Virtual experiences in arts and heritage: Facilitating engagement with virtual solutions and exploring futures for hybrid business models

Start date

March 2021

End date

November 2021

Project website



Professor Caroline ScarlesProfessor Gang Li and Husna Zainal-Abidin have been awarded an ESRC IAA grant in partnership with Smartify to engage with organisations in the arts and heritage sector and increase knowledge transfer of the benefits of adopting technology-based solutions for visitor engagement.

Smartify is a free app which helps people make meaningful connections with art. It has been recognised by the Apple App Store as being a world-leading app for engaging audiences with art across the world whilst on-site at galleries and museums as well as from the comfort of one’s own home.

Using image recognition technology, Smartify instantly identifies artworks by scanning them on your smartphone, allowing users to unlock the stories behind the art, save the artwork to Smartify and create a digital personal art collection and share with the Smartify community.

The app is available at a global network of over 150 partner venues, including some of the world’s most popular museums such as the National Gallery in London, Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and Smithsonian National Gallery in Washington, D.C

The project will offer organisations a hands-on experience of Smartify, support the development of virtual tours, and facilitate an increased reach to new and existing audiences. 

The timeliness of this project is important as during Covid-19 galleries and museums have faced forced closures of physical sites, decimating visitor numbers and significantly impacting organisational revenue streams. 

The team will deliver virtual workshops on augmented, immersive technology in arts and heritage to ensure knowledge transfer and facilitate organisational adoption of technological solutions. They will also investigate market and end-user acceptance of Smartify by monitoring usage and aim to increase Smartify’s engagement with local businesses.

This project will provide augmented reality solutions that enable organisations to deliver online, virtual tours to allow visitors’ continued exploration of exhibits and collections while on-site visits remain restricted. It will also open up opportunities for developing new ways of engaging visitors beyond the traditional visit, in a post-Covid climate.



Through workshops, tailored support and providing a 90-day free trial of Smartify, this project will further explore the opportunities afforded by Smartify that enable arts and heritage organisations to overcome the current challenges faced and will investigate opportunities for future hybrid business models that harness the potential of both physical and virtual visitations.

The project will help build an informal knowledge transfer and sharing network among arts and heritage organisations adopting technology solutions and identify means of formalising this network as appropriate.  

Additional impacts of this project include:

  • Identifying pathways to future adoption of hybrid business models in overcoming challenges posed by COVID-19
  • Maintaining and enhancing visitor engagement
  • Widening organisations’ target market
  • Enhancing networks between industry stakeholders
  • Strengthening the role of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management in transforming prior research in this field into industry impact, thus bridging the gap between academic knowledge and industry practice. 

Smartify App

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