Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village started using the Smartify platform in December 2019. The gallery initially planned to use the platform predominantly to share on-site audio tours on a Bring-Your-Own-Device model. Smartify software is a cloud-based tool that provides simple drag and drop features to build audio guides, upload media files and images, and edit or change the order of tour stops with ease.
On 9 March 2020 Watts Gallery opened the exhibition ‘Unto This Last: 200 Years of John Ruskin’ which had travelled from the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven. A new audio guide was produced in collaboration with the co-curators from YCBA and Watts Gallery to accompany the exhibition. Due to Covid-19 and Government guidelines the exhibition closed on 18 March for a total of 152 days. Although initially planned as an on-site tour, the gallery decided to keep the exhibition live on the Smartify app to enable public access.
During this time, Smartify also worked hard to create a web-app version of the platform so that it was easier for audiences to access the tours from desktop rather than relying solely on the mobile app. The desktop version of Smartify could also be embedded into the Watts Gallery website, again providing flexibility and greater access.
From March 2020 – November 2020 the Ruskin exhibition content, which had only been open to the public for one week in person, had been played over 5,000 times on the Smartify platform.
During the various lockdowns and closures of 2020, Watts Gallery mobilised with the support of Smartify to quickly create and share new tours specifically designed to be explored from home. Alongside their own website, Smartify enabled the gallery to keep a digital presence not only for the international exhibition which closed after one week but for other curatorial projects.
One of the projects developed for the platform was a special audio tour called ‘Watts at Home.’ Launched on 6 April, this tour was designed to be enjoyed by audiences from the comfort of their homes during lockdown. The tour features nine members of the Curatorial Team sharing their personal highlights, drawing on their expertise and research from across the collections. Treated like a podcast it was updated on a monthly basis with new additions from the team. Despite not having a physical corresponding tour when the gallery reopened, September 2020 proved the second most popular month with individual stops being played 1,241 times during that month alone.
Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village have been able to quickly create and share content and not only reach their normal audience at home but from all over the world – with one third of the users now accessing their content from outside of the UK. During 2020 they managed to reach over 4500 unique app users, with artworks from the collection being explored over 68,000 times on the platform. Watts Gallery tours frequently trended in the top ten on the platform alongside the likes of the British Museum, London and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington.
Navigating Covid-19 has resulted in a year of rapid closures, brief reopening periods and delayed exhibitions. During this period Smartify has proven to be a constant that not only helped the gallery through uncertainty but has proven to be an integral part of their curatorial process and digital offering. The flexibility of the tools and built-in publishing options allow Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village to continue creating content for visitors to use and access at home or on-site whatever the future may hold.