American Swedish Institute.

We met with Nina Clark at the American Swedish Institute, where visitors use cell phones to call an 800 number to access the museum’s audio tour. At the Walker Art Center, visitors also use their cell phones to learn about works on view. We spent time with Sarah Schulz, director of education and curator of public practice, who answered many questions.

Sheila McQuire, manager of learning resources at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, introduced us to the MIA’s hand-held audio devices that allow visitors to learn about hundreds of works in the collection. These same devices are available for special exhibitions, too. Or, before your visit, tour information can be downloaded to a computer and uploaded to a mobile device. Sheila also showed us how MIA docents use iPads with group tours.

Woodson Staff behind the giant folding table and chairs by Robert Therrien, No Title (Folding Table and Chair, Dark Brown), 2007, near the entrance to the Walker Art Center’s Lifelike on view through May 27, 2012.

In short, this quick visit was a most worthwhile outing for the Woodson staff. The knowledge we gained in Minneapolis will guide us as we enhance our audio tours going forward. Stay tuned!

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