How we created Curations

Art UK shares lessons from the development of its virtual exhibition tool
Digital
Jade King
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Screenshot of an artwork that features in a Curations on British migrant artists
Screenshot of an artwork that features in a Curations on British migrant artists

Art UK is a free online platform that enables public collections in the UK to share their art with audiences around the world. In May, we launched Curations, a tool built into our website that allows users to group together art from all over the country.

Curations aims to:

  • provide a cost-effective tool for UK public collections via a shared infrastructure.
  • engage the public with the art they own, giving them a sense of agency and ownership over the national collection – democratising what it means to curate.
  • uncover lesser-known artworks and tell diverse stories through content creation.

Users can add commentaries or notes to their Curations, arrange artworks, and choose from a variety of display modes. Curations can be kept private or made public and shared.

Museums are also able to use the tool to create digital exhibitions of physical shows or imagined exhibitions they would like to stage in the future.

Some examples already online include:

Development on Art UK Curations started in early 2019, though ideas for the project had been in circulation for years before this. Some of the challenges we faced included:

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  • Features vs usability

Striking the right balance between functionality and usability was a key challenge. We wanted to ensure the interface for creating Curations remained simple while also allowing users to create and share their stories.

We settled on building three Curations templates – from a simple ‘album’ view to present a group of artworks, to narrative-driven ‘showcase’ and ‘storyline’ views.

  • Image rights

We identified a need from collections to add supplementary images to their Curations such as installation shots, or photos of loaned artworks that are not on Art UK.

As a publisher, we must consider intellectual property rights, so we questioned how we could permit external users to add images. On balance, we decided the user need was more important and spent time developing a workflow that allows us to check IPR for collection-uploaded images and advise collections on clearance.

  • Timing of launch

The launch of Curations in May 2020 coincided with the global coronavirus pandemic. From March, the museums sector tried to reprioritise and rethink connecting with digital audiences, with many discussions around online access to cultural heritage.

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These external factors heightened the importance of delivering the project on schedule. At launch, the product met the must-have requirements, with some secondary considerations deferred until later stages. This approach meant we could use initial feedback to identify which additional features and refinements to focus on – such as adding a ‘trails’ template, which allows public art to be plotted on a map.

  • Keeping momentum

The initial Curations launch saw high user engagement statistics, which - as can be expected for any digital launch - have since slowed. As of early September, more than 2,000 Curations had been made, with 445 made public.

We will continue to monitor analytics to identify opportunities and will ensure the promotion and use of Curations is embedded into our content strategy.

We continue to listen to feedback from our partners and audiences to steer the way Curations evolves. For example, we recently added custom formatting functionality in response to feedback from early adopters. As with any digital product, a key challenge is to adequately resource upgrades and changes in line with evolving user needs.

Curations was built by Art UK’s lead technology supplier Keepthinking with a budget of £65,000, funded with the support of the Ampersand Foundation.

Jade King is head of editorial at Art UK

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