The Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock launched its first beacon program last month, offering a new way for visitors to engage with its exhibition of American artist John Marin’s drawings and watercolors.
Beacons are small, battery-operated Bluetooth devices that send signals to people’s smartphones with links to a website. Beacon technology works a lot like a quick response (QR) code, but without the need for users to scan with their phones that barcode-like square.
Here’s how the Arts Center’s program works:
Visitors can download the free BeaconSage mobile app. As they walk through galleries featuring the “Becoming John Marin: Modernist at Work” exhibition with the app open, beacons will be listed in it by proximity. The closest beacon will appear at the top of a list in the app. Clicking on a beacon in the app will send visitors to an entry on the BecomingJohnMarin.org website.
These entries include an interactive map showing where Marin was when he created a work one of the beacons is associated with. They also include timelines, stories and additional images. All of the content can be viewed immediately or saved in the app to be viewed later.
Aristotle Inc. of Little Rock sold the beacons to the Arts Center and developed the app.
Setting up the beacons took three or four months, according to Angel Galloway, director of marketing and communications for the Arts Center. But the website, designed by Stone Ward in Little Rock, was in the works on for more than six months.
A beacon can be customized for a group of visitors on short notice, and they do not require much involvement from the museum’s staff once set up, Galloway said. For example, a beacon in the museum’s lobby could lead visitors to a website entry that greets their group by name.
Galloway compared the ongoing work to updating an online blog.
She added that the museum has already experienced positive feedback from visitors since it launched the beacons on Jan. 26. “Having interesting and meaningful content behind the experience is key,” Galloway said.
Access to the Marin exhibition’s website is also available on a tablet in the galleries for visitors who don’t carry smartphones. Marin’s works will be on display through April 22.
The Arkansas Arts Center is not the first to use this technology. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York are also using beacons to engage visitors in their spaces.
The Arts Center has about 15 beacons now, and there are a lot of ways to use them throughout the museum in the future, Galloway said. Those ways include offering the interactive experiences to school groups, telling visitors about its museum school classes, announcing gift shop specials and offering visitors gift shop coupons.
The beacons are also affordable for small operations, according to Aristotle. It sells the beacons for $20-$25 apiece, and clients receive a discount for buying in bulk, according to Carlos Lee, business development lead for the BeaconSage product for Aristotle. That’s a one-time upfront cost. After that, the clients pays a monthly fee of $25 to $250 depending on the number of beacons in use.
“2017 was a profitable year for us, and we expect this to be our largest year to date,” Lee said. Aristotle has also sold beacons to the Little Rock Zoo and Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs and plans to rerelease beacons designed for real estate agents in the second quarter of this year.
The Arts Center’s beacon program is one of the projects paid for with a $350,000 grant awarded by the Henry Luce Foundation in 2015. Galloway said most of those funds were used for the conservation, matting and framing of Marin’s works.
The Arts Center has the second-largest collection of Marin works in the world. The artist’s daughter-in-law, Norma Marin, donated 290 works to the museum in 2014. The current exhibition includes some of those, plus loans from several other institutions.
Marin was best known for his luminous watercolors of urban structures, landscapes and seascapes. The collection of his works was donated to the museum because it specializes in this type of art, Galloway said.