Brave New World – Takeaways from the Museums Association annual conference 2021

I’ve worked in the museums sector for over a decade, and for the last several years, at some point each autumn, I’ve lurked among the twitter accounts of countless fellow museum professionals as they attend the annual Museums Association conference. In the very same week that the Curatours platform launched with the Museum of Plastic 2121, I was able to attend the physical conference in Liverpool, taking in sessions on decolonising collections, African cultural restitution and the role of museums in tackling the climate emergency. Much of the on-the-ground hosting was done by the Museums Liverpool team, who did an absolutely cracking job welcoming delegates both in-person and online.

The conference had a hybrid approach, with remote and physical speakers. Photo by Lauren Livesey.

After more than a year and half of only infrequently leaving my house, and rarely venturing outside of my hometown, it was a heady sensation to find myself in the ACC Liverpool with hundreds of fellow museum-folk. The programme was jam-packed – top tip for future attendees: drink LOTS of water and make sure to schedule in time to eat, as it is really easy to remain in perpetual motion from morning til night – but dedicated use of the conference app allowed me to plan out my calendar, browse the sponsors in the hall and still find time to chat with colleagues from across the museums sector. The knowledge that sessions were being streamed and available to watch again after the fact also helped to keep FOMO levels down to a minimum. I really hope that the hybrid physical/digital model that worked so well for this conference is retained for future years – the importance of museums continuing to programme both physically and digitally was a key takeaway from the sessions, so I can only assume that this approach will remain the default way for future conferences to operate.

It was great to see and hear about some of the many digital innovations being embraced by the sector, and to introduce the Curatours platform as a new home for digital exhibitions, tours and content. Early analysis from experts working within the field is pointing strongly to the huge amount of potential available when creating digital content, but early warning bells are being sounded about the fragmented way in which many institutions are sharing their digital outcomes – the lack of a central online space from which to access a wide variety of museum content means that many audiences are missing out on some incredible work.

Curatours is perfectly positioned to become the platform from which to access digital tours and events, and to share museum collections and their stories with audiences worldwide. We started some really exciting conversations in Liverpool, and look forward to continuing them post-conference. If you’d like to chat with us about bringing your digital content onto the Curatours platform, please just drop us an email on

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Our key takeaways from MuseumNext’s XR Summit – 2021

Recently we attended the MuseumNext XR Summit, a three day virtual conference for professionals working in the arts and heritage sector. As an event focused on XR and museums, it felt like the perfect fit for us.

We attended with a few goals in mind.
Meet and learn from others innovating in the space;
Discover what challenges museums have been facing with XR;
Get inspired by the great work being done in the industry.

There were two topics that really resonated with us.

  1. Adoption of augmented reality by museums.
  2. Considerations around accessibility and how XR technologies can support these needs?

Projects & talks that stood out.

Unmute – Online Platform for Art Exhibition

Jiabao Li’s talk on “One of the Futures of Museums online” got our attention right away as their stated aims are very similar to ours.

Her vision of the potential future for art is very interesting. In her talk she introduced UNMUTE, a browser based platform for exhibiting digital art such as games, video and augmented reality.

You can learn more here:

Gallipoli exhibition at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Donald James and Laura Jones gave an inspiring talk around the Gallipoli exhibition currently showing at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. It has generated significant emotional impact among visitors.

We were really intrigued by the project’s use of Structure, a 3D scanner attachment for iPad, allowing the museum to take charge and create their own 3D content. We’d love to hear from our partners if any of them have tried this method, or similar pieces of kit, to get their take on the speed and ease of capture and the quality of the output. Definitely one to watch!

Learn more about the exhibit here:

Curious Alice – Falling down the rabbit hole

Our highlight from day 1 was listening to Kati Price (V&A) and Jon Caplin (Preloaded) talk about bringing Alice in Wonderland to virtual reality. Their immersive experience, Curious Alice is a fully immersive interactive re-imagining of wonderland.

It was great to hear about the design principles and how they approached layering different techniques such as converting 2D artwork to 3D.

If you want to know more or would like tickets check out the link:

What if you could put on a VR headset and instantly transport inside a museum…

When we first saw the talk title for Kai’s talk we were very excited.

Kai Frazer really understands the need for accessibility; she understands the limitations that can leave people out of the loop when it comes to being able to attend museums or use immersive technology. Her company, Kai XR, was created in response to the problem she saw while working as a teacher, and to specifically facilitate and provide access for students to technologies like AR and VR. Giving this access to XR extends to providing access to some incredible museums and places.

Find out more about Kai and Kai XR here:

How we’re using our learnings to improve Curatours and our other work.

We are developing the platform’s features all the time and the MuseumNext XR Summit has given us valuable insight into how we can enable museum professionals with Curatours.

We have augmented reality functionality on our roadmap and we’ll be adding some of the learnings from the talk to our planning.

Additionally, we’re considering the functionality within Curatours right now and thinking about how to demonstrate the increased accessibility opportunities that it provides and how to keep assessing the ways that we can better enable the experience of all our users.

The summit really brought home to us just how essential these considerations are within museums right now, above and beyond our existing understanding, and we will be centering them even more strongly in future conversations.

Do you have any recommendations for the Curatours platform? Interested in a demo?
Reach out to us on the contact page.


Bringing Storytelling to Tech in Museums

Immersive technology is turning the future into the present by delivering experiences which weren’t even possible just a few years ago.

Today, augmented and virtual reality are exciting platforms for museums, heritage organisations and other cultural institutions to engage with their audiences in ways that can’t be replicated using traditional means.

The combination of immersive technology and creative storytelling enables museums to reach their biggest audiences and inspire lifelong curiosity about a variety of subjects.

When applying these technologies, museums must strive for positive visitor experiences – if they’re not integrated well, or fail to work in any way, visitors may decide that the wider exhibition/ museum isn’t for them because of their experience with digital aspects. 

You can’t just use technologies without due thought or planning and expect a positive outcome, so how do we correctly use immersive tech to tell stories about collections and artefacts?

There has to be an assessment of the need first 

The first step is to assess how your audiences are currently engaging with your collections.

  • Are there certain exhibits or artefacts that aren’t getting enough attention?
  • Why could this be?
  • Why aren’t visitors attracted to these works?
  • What is driving them away?

Once you have answered these questions, you can use these answers to set out your goal and objectives – identify what you’re aiming to achieve with storytelling, and who is your target audience.

Experimenting with technology and working out what works for your team. 

There are a variety of technologies and platforms that can be used, but knowing what works for you, your team and your audience is key. Many online platforms are free to experiment with. This gives you the opportunity to test and try without the expense. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them.

Here are a couple of examples of free or low cost software to give you a place to start:

Spark AR Studio & Snap Lens Studio

These are the development applications for creating augmented reality filters on Instagram and Snapchat. While these applications can seem complex and overwhelming to begin with, there are a lot of tutorials available on YouTube that range from beginner to advanced levels.

Here are a couple of examples of free or low cost software to give you a place to start:

Spark AR Studio & Snap Lens Studio

These are the development applications for creating augmented reality filters on Instagram and Snapchat. While these applications can seem complex and overwhelming to begin with, there are a lot of tutorials available on YouTube that range from beginner to advanced levels.

Tutorials | Getting Started with Spark AR by Spark AR Creators

Lens Studio Tutorials by Snap AR

3D Scanning with your phone

3D Scanning has become a really popular tool for all kinds of venues. 3D scanning is a process that analyses a real world object for example an exhibition room and collects data on the shape and appearance. Once scanned the data can be turned into a digital construct – A 3D model.  Most modern phones will have some sort of 3D scanning capabilities by using the LIDAR or Time Of Flight cameras.

Most 3D scanning applications are built for iOS so it’s easier to get started if you own an iPhone or iPad.

You learn more about this topic here.

Everything has a story. 

Stories use a range of techniques such as dialogue, setting description or even mood-setting music which can transport visitors into another world while they learn about artefacts in your collections.

For example: In an exhibit about Egypt, there could be a virtual reality experience that transports them into the world of ancient Cairo or a 3D scan of a burial chamber accompanied by tooltips that talks the process of preparing for the afterlife and the importance of each object within the burial chamber.

These method contextualize objects for digital audiences and allow them to explore collections in new ways.


By thinking about storytelling that’s complemented by technology, we can reimagine collections, telling old tales in new ways and finding opportunities to tell new stories.


How Small Museums Can Use Technology: Tips for New Media

As we emerge from the second year of the pandemic, it is clear that an audience exists for digital content created and provided by museums and galleries. We’ve seen a whole host of initiatives, from stepped-up social media content, through to increased digitisation and entire virtual exhibitions and galleries. Studies are also suggesting that this audience interest will outlast the current lockdown moment, and that organisations would benefit from continuing with enhanced digital strategies in the years to come. The other side to this coin, however, is that many museums currently find themselves to be massively overstretched, operating on a skeleton team with many employees furloughed or redeployed, often needing to focus predominantly on survival. In short: the external circumstances might be ideal for audiences to respond to and embrace new technologies, but the internal circumstances are significantly less than ideal, with smaller museums likely to be the most stretched.

So how do we respond to this moment, and begin to experiment with new digital and XR technologies?

The first thing to say is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” strategy out there that will work for all museums and galleries. The incredible vitality of the museum and heritage sectors comes from the massive variety of collections and experiences currently being shared, so there is no guaranteed path which will work for every organisation. No one will know your site and audiences better than you do, so take advantage of the expertise and knowledge within your organisation, across all levels of operation. It might be that incorporating a new digital strand or strategy within your work is the best way to reach out to a new or existing audience, and to reframe how you think about your existing assets. Getting involved in new technologies doesn’t just have to mean taking a huge institutional and financial step to immediately digitise every collection item and gallery to the highest possible level. It can mean using your existing social media platforms to begin thinking about sharing your content in a new way, and monitoring how your audience responds to each post to help develop your understanding of their needs, tolerances and preferences.

Of course, these suggestions don’t do anything to ameliorate the fact that many organisations are currently working with reduced teams, and on reduced hours, often in a remote or venue-distanced way. There’s a stated reluctance to undertake new or ambitious projects at this time, and understandably so. We have, however, seen clearly that audiences whose financial, physical or personal circumstances might have prevented them from making an in-person visit have responded strongly to shared digital museum content over the last twelve months. This interest and engagement could and should be fostered as we emerge from lockdown. There is a real opportunity to embed a continued digital strategy into the ways you reach your audiences, which will provide new methods of engagement and will build on the new audiences you may have reached digitally during the past locked-down year. Small ventures into social media immersion, into limited digitisation of a small strand of your collection, can be assessed and analysed after the fact, and easily scaled up where appropriate, channelling your new learning into projects that expand as and when you need them to.


So how do we respond to this moment, and begin to experiment with new digital and XR technologies? 

  • We respond by starting small, analysing performance and reiterating. 
  • By taking advantage of already-digitised collections and breathing new life into them with social or video content.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” strategy out there that will work for all museums and galleries. We now know that visitors respond strongly to shared digital museum content, what might be the best solution for your institution?

Get in touch

If you have any questions or just want to say hello, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’ll get back to you soon.