Washington museum launches phone tour

Tacoma Art Museum has launched Washington’s first cell-phone walking tour, Ear for Art: Chihuly Glass CellPhone Walking Tour. The innovative new tour allows users to learn more about Dale Chihuly’s artwork in Tacoma’s Museum District as they stroll through revitalized downtown Tacoma.

The Ear for Art tour may be accessed any time of day or night, from anywhere in the country by calling 888-411-4220. The tour features twelve audio stops located throughout the Museum District that provide cell-phone users the opportunity to hear a narrator - and even Chihuly himself - talk about the installations at Tacoma Art Museum, Union Station, the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, the University of Washington Tacoma Library, and The Swiss Pub.

Throughout the course of the tour, people will hear - among other things - how the “uglies” became Macchia, how many pieces of glass make up the Seaform Pavilion on the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, and how eight Venetians found their way to The Swiss Restaurant. The self-guided tour can begin or end at any of the five locations, and access to the tour is free; callers simply pay for their personal airtime charges. The tour also includes games that can be played as the tour progresses. Cell-phone users can choose to just listen to the basic information included at each stop, or they can dial further to hear more about the artworks and installations they’re viewing.


Paula McArdle, curator of education at Tacoma Art Museum, coordinated the creation of the cell-phone tour, working closely with nationally recognized consultants Museum411, Chihuly Studio, and representatives from each of the venues on the tour. The project was funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to promote Tacoma Art Museum’s significant Chihuly holding - the premier collection of Dale Chihuly’s work, (dating 1977- present) on public long-term display. 



“Chihuly glass is spread throughout downtown Tacoma and has played an important role in the city’s renaissance,” McArdle said. “We wanted this tour to be on a grand scale, highlighting not only Tacoma Art Museum’s extensive Chihuly collection, but also his work that is featured at our neighboring institutions.”


Minneapolis-based Museum411 produced Tacoma Art Museum’s Ear for Art Chihuly Glass CellPhone Walking Tour. The company develops interactive audio tour and information systems specifically designed for cultural institutions, museums, galleries, and gardens. “This program solves a lot of problems for museums that offer audio tours,” said Kris Wetterlund, a principal at Museum411. “It saves money because there is no equipment for the museum to maintain. Also, visitors may be confused about how to use audio wands but they sure know how to use their own cell phones.” 


In fact, mobile devices are ubiquitous in society today. In 2005, about 207 million Americans carried cellular phones, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. Tacoma Art Museum joins the growing number of museums across the country, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Austin Museum of Art in Texas, and the Brooklyn Museum in New York, that have chosen to forego handheld devices in place of this readily available technology.


A brochure with a map listing tour stops is available at Tacoma Art Museum and at other businesses in downtown Tacoma during business hours. A downloadable version is available from the museum’s website at www.TacomaArtMuseum.org. (Click on “Education Resources,” then “Tours.”)


Although it is the first cell-phone tour offered at the museum, Ear for Art is the second technologically innovative audio tour Tacoma Art Museum has organized. The previous audio tour featured the recent exhibition The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915 - 1935.  That tour was available for download to portable mp3 players and broadcast as a podcast. Plans for a similar downloadable audio tour are in the works for the Chihuly Glass tour.   

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is an independent federal agency that grows and sustains a “Nation of Learners,” because lifelong learning is critical to success.