Not just for kids: How Art Processors is helping Mona drive engagement with family-friendly content

How do you explain art to a child? At Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art, you don’t—you let children interpret the art on display themselves with O Minor.

O Minor is a family-friendly offering we helped integrate into The O (the mobile experience that replaces wall texts at Mona) and is unlike anything you’ll find at museums around the world.

It delivers a diverse array of stories, songs and short commentary designed to appeal to the curiosity of any visitor, in particular children and their families. When you spot one of the 16 artworks at Mona that offer O Minor content, you can read or listen to an artist’s interpretation using your mobile device.

As Nic Whyte, Delivery Director and Co-Founder at Art Processors, explains, one of the benefits of the O Minor content is that it allows younger audiences who visit the museum with their families to follow their parents but still engage with the works around content that appeals to them. It extends the array of content available, making it accessible for a wider audience, with awareness that content shouldn’t be one size fits all.

The museum invited artists, musicians, writers and other creative people from Tasmania and across Australia to respond to selected works of art. We then worked with Mona to integrate this new content into The O under the ‘O Minor’ label.

Trudi Brinckman, a curator at Mona, said the response to O Minor had been overwhelmingly positive since its addition to The O in December 2018. She said one song in particular, by Hobart artist Adam Ouston in response to Grotto by Randy Polumbo, had been a big hit with children event during initial workshops for the project.

“The kids went crazy for it! They were in the gallery space putting the song on repeat, texting their friends saying, ‘get down here, you gotta listen to this’,” Ms Brinckman said.

“The track is charismatic and fun. It just works. The interesting thing was the kids gave really descriptive ideas that they drew from the song and looking at the art. Even though it’s just music and there are no lyrics.”

AP Archives 2018, Grotto, by Randy Polombo

Feedback from children who listened to artist Adam Ouston’s contribution to O Minor for Grotto, by Randy Polombo:

  • Work changed how I felt about the song
  • Thought it was a disco, but I can’t dance
  • This is another dimension
  • Music dimension
  • Best song in the world
  • Minecraft
  • It’s alien music
  • Very chilling
  • Hell yeah
  • This is the third time I’ve listened
  • It makes me feel joyful
  • It’s like you’re in an underwater cave
  • It made me feel happy and safe
  • Yes I went from sensible to silly
  • Reminded me of when I’m dancing at home with the family

Ms Brinckman said another song by Adam, a dark and abstract track in response to Peter Buggenhout’s artwork The Blind Leading the Blind, drew somewhat unexpected feedback from children.

“David [Walsh, owner of Mona] thought initially that kids mightn’t like it, there are no lyrics. Whereas I felt really strongly about the piece, that it matched the artwork,” she said.

The Blind Leading the Blind quite a foreboding piece of art that sits above you; it’s like a dirty vortex, it’s unpredictable, but it’s an incredible work and the kids love it and they got it, and they got what the song was about.

“Some were saying the art was like an explosion and one child said it was like a big fire. Another said it reminded them of the Titanic. They were able to work with quite abstract ideas and feel confident, but also be blatant with their descriptions.”

MONA Gallery, Photo by Brett Boardman

O Minor: Enabling deeper and longer engagement for children and families

What’s unique about O Minor compared to other examples of family-friendly content you might find at other museums is the way it delivers media-rich content. It helps visitors young and old to make connections between the art and their own lives. It validates the unique response of every individual: there is no one ‘correct’ way to experience Mona and its art. There are no rules to guide what visitors think and feel.

Ms Brinckman said O Minor reflected the museum’s deliberate strategy to not label by age, culture or cognitive development, but to offer ideas that could be explored in different ways by everyone, including children. O Minor encourages young people to question the way they look at the world and, importantly, allows them to enjoy art on a deeper level, far beyond what traditional wall labels are able to provide.

“Children are far more sophisticated than we give them credit for. They want to connect with ideas that are far broader and more abstract than what’s necessarily in front of them,” she said.

“I think when kids are just told what an artwork is, it can sometimes begin and end there. Whereas when you open them up to ideas, they can own the experience.

“Giving them a device like The O, a powerful medium that connects the artwork and the viewer, brings three things together: the life of the person, the technology, and the artwork, creating an incredible experience that is completely individual, and far more fulfilling than just showing them a wall label with information.”

The data we’ve collected around O Minor’s usage provides insights into how children have been using the feature since it launched on 1 November 2018:

  • The various pieces of O Minor content have been accessed over 380,000 times, with 70% of visitors reading all of the content. All in all, a total of 6,700 hours have been spent accessing O Minor content.
  • There have been 112,000 distinct visitors who have accessed O Minor content, with 51,000 (46%) accessing multiple pieces of O Minor content during their visit.
  • The average length of a session for someone who accesses O Minor content is 2 hours and 5 minutes, which is a 16% increase on the average session length for MONA in general (1 hour and 48 minutes).
  • Of the 16 key works that have had O Minor content published, the most popular has been bit.fall where the O Minor content has been accessed 80,000 times. 

Mona joins Children’s University Tasmania with O Minor

O Minor’s addition to The O has enabled the museum to sign on as a Public Learning Destination for the 900 students enrolled in Children’s University Tasmania.

The program, aimed at children aged 7-14 years and offered in 42 schools across Tasmania, encourages learning beyond the classroom. Learning destinations include libraries, sports clubs, museums, cultural activities and volunteer organisations. Children’s University is child-led, meaning that children choose what activities they would like to participate in, and their participation is on a voluntary basis.

Children who visit Mona can count the time they spend there toward the number of hours required to graduate.

Professor Natalie Brown, Director of the Peter Underwood Centre which oversees Children’s University Tasmania, said Mona was a perfect fit for the program. She said the O Minor content was a “rich source of learning for Tasmanians of all ages”.

Currently, 16 works on display at Mona offer O Minor content but this number is growing steadily. Ms Brinckman said O Minor was a work in progress that would evolve in the same manner as Mona’s exhibits: with time, enquiry, curiosity, and the generosity of feedback from visitors.

Art Processors enjoys a long-standing partnership with Mona that has allowed both the museum and our team to innovate and explore within a real environment. This includes the integration of O Minor into The O. As the museum continues to source new interpretive works for inclusion in O Minor, we’ll be on hand to implement and enhance the feature in the years to come.