Courtesy of Jessica Smolinski

Visitors to the Yale University Art Gallery can now download a personal tour on their mobile devices.

On Jan. 25, the gallery launched a new free app, called “Yale University Art Gallery,” which assists users in navigating exhibits and provides supplemental audio clips linked to many of the works on display. The Yale Center for British Art also launched a similar app at the same time. To celebrate the release of the app, the gallery held an “Appy Hour” event on Jan. 25, during which museum staff were available to help visitors find, download and use the app.

“It’s a question we often [got] from visitors, whether there’s an audio guide or an app,” said Leonor Barroso, the YUAG’s director of visitor services.

She emphasized that responding to feedback from visitors is central to the gallery’s mission. After receiving enough similar requests, Barroso and her colleagues recruited a team to develop an app that would work as an audio guide.

The central features of the app are several tour options, an interactive map of the premises, an events calendar and an artwork search. Users also have the ability to “like” favorite art pieces and share them on social media.

Tours options include a 30-minute, 60-minute or 90-minute exploration of the gallery’s permanent collection and exhibitions, highlighting key pieces across the YUAG’s galleries. A history and architecture tour directs visitors throughout the museum’s three buildings, providing commentary on the architecture and physical layout of the space. Alternatively, app users can elect to roam through exhibits in a self-directed manner and choose individual objects to explore through the app’s audio clips.

Each tour directs app users to stop at selected attractions and enter a corresponding pin number that will open a menu of audio files. These files include interviews with museum curators, scholars, conservators, student tour guides and artists — each offering a unique interpretation of the item or location at hand. Most clips average around three minutes, and app users can select the options they find most interesting.

“It’s really trying to bring in a variety of voices and perspectives in so the visitor can listen and think about art from different perspectives,” said John ffrench, the YUAG’s director of visual resources and the leader of the app’s development team.

Serial visitors will find new audio clips associated with their favorite attractions each time they return to the gallery.

“[The app] was designed so that we can keep the material fresh,” said ffrench. “We are slowly building a library of audio tracks for the pieces in the collection and we can turn those on and off.”

To lend a sense of immediacy to the audio clips, the production team records them inside the gallery’s buildings so that the low ambiance of foot traffic and quiet conversations native to an art museum compose the backdrop of the audio track. By recording in the museum, the YUAG’s staff can also capture interviews with visiting artists while they remain in house.

Both ffrench and Barroso hope the app will broaden the accessibility of the YUAG’s cultural resources by offering a free, convenient, flexible alternative to tours directed by gallery staff, which are offered only at certain times of day and subject to greater logistical constraints on the number of visitors that can participate at once.

At the Appy Hour event, reception of the app among visitors was largely positive.

“I think it’s very exciting because it’s the only way you can really experience someone speaking to you about the meaning of the work and hear what the artist wanted to say,” said one museumgoer who identified himself as Simone.

The app has been downloaded 750 times in total — including 170 times during Appy Hour.

Lydia Buonomano |