There’s more to visiting the Denver Art Museum than just looking.
Immersive multimedia experiences help guide visitors as they view a single piece of art or an entire exhibition. Among them are audio tours offered with several temporary exhibitions. These tours provide the larger story behind a given object within 90 seconds of sound.
What Do They Do?
The audio tours highlight specific pieces in an exhibition and compel visitors to consider an artist’s background, the technique of the time, or the visual details within the piece. Audio tours can offer both adult and family-friendly content, and can include anything from interviews with art experts to conversations with characters from the paintings.
Molly Medakovich is the master teacher for Western American, American, and European art in the education department at the DAM. She is responsible for constructing several family audio tours, including the recent Court to Café: Three Centuries of French Masterworks from the Wadsworth Atheneum.
Why Are They Important?
While some exhibitions solely feature adult audio tours, like The American West in Bronze, 1850–1925, others also provide family-friendly tours to help engage kids’ interest in art. Medakovich said the family-friendly angle is a museum-wide goal, and she tries to cater to this community as much as possible.
Because audio tours need to be engaging and understandable, educators like Medakovich work with the family programs department at the DAM to make sure the language is digestible and engaging for everyone from 8- to 80-year-olds. The language must also easily translate to Spanish, as all audio tours are offered in both English and Spanish. This comes as a part of a broader welcome to Spanish-speaking and bilingual visitors.
Medakovich said that the family audio tours generally receive positive reactions from both children and adults because of their ability to pull viewers into the art.
“Ninety seconds of audio can offer another layer of experience in addition to the 50-word label,” Medakovich said. “While a traditional label uses text to tell a story, audio allows us to incorporate voice, music and sound effects to guide the eye through the painting [or other object].”
What Research Does the DAM Do?
Stefania Van Dyke, master teacher for textiles and special projects, also coordinates audio tours for temporary exhibitions. She said audio tours are important because people learn in many different ways.
“For family tours, we look at what pieces are more compelling and lend themselves to a more theatrical presentation,” she said. Van Dyke helped coordinate the family audio tour for the recent Modern Masters, which featured a little girl teaching her father about the modern art featured in the exhibition.
“I look for objects that have rich stories,” Medakovich said. “Or [objects] that promote close-looking.”
Medakovich said that she finds objects in an exhibition with rich visual details or works that might pique the visitor’s curiosity. Audio tours often will lead viewers’ eyes to small details or ask open-ended questions to get people thinking about what they are seeing.
“We want the audio tour to be a memorable and enjoyable experience for families, something that helps them learn and see more, and that immerses them in the here and now with a fantastic work of art,” she said.
What Do They Sound Like?
Included here are links to a few snippets from both the family and adult audio tours from the Court to Café exhibition.
Jean François Millet, Mademoiselle Henriette Ferre: Audio
Henri Paul Motte, The Trojan Horse: Audio
Constance Mayer, Self-Portrait of the Artist with Her Father: Audio
Hubert Robert, Jean-Antoine Roucher gets ready for the transit from Saint-Pelagie to Saint-Lazare: Audio
Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century, opening November 16, will be the next exhibition to include a family audio tour. Several ideas for the content of the audio tour are in the works, many of them focusing on the secrets and mysteries that exist within the jewels that will be on display.
“A lot of the pieces have little secret compartments or latches, so we want to bring that mystery out because you can’t really know that from just looking at the jewels,” Van Dyke said. “That mystery really lends itself to an audio tour, especially for the kids and families.”
Image credit: Hermon Atkins MacNeil (1866-1947), The Moqui Prayer for Rain, 1895-96 (cast about 1897). Daniel and Mathew Wolf in memory of Diane R. Wolf.