Photography to be allowed at the National Gallery? (ctd.)

August 13 2014

Image of Photography to be allowed at the National Gallery? (ctd.)

Picture: BG

Further to my posts below, the National Gallery has today issued the following press release:

The National Gallery introduces free Wi-FiFree .

Wi-Fi is now available throughout The National Gallery – the first of a number of major steps the Gallery is undertaking to provide a warmer welcome for visitors.

Director of Public Engagement Dr Susan Foister said “We are proud to introduce Wi-Fi to the Gallery, heralding new plans to enhance the experience of our visitors and to engage a broader audience. We know that when people feel inspired they often like to share the moment, so along with the free Wi-Fi service we are now welcoming visitor photography: from now on people will be able to share their experience of the Gallery and its paintings with friends and family through social media.”

Free access to the internet whilst in the National Gallery – and now a mobile enabled website - means visitors can explore the collection in fresh and inspiring ways. Now when they’re standing in front one of the 2,300 paintings from the 13th to early 20th century, they can instantly, in their hands on their smartphone or tablet, find out all about the artist who painted it and the stories being told, along with the techniques and materials used. Wi-Fi also means we can interact with our visitors in real time via social media and they can share all their in-gallery experiences with friends, family and networks. Now for the first time National Gallery visitors can Check In on Facebook using the some of the most popular paintings in the collection, they can comment about their favourite works on Twitter using the hashtag #MyNGPainting and they can post pictures of the rooms they most enjoyed visiting on Instagram.

For international visitors, this means accessing information in different languages, as well as being able to use translation tools. Wi-Fi also opens up the possibilities for including interactive digital elements in our future exhibitions such as multimedia guides or smart phone apps.

The Super Connected Wi-Fi scheme is funded and supp orted by the Mayor of London and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy Ed Vaizey said "Free public Wi-Fi in the National Gallery will allow visitors to engage with the masterpieces that adorn its walls in completely new ways. I'm delighted that Government's Super Connected cities programme has made this exciting new development possible and that the National Gallery will join the hundreds of museums, galleries, libraries and public spaces that will be offering free Wi-Fi as part of our transformation of the UK's digital landscape."

I'm extremely pleased, and very heartened, to see the National Gallery and the government working together and embracing new technologies like this. Three cheers for both from AHN. I don't know who was leading this in either the NG or the DCMS, but give yourselves giant pats on the back if you were involved. In one leap, the National has gone from seriously lagging behind the world's major galleries on the question of digital engagement, to leading them.

When I read the press release above, I find it harder and harder to understand some of the reaction against letting people take photos in the gallery. Photography is now just one part of a much wider and richer visitor experience in galleries; National Gallery visitors can now be more informed than ever about some of the best pictures in the world. What's not to like?

The next step for the National is to add to their online cataloguing. Some of the information available is quite limited, especially when compared to that available at places like the Getty and the Met. While I'm at it, you could say the same about their wall labels too.

Update - Neil Jeffares tweets:

Next step: the excellent complete catalogues should be online. But I fear wall labels will shrink as the "app" takes over.

Update II - our debates have made it into the Evening Standard - well done everyone, and thanks for your contributions!

Update III - we're also in the Telegraph.

Update IV - and The Times!

Update V - there's a poll at the Telegraph, currently running at 57/42 in favour of photography.

Update VI - a Telegraph commenter comments:

Good grief! Yet another clueless establishment, bowing down to their pointless, overpaid, clueless advisors, allowing idiot, brainless, lowest common denominator sheeple to get what they want! God help us! Don't you get it?! Why don't you actually deny the sheeple what they want, and you'll actually be MORE POPULAR!

I wonder if this person wears red trousers.

Update VII - a reader hits many nails on the head:

It is hugely encouraging that the NG have finally decided to allow photography on smartphones etc and to let visitors access wifi within the gallery.

In a public gallery I want to be able to look at and consume the art as I wish - it is infuriating to be dictated to. I don't live in London either so it's not as if I can pop into the National Gallery to peruse the pictures any time I want - a trip to the NG is a bit of a treat and yes I would like to take photographs that I can look at again and share on twitter and Facebook with my friends and family (most of whom have never set foot inside the NG but I would still like to share the art with them).

The access to wifi and the idea that perhaps there could be NG apps for different rooms and exhibitions I find even more exciting. I hate audio guides with a passion, I much prefer a written guide or really good labelling (neither of which are as available as they should be at the NG imo). So having the opportunity to look up a picture or room on my iPhone or iPad as I went round the gallery - being able to dig deeper and find out as much as I could about any work of art while I was actually able to look at it in the flesh - that would be fantastic.

I really don't understand why some people seem so unhappy about this small step to make great art more accessible, understood and appreciated. Sounds like elitism to me!

Update VIII - I was on BBC radio's PM programme talking about all this, from about 45 mins here.

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