Rethinking the Audio Guide

This week’s contributing writer, Henna Wang, is one of the co-founders of Collective Heritage, whose mission is to make art and culture more accessible through mobile technology. Her team is developing an app for all museums and cultural destinations that delivers curatorial content in multiple languages. Their app is currently in a pilot phase with the New Museum.


Digital experiences can help museums engage wider audiences, however most solutions are cost prohibitive and resource intensive. Many don’t resonate well with visitors, who have language requirements or interests that differ from provided content. My team and I looked far and wide for answers as to how we might make a difference. Between 2017-2018, we surveyed over 60 museums to learn about past and current digital initiatives aimed at improving visitor engagement. Our research looked at both large and small institutions in several cities, including New York, Washington DC and London. We learned how institutions think about digital engagement, and on visitor feedback to understand where the experience was falling short.

VoCA, Collective Heritage

Screenshot of New Museum’s new app

Our research was really eye-opening and led us to form our startup, Collective Heritage. We are focused on serving institutions and their visitors in two ways: 1) by making mobile technology more accessible to cultural institutions, and 2) making the content more engaging by democratizing storytelling.

First, we want to make it much easier for institutions to offer digital engagement solutions to their visitors by providing museums with free access to a fully featured iOS and Android app.  We are working with museums to record interpretive content, and from the original recording we can offer the content in more than 10 different languages. Most museums do not have resources to offer audio guides, let alone provide it in multiple languages, so this is a big win for those museums and their visitors. We are currently piloting our app with the New Museum as our first test case and are excited to roll it out soon to other museums that want to provide audio content to their visitors through our mobile platform.

Our second focus is to provide a more engaging experience for visitors. We do this by sourcing new and engaging content. Whether your interest lies in mid-century architecture, costume history, or civic engagement, we will take you on a journey through different personas and experts in a variety of fields. We are partnering with a range of content experts from authors, artists and historians to provide content that will meet the needs and interests of a more diverse visitor base. We are also including content outside of the museum walls. For example, we are delighted to feature a tour of iconic mid-century modern buildings in Midtown Manhattan led by author and curator, Sam Lubell. Sam will be able to leverage our platform to provide location based audio content that will complement his book, Mid-Century Modern Architecture Travel Guide: East Coast USA, in providing further insight into spatial history.

VoCA, Collective Heritage

Mid-Century Modern Architecture Travel Guide: East Coast USA by Sam Lubell

We’ve built Collective Heritage to be flexible and scalable so that we can host an array of site-specific content. As we continue to drive our project forward, our aim is to build a platform that will one day become a powerful channel to amplify diverse voices.


To get involved or learn more, please feel free to contact Henna at collective heritage dot org.


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