Art Gallery mobile app could reach cultural institutions worldwide

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The GVSU Art Gallery has launched a new, free mobile application for the iPhone that provides access to the more than 10,000 pieces of art in the university’s collection. Development of applications for Android and other mobile devices are underway.

The Art at GVSU app - which features tours, browse and search functions - was built by students in the Mobile Applications and Services Lab in Grand Valley’s School of Computing and Information Systems. It is the sixth product developed in the lab, under the direction of associate professor Jonathan Engelsma.

A browse feature provides the option to peruse art collections on any of five campuses, including Holland, Muskegon and Traverse City. The browse feature on the larger Pew and Allendale Campuses provides building-by-building access. The app includes three tours. Click on any one and a map indicates the precise location of artworks with a pinpoint. Click on any pinpoint to see a photo of the piece along with information about it. Where applicable, there is a link to any additional works at Grand Valley by the same artist. Thumbnail photos run across the top of the screen to provide an easy visual access to works. Icons provide easy share options, from social media, to email and copy actions. Users can also tag their favorites, which are then accessible in their “Favs” file.

While a few students initially experimented on the project, one student programmer, Andres Solano, a graduate student from Colombia, built the majority of the app, as his master’s project.

“In the School of CIS we work hard making sure our students are well prepared for their future careers as computer scientists,” said Engelsma. “Giving students the opportunity to work on an interdisciplinary team involving a larger collaborative project over an extended period of time provides many valuable teaching moments.”

Engelsma noted that the learning curve on this project was significant for Andres. He not only had to learn how to program iPhones, but he also had to learn a lot about art, art galleries and the software systems curators used to manage their collections. “He really rose to the challenge and gained some practical experience that we trust will serve him well in his future career.”

The app draws data from the Art Gallery’s online database (Collective Access) of the university’s art collection, which was developed by Nathan Kemler, shortly after coming to Grand Valley as the Art Gallery collections manager in 2008.

“Grand Valley is leading the pack as the only university and museum in Michigan using the open source Collective Access, and one of the first worldwide to create a native mobile application that draws data from the Collective Access database,” said Kemler.

Plans are underway to apply for a federal grant that would provide support to take the project to the next level, including release of the source code as open source and determining interdisciplinary uses by faculty and students. Open source is a free distribution that encourages community development. Kemler said that Grand Valley would be contributing a very significant application for all cultural institutions in the world.

“Making it open source would allow anyone in the world to contribute new features and improvements to the framework built at Grand Valley,” said Kemler. “Other institutions using the already open source Collective Access are eagerly awaiting the release. It would allow them to also have a mobile window option into their own collections.

Art at GVSU is available in the iTunes store here.