A recent study released by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, has revealed a dramatic decline in the number of visitors to galleries and museums. In 2016, visitor numbers in the UK, fell significantly from the previous year.

Worryingly, the number of young people visiting for educational purposes showed one of the biggest declines, with a drop of more than 6%. Fear of terrorism was cited as a possible cause, but there could be a more dramatic shift in lifestyles contributing to the decline.

We’ve all scowled at the sight of young people glued to their phones, rather than interacting with each other. But let’s face it, scowling will get us nowhere – the tech is here to stay and it needs to be embraced on every level.

In fact, let’s go one step further: we need to jump ahead of young learners and tempt them with something new, by championing the tech they are so in love with.

The way young people access and interact with knowledge has changed and museums haven’t yet caught up. Immersive technologies such as Augmented Reality can be adopted to entice audiences and enhance learning through a new channel that mirrors current lifestyles and habits.

As a parent of two young children, I was one of many recently juggling half-term with work. It struck me, how huge an array of ‘activities’ there are, readily laid on for youngsters. Everything from trampoline parks to play centres and experience days – so how do museums compete with this extravaganza of exciting options?

The cool factor of immersive tech is waiting in the wings to bring a new layer of excitement to cultural institutions. You only have to see young kids with their agile fingers scrolling and skimming multiple media channels to see the innate love for knowledge sourced digitally. There is an absolute delight in accessing information on any subject so quickly.

On the other hand, you can’t ignore that absolute joy of a museum exhibition, the real and tangible, solid authentic material. To be so close to something real and rare and to see it, feel its scale and take in its form with our own eyes.

The challenge lies in how these two joys can be linked and indeed feed off each other. AR can be key in bridging this gap between the tech-savvy and knowledge-hungry. We hear so much about digital transformation in industry and we need to build this into every aspect of our lives – including culture.

It’s wonderfully romantic to think that museums and art galleries are an escape from technology, a chance to reconnect with the real and tangible and historical. And for some, they still are and always will be.

However, for those who are so connected with digital tech and need to fulfil that never-ending thirst for data and knowledge, we should embrace this in our cultural institutions.

In the digital transformation process, we often recoil from the notion of using new digital tech as a gimmick, just because it is there. However, for museums there is a new opportunity here to use that tech to create an even deeper level of knowledge, beyond what is currently possible in a traditional museum.

There is a chance to attract new audiences who are otherwise disengaged with culture, as well as the ability to open a new door to a broader horizon of learning.

In the shadow of such readily available excesses at our fingertips, we need to offer young audiences more and AR is capable of that. It’s like unlocking another world, especially for artefacts which are more difficult to explore – either too fragile to enjoy up close, or too large for traditional institutions.

What if we could take the traditional exhibit and dial in to unravel a new level of detail and data? Augmented reality in particular has the ability to transform the way cultural, institutions entertain and educate, with no physical barrier such as headsets.

The tech, which is already in the palm of our hands, can give users a true feeling of engagement and interactivity, building new links with museum audiences and offering a never-ending depth of learning.

There is currently either a ‘wait and see’ response to using immersive tech or early adopters willing to experiment with a new dimension. Corporations and brands are seeing some exciting applications, and for content-hungry users, it can create a real buzz.

The applications for culture are immense, the surface of which has merely been scratched. It is hugely exciting to look ahead at what immersive tech may mean for new audiences to cultural organisations.

Can it entice a new engaged audience back into institutions and halt further declines?

Either way, there is an exciting future ahead for augmented and virtual realities, especially with that element of social good. With the tech already here, it’s the content that needs to play catch-up and jump into the hands of eager users.

 

By Susan McHugh, Founder, Carbon Digital

Carbon Digital is an award winning Augmented reality, Virtual reality and Visual effects agency based at MediaCityUK. Carbon was selected as one of Creative England’s 10 ‘Future Leaders’.