The University of Chicago

Becoming a Leader Among Art Museums

Bringing a Fresh Approach and Unexpected Voices
to the Museum Audio Tour

Audio tours have become a staple amenity for visitors to major museums like the BMA. Generally, audio tours (and their cousins, cell phone and podcast tours) offer insightful commentary from curators and art historians on a select group of works. The audio tour lets visitors keep their eyes on the art as they listen to experts share information about works in the galleries.

In 2009, thanks to a generous gift to the Museum’s In a New Light campaign, the BMA was able to offer visitors a new way to experience the collection when it created its first museum-wide audio tours. At the same time, the BMA took the traditional audio tour to a new level when it invited area writers to create original poems and short stories in response to the works in the collection. The result: two unique tours that will serve as models for museums everywhere seeking ways to create meaningful connections between audiences and art. Best of all, both audio tours are offered free of charge to BMA visitors.

60 Objects / Countless Stories uses sound, music, and stories to illuminate 60 works of art in the Museum’s collection. The tour includes content provided by curators, conservators, and educators, as well as personal insights, reminiscences, and creative works inspired by the art that were contributed by 23 Baltimore-area writers, including best-selling authors Laura Lippman and David Simon, and poets Christine Stewart and Michael Salcman. The goal of the tour, which launched in January 2009, is to give visitors the experience of taking a personal tour with knowledgeable and passionate experts and to offer diverse points of entry to works of art through the creative responses of some of Baltimore’s most beloved writers.

A companion tour, also launched in January, designed specifically for families with young children, is led by an animated version of Matisse’s perky schnauzer, Raoudi. Artful Stories encourages young visitors to look more closely and think about art in new ways. Visitors use a handheld audio device to create a self-paced tour that highlights 20 objects with clever anecdotes and fun games and is designed to engage families in learning about art together.

Select one of the links in the mosaic above to hear an excerpt from each of these tours—one example of programming that is sustaining the BMA’s leadership role among art museums nationally.

Art Credits