Tags for: Gallery One
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Gallery One

A collaborative process integrating interpretation, design, and technology transforms the art museum experience
Jane Alexander, Chief Information Officer
March 1, 2014
museum visitors exploring a large digital panel with hundreds of images

A spirit of exploration and innovation pervades the one-of-a-kind Gallery One. Unique interactive and immersive technologies share the space with significant works of art from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s permanent collections, together engaging visitors in a museum experience never before seen in museums worldwide. The project affirms the museum’s permanent mission of helping visitors connect with its art collections using the best in interpretive technologies and design. Gallery One blends art, technology, and interpretation to inspire visitors to explore the museum. 

Two well-dressed patrons next to the digital display
Tamar and Milton Maltz visiting Gallery One

The gallery features the 40-foot Collection Wall (the world’s largest interactive touchscreen display that lets visitors explore images and information for more than 4,100 works of art), as well as stand-alone multi-touch kiosks and the free ArtLens app, all of which provide educational and curatorial information about CMA’s entire collection. Together these create an immersive and memorable experience not only for visitors on site, but for art lovers around the world. Gallery One has been heralded as a revolutionary space in the world of museums by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Mashable.com, and the Plain Dealer, among other media outlets. 

“It transforms the traditional art museum experience into a playful and engagingly personal journey.”  —David Harvey, Senior Vice President of Exhibitions, American Museum of Natural History


As word spread about this most extensive digital program of any museum, Gallery One inspired visits from directors, technologists, and educators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and many other top museums. In a pioneering model of departmental and technological collaboration, Gallery One and the ArtLens app were developed through teamwork among the museum’s curatorial, information management and technology services, education and interpretation, and design departments. The project team was co-led by chief information officer Jane Alexander, director of education and interpretation Caroline Goeser, and director of design and architecture Jeffrey Strean. This collaboration was groundbreaking not just among museums, but within user-interface design in general. The process integrated each department’s contribution to create an unparalleled interactive experience, with technology and software that have never been used before in any venue, content interpreted in fun and approachable ways, and unprecedented design of an interactive gallery space that integrates technology into an art gallery setting featuring important works of art. 

 A year after opening, visitor excitement is as exhilarating as on opening day. Art, design, and interactive technology professionals, regular museumgoers, and the newest and youngest visitors continue to display awe and wonder as they enter Gallery One and discover exciting, surprising, and playful new ways to enhance their understanding and enjoyment of art.  

a grid of human faces paired with similar portraits of paintings, drawings, and sculptures

One of the most transformational aspects of Gallery One involved the goals for visitors’ take-away: experience rather than specific content. The team wanted visitors to (1) have fun with art, (2) use the interactive games and interpretation as tools for understanding and to spark social experiences with art, and (3) find transformative moments of discovery that make art relevant for them today.

“The Collection Wall reminds me of David Weinberger’s Everything Is Miscellaneous (2008): it makes every artwork equally available, democratizing the collection . . . it enables me to create a tour that threads me like a needle through all the various parts of the building. It disappears the architecture, the molecules, and replaces them with a new organizing principle: visual interest.”  —Peter Samis, Associate Curator of Interpretation, SFMOMA


Gallery One and ArtLens were designed to honor visitors’ behavior. Audience evaluation showed that CMA visitors preferred browsing according to their own preferences, and thus there’s no preferred path through Gallery One; visitors can move from one art installation to another, each with its own story. The Collection Wall asks visitors to browse rather than search: to find artworks they like visually, and to discover connections to related works by theme, medium, or time period. The ArtLens app follows browsers as they meander through the permanent collection galleries, indicating where they are in the building and the artworks near them. 

An older child posing in front of a monitor with a matching sculpture on the screen

Gallery One understands visitors as participants rather than passive observers. In Studio Play, CMA’s youngest visitors and their families can find myriad ways to actively create art and to use interactive technology to discover their own connections to art in the collections. The ArtLens app allows visitors to create their own tours—playlists of their favorite objects with their own catchy titles such as “Randomness and Variety” and “Lightning Tour Before Dinner Dash.” They can share favorite objects through Facebook and Twitter. 

The conversational tone of the ArtLens videos connects visitors with the personal insights of curators, educators, conservators, and community members. The community voices are especially important. They call up continuing traditions that grow from the artworks on view and connect visitors with people in their community—like the imam of the Cleveland mosque for whom the Islamic prayer niche in our collection is part of a living tradition, or the Cleveland ballet dancer who brings his creative perspective to Degas’s Frieze of Dancers.

“In the museum world, everyone’s watching Cleveland right now” —Erin Coburn, museum consultant, in the New York Times, March 20, 2013


Gallery One is composed of two spaces: the former special exhibition gallery in the Marcel Breuer addition and a portion of the Rafael Viñoly north wing. These spaces are very different in character. The Breuer is a large, free-span hall. The Viñoly space is a low, bright area that opens onto the Ames Family Atrium. We decided to take advantage of this and begin the experience in the former exhibition hall and conclude it with the large interactive digital display of our collections in the area that addressed the atrium. Visitors would be encouraged to develop a tour on their iPads and head out to the galleries to experience the collections—and conversely, because the Collection Wall is prominently visible from the atrium, visitors who bypassed Gallery One on the way in could be inspired to stop by after browsing the galleries to learn more.

The Breuer hall had been gutted early in the building project for asbestos removal. The beautiful granite floor was intact but the ceiling had been completely removed, exposing ductwork and plumbing. We left the ceiling exposed with a suspended grid of light track. The grid matches the original Breuer ceiling. Gallery One needed flexibility. The team intended to make regular changes to the installations as we found what connected best with visitors—and also because we decided to use some of the best objects in the primary collections rather than the education collection, which meant objects would be on view for one or two years before returning to the galleries. So we installed everything very simply with minimal construction to facilitate future changes.

young children drawing directly on a wall display of a detail of a work of art

The final key part of the experience is the Focus Gallery, across from the Collection Wall at the end of Gallery One. Exhibitions in this gallery are intended to center on one or a few objects and utilize some of the ideas about looking at art that are explored in Gallery One. In the future we plan to add an entrance to this gallery across from the Collection Wall to strengthen the connection.

a view through glass doors with Gallery One identifying the space,; behind the walls is a wall display with a work of art, and in the background a painting of a man's face by Chuck Close
GAllery view with sculptures, furniture, paintings and two standalone monitors
Major works of art from the permanent collection are installed in Gallery One.

Gallery One has captured the attention of the museum world, as well as other institutions whose focus is on engaging and educating the public. One example is the new Cuyahoga County Public Library’s interactive “Tech Wall,” which incorporates Gallery One interactives and the ArtLens app. Visitors browse our digital collection and are inspired to visit the museum. The collaboration between CCPL and CMA has inspired other libraries nationally to explore similar partnerships in their own communities. Technology specialists also see Gallery One as a game changer because of its integrated approach to technology and information management. Gallery One is the first beneficiary of a digital strategy plan that guides the collection and digital asset management systems, all of it underpinned by modularity, sustainability, and data efficiency, exemplifying best practices in the industry. 

“Pushing the in-gallery digital envelope like no other American museum to date, CMA has developed an engaging, unforgettable way for museum-goers to interact with its extraordinary collection of art.”  —Caroline Baumann, Director, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum


For example, any one of the 125 microtile display squares that make up the Collection Wall can be swapped out at a moment’s notice in the event of failure. A comprehensive digital media strategy encompasses all the technology for art information, interpretive content/secondary assets, research resources, and relationship management. The descriptions and images for artwork flow automatically from the asset management systems used and maintained by the collections management staff, and thus the Collection Wall and ArtLens reflect up-to-the-minute gallery installations. In addition, these art object records are paired with video and interpretive content stored in a system geared for fast, efficient delivery via iPad and smartphone. Cloud technology provides efficient access to ArtLens video across the globe.

Hands holding an eyepad pointed at a small figureine.  the same figurie appears on the ipad display with a map showing the current location

In 1996, the museum’s strategic plan established a commitment to becoming a national leader in the use of new and emerging technologies. It all started with the purchase of a collections management database and digital scanners and a commitment to digitizing the collection. Now, nearly two decades later, that visionary commitment culminates in Gallery One.

“Gallery One and ArtLens are inspirational initiatives that museums around the world are studying closely for insights into how to create new, transformational museum experiences for audiences both in the galleries and beyond.” —Nancy Proctor, Deputy Director for Digital Experience, Baltimore Museum of Art


The Cleveland Museum of Art’s mission is part of a greater shared mission among all museums, and the Gallery One and ArtLens projects are proving to be inspirational across the world. Says Carrie Rebora Barratt, associate director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, “Gallery One has enlivened the space of public access to collections in a remarkable way, not only to visitors on site at the museum, but also in conferences where museum professionals are newly inspired by Cleveland’s example to be creative and thoughtful about engaging visitors in new ways.” 

A group of five staff members, one holding an ipad displaying the museum app
Tech Staff on Duty Gallery One tech staff are stationed at the desk near the Collection Wall whenever the museum is open, and are pleased to answer visitor questions and provide support.


Global Collaboration

Words from the museum’s Gallery One project collaborators

  • Jake Barton, Principal, Local Projects (media designers) Gallery One is single-handedly redefining what an art museum can be. At every conference I attend I hear the same responses: Gallery One redefines how digital and physical can work together within a museum. We made emotional connection and delight a core part of the experience. I believe that this is ultimately the test of both the legacy and the future of all museums: whether we can create a place where every visitor has a unique and meaningful connection.
  • Patrick Gallagher, Partner, Gallagher and Associates (exhibit design) This groundbreaking concept came through a generous donation from the Maltz Family Foundation, who felt it essential to make deeper connections with the next generation of visitors to the Cleveland Museum of Art. The artworks always remain center-stage, but the visitor may interact through technology with the art on display to augment or enhance the visitor experience. Storytelling becomes layered, multi-sensorial, and rich. Visitors are encouraged to form their own interpretations about what they see and experience.
  • Doug Fortney, Partner, Zenith  Corporation (AV integration) The technology design of Gallery One is focused on sustainability and reliability. The use of touch-interactive technology in microtile is so new that Gallery One was the first installation to employ it in that way, creating the largest touch wall of its kind anywhere—and the only of any museum. 
  • Erick Kendrick, CEO, Piction (CMS/DAM development) This project impacted our view of the digital asset management system requirements for museums and made us rethink the traditional paradigm. The “publish anywhere” concept has been around for a while but until this project processes were missing for it to be of true value to museums. Coordinating information enterprisewide is a key thing embedded into our system so that other museums can benefit from this huge leap.
  • Catherine Girardeau, Creative Director, Earprint Productions (app content development) Unlike a traditional mobile museum tour, ArtLens creates varied, nuanced, and rich visitor experiences via technology designed to respond to visitor behaviors, rather than requiring visitors to adapt their behavior to fit the technology.
  • Cyril Houri, CEO and Founder, Navizon, Inc. (wayfinding) Gallery One is a groundbreaking blend of art and technology conceived to maximize visitors’ engagement with the museum collections. Behind the scenes, Navizon’s indoor location services enable navigation and artwork-locating.
A young woman holding a mobile phone, pointed at a Monet painting, with the same image displayed on the phone.
You Are Here New mobile-friendly iPhone app now available; Android version coming in April. The award-winning ArtLens  not only recognizes key works of art in the galleries, but sees specific parts of the composition and calls up a wealth of information curators and educators have provided. 
A photo of a large crowd in front of the museum with a projection on the walls.  the projection matches the hundreds of thumbnail images displayed on the collection wall
An Even Bigger Collection Wall The museum’s 2013 Solstice party featured images from the Collection Wall spread across the entire south facade.


Jane Alexander, Chief Information Officer   

Caroline Goeser, Director of Education and Interpretation

Jeffrey Strean, Director of Design and Architecture