App Insights

Apps for the Cultural Sector

Date Published:

The recent announcement of the new Digital R&D Fund for the Arts has given arts institutions in the UK a further opportunity to develop their digital offerings. There are six themes in the call for applicants : User generated content and social media; Digital distribution and exhibition; Mobile, location and games; Data and archives; Resources; and Education and learning.

The Arts Council are producing podcasts to discuss each of the themes and I was invited to contribute to a discussion on the Mobile, Location and Games theme – the podcast is available here.

The discussion picked up on some of the main themes discussed at the Mobile Culture conference that I attended a couple of days earlier. Arts organisations are broadly embracing the potential that apps can offer in terms of


However only a few organistions are able to secure the budget needed for full cross platform native app development. Organisations such as the Natural History Museum advise having a sound business model before developing an app. Certainly understanding the purpose of the app and how it will be marketed are two vital aspects in any app strategy.

There was also a lot of discussion about mobile web sites. For many institutes this must be a priority due to the rapid increase in the number of people who use their phone or tablet to find and browse websites rather than their PC’s. Many tourists leave it until they arrive at a destination to look for places to visit and sights to see, so a mobile web presence and apps will help to promote ticket sales and encourage visits.

In recent years, strong steer has come from both Arts Council England and the government for cultural organisations to integrate digital technologies into their public offering:

Digital technology has huge potential to support and accelerate the delivery of all of our goals and priorities and offers exciting opportunities for artists, audiences and the broader sector.
The Arts Council Plan 2011-15, November 2011

For too many cultural organisations technology is still about having a good website instead of a tool to boost artistic innovation, help fundraising and reach new audiences.”
Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary, DCMS, June 2012

Many organisations, however, have identified a shortfall in expertise, resources and capacity in house to deliver on this new agenda. Costs of commissioning third party app development vary widely and for inexperienced commissioners/curators the quality of a resulting application can be just as unpredictable.

Calvium are delighted to host three workshops, subsidised by the Arts Council, where we invite managers, directors and producers to receive practical training in what makes a good and a bad app, advice on how to go about budgeting and commissioning mobile assets and an introduction to the AppFurnace toolkit. Futher details are available here. And we are pleased to say that the uptake has been very positive with Bristol and Falmouth workshops selling out within a week of announcing their availability.

One of the discussion points we will raise within the workshops is whether arts organisations can work together to pool resources for certain kinds of apps that have already demonstrated their value. For example, the StreetMuseum app established the value of showing historic images in location – wouldn’t it be great if there was an easy way for other organsations to curate similar apps for their own location? Creating platforms for producing high value apps for lots of similar organsations is a service that Calvium are keen to develop.