Louvre Abu Dhabi has signed a one-year agreement that names Accenture as “Official Digital Partner” to help deliver “the transformation and integration of the museum’s digital ecosystem”.
This includes the development and implementation of an Extended Reality (XR) strategy, more and better immersive experiences in the galleries, and generally improved digital access to the museum’s collection. If the deal really is for only one year, all that work is going to mean a lot of late nights for the team …
According to Louvre Abu Dhabi director Manuel Rabaté, 2020 has forced the museum to accelerate its digital “transformation” in order to maintain a level of engagement with its audiences during the pandemic. “We have launched creative projects sharing our stories of cultural connections both here in the UAE and with audiences around the world,” he said.
Coming real soon now
So what kind of results might we see? Alexis Lecanuet, Accenture’s Middle East Managing Director, said Accenture will help Louvre Abu Dhabi to “transform and integrate the museum’s digital ecosystem” by developing “a more immersive experience, improved digital access, and an XR strategy designed around the instinct that lives at the intersection of purpose and innovation”.
That doesn’t give much away. But at least Accenture should understand the issues of museum access. The company has a long-standing relationship with the Musée du Louvre – it dates back to 2001, primarily as part of a pro-bono corporate citizenship initiative from Accenture – and presumably some of that experience (maybe some of the people too) will transfer.
The arrangements in Paris cover expertise and resources in areas including strategy development, project management, technological innovation, and experience design. In particular, Accenture’s massive digital agency Accenture Interactive participated in the major revamp of the Louvre’s digital strategy in 2019 that was designed to “make the experience for each type of visitor to the Louvre as unique as the museum itself”.
Practical outcomes have included the much improved Louvre website, a new ticketing system, and a mobile application using augmented reality for the Petite Galerie.
It doesn’t seem that Accenture was directly involved in the stunning Beyond the Glass VR experience introduced in 2019. This explores the Mona Lisa in depth as part of the Leonardo da Vinci blockbuster exhibition that finished in February. The work for the app is down to leading French VR studio Emissive and HTC’s VIVE Arts platform. But it clearly indicates the direction of travel in Paris, and probably in the Louvre’s associates too.
In any case there’s a reasonable starting point for development over here. The Louvre Abu Dhabi has built up a decent library of online content, notably the Art from Home series. This provides audio and video guides to many of the museum’s works, in most cases with downloadable activity sets for kids; it covers everything from Phoenician sarcophagi and Buddha heads to Mondrian and Holbein, with a particularly good session on the links between Gauguin and Hiroshige. The Soundwalk Collective AV experience We Are Not Alone is there too, as is the new 40-minute film The Pulse of Time.
The intelligent unperson?
But commendable though these are, they aren’t exactly testing the boundaries of what’s possible in immersive museum experiences. For that we might have to look to India and another recent Accenture collaboration. The new Museum of Art & Photography in Bengaluru, one of India’s largest private art museums, is currently online in its digital incarnation with a physical space due to follow early in 2021.
Remember that throwaway mention of XR (Extended Reality) back at the top of this article? For the MAP launch, Accenture is creating a “conversational digital persona” – visitors to the museum will be able to have what we’re assured is a lifelike conversation with the ‘persona’.
Sounds very like XR to us. To create the ‘persona’, Accenture Labs used techniques such as face superimposition and speech synthesis that employ cutting-edge AI-based deepfake technologies. We’re told that “natural language understanding, natural language processing and emotion detection technologies help ensure the conversation between the user and the persona is lifelike, and enable the digital persona to be as responsive, expressive, proactive and adaptive as a real person would be”. And presumably it doesn’t need comfort breaks either.
One of the Accenture Labs people involved has written a blog post about the positive use of deepfakes, and has at least one fascinating suggestion: “imagine entering a museum and learning about an artist’s life and works not from signs on the wall or a printed brochure, but from the artist himself. What would be a passive museum experience becomes an interactive, immersive one …” And it’s all doable right now. “A vast combination of technologies makes this experience possible … The digital persona [can] be as responsive, expressive, immersive, proactive and adaptive as a real person would be.”
The inputs aren’t just from technology. “We incorporate expertise from sociology, psychology and cognitive science. This lets us do much more than just create a visual representation of the artist reading a script. We can analyse user perception and attention span, while also improving ease of access to persons with disabilities. We can collect user feedback and improve the system’s long-term functionality. We can design the persona so that it can interact not only with individuals, but with larger groups, whether organized school groups touring a museum together, or simply a collection of friends …”
Now that sounds really interesting. We’re definitely looking forward to Gauguin and Hiroshige chatting with us about the absence of any interplay of shadow and light in the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s works …