8 ways to enhance an art museum

Collage of eight images, each is an idea on how to improve the art museum

How would you reimagine an art museum? The Art Institute of Chicago called on teens to reinvent and vamp up the museum experience. The competition, Re:Imagine, asked for ideas to make the museum more engaging and multi-sensory, using any creative methods.

52 wonderful ideas were submitted. Eight of them really stood out. Concepts like scratch-n-sniff cards, texture displays for people to touch, and green screens to get into the art.

This competition took place seven years ago, and continues to be hosted on tumblr. Since the Tumblr’s platform is all about taking other people’s posts and putting them onto your own site, I’ll take the liberty and re-post the eight ideas that stood out to me. After each idea is my response.

Meet the artist

By Katie

Have a volunteer or an impersonator walk around as an artist, (ex. Monet). as people look at their artwork, they’ll be able to “travel through time” and be able to talk to the artist. They’ll be able to ask the artist all sorts of questions, and really be able to get into the artwork, when the artist is standing right next to them!


» Comment: Imagine someone that is dressed up like Monet walking around the galleries talking about his art. That would be so funny, and insightful. If someone encountered Claude Monet on their museum visit, that would very much be the highlight of their trip.

Texture for art touchers

by Maddie

A small textured square of material (whether oil paint, fabric, engraving etc.) displayed in a gallery or next to a specific piece to heighten the viewer’s immersion via touch. Comparable to when they have the size of a gorilla’s hand on display at the zoo for reference, but you can’t touch a real gorilla’s hand.


» Comment: One of the most repeated phrases kids hear at museums is “don’t touch!” The desire to touch the art is understandable. It’s hanging right there, you want to be able to experience the art. Kids get very hands-on with their art at school. And now that they are at a museum, all of the sudden the art is untouchable. Having an official podium with tactile offerings would engage kids—and it provides a signal that “Yes, you can touch this, but don’t touch that.”

Scratch-n-sniff cards

Two people submitted similar ideas with scratch-n-sniff cards.

ArtEnviro by Rowan

The ArtEnviro is a small booklet of scratch n sniff cards with facts about the artwork along with its related scent; visitors may also download an app that can be used to listen to sounds associated with work. The design would be organized by gallery and scents and sounds would have a number matched to the artwork.


Scratch and Sniff Art by Max

My idea is to have scratch and sniff cards by the art labels that would smell like what you are looking at. If you are looking at the painting of a flower you could smell that flower. It would be like other scratch and sniff cards except each would be linked with a painting.


» Comment: Max’s idea of having the scratch-n-sniff cards by the art labels is pretty funny. Would someone lean up against the wall and smell the wall? I’m assuming Max means there is a pad of cards on the wall people can peel off. Although people would burn through that pad really fast. Maybe it’s a booklet of cards you buy at the store. For logistics, let’s go with the book idea.

Logistics aside and onto the idea itself. It would be a lot of fun to smell flowers when looking at a flower painting. Maybe a Jackson Pollock painting can smell like cigarettes! The scent/art pairings could get really creative!

Music in the galleries

by Adriana

I feel that the Art Institute of Chicago would be more interesting if music was introduced to the galleries. The music played in the galleries should fit the era or theme that the gallery features (i.e William Byrd is played in a gallery that holds primarily Renaissance works, medieval music in 13th century galleries, etc.). The music should not be loud to prevent it from being a distraction from the artwork and should enhance the viewers’ focus and what they take from their experience at the museum.


The Art Institute had a major exhibit a couple years ago with music. One of the larger rooms in “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity” gently played music. It was really nice. Why do museums have to be so quiet and stale? I understand the art should be able to stand on its own, but I’d also like to be able to hear some music.

Maybe someone can generate playlists of music for specific galleries in the museum.

Get into art

by Katrina

In each unique wing of the Art Institute would be a green screen station set up where museum-goers could insert themselves into some of the famous scenes they could once only admire on the wall. Similarly to the Shedd Aquarium, these photos would be taken by museum staff and saved online, which would then be obtainable with a code or card given to the visitors. Because they would be all around the museum, visitors can get excited about visiting all the different parts of the museum and it could be seen as a fun game or checkpoint within the gallery.


» This idea is absolutely wonderful. Really. The museum should implement this idea now.

Tell me more!

by Jessyca

In my design idea, everyone attending the museum receives a fairly large sticker in which they stick on their backs. On the sticker, they would write two things:
a. What the absolutely love about art
b. What they absolutely loathe about art.
They should only write 1-2 sentences for each, and it should be big enough for people to read. Then the visitors wander around the museum, they will read people’s view on art and stimulate ideas in their own minds. Writing your name would be optional.


» Comment: The stickers being worn on the person’s back instead of the front is humorous. But it also makes sense. You don’t have to immediately confront someone to read his/her sticker. Reading other people’s stickers might also stimulate conversation between strangers.

Imagine if everyone in the museum did this. I would be totally following people around reading everyone’s stickers. Then there might be some people who have absolutely incredible answers, and people would take photos of these people.

Upon exiting the museum, people could contribute their stickers to the archive. Then these stickers can be posted online for anyone to read. Individuals could visit their sticker online, and expand on how their experiences at the museum either fulfilled their statements, or maybe even changed their original opinions.

Grand theft

by Claire

A painting is stolen at the Art Institute, and it is up to you to find out what happened! I imagine this to be an audio based mystery with clue stations set up in front of galleries leading you to audio codes, that will give you the next bit of information to get the next clue, etc. The clue stations would be based on the time period/subject of the gallery they sit in front of and lead to an audio code in front of an artwork they could put into an audio guide to find the next clue station.


» Comment: this one is a little too much like those murder mystery rooms. But whatever. Let’s take that association aside, and consider it within the context of the museum. Having clues to make you explore the museum would be fun. I feel like some museums might have even done a program like this already.

Idea bench

by Adele

I decided to create a hybrid mix of a bench and a school desk that would allow students, artists or ‘the inspired’ to sketch their ideas while enjoying the gallery. Each space between the armrests would allow enough space for two average sized people. In each spot, there are two pull out tables (college, lecture hall inspired): one left-handed and one right-handed. Being pull out desks allows those who wish not to draw to sit and relax without feeling the need to draw, while allowing those who wish to sketch an opportunity.


» Comment: I almost didn’t include this in my picks, because it was a little too bland. But what this idea lacks in pizzazz, it makes up in practicality. As someone who draws in the museum, I would love the benches to be more welcoming for drawing.

Those are my eight top picks from the 52 entries. The Art Institute had nine winners. Only one of my picks was in their nine. We both picked the idea bench. Funny how there wasn’t much overlap between my picks and the winners from the Art Institute.

The teens ideas were just absolutely fantastic. Cheers to them all.

If you’d like to see some of my ideas on how to improve art museums, here’s a few

More ideas on improving art museums

Make art on toilet paper

Ok, so this is more what a person might do with the art on their own. But it would be fun if the toilet paper in the bathrooms featured artwork. Oh the symbolism of using a Gustave Caillebotte to wipe your bottom!
[10 minutes of reading] Read More »

Encourage more drawing

Actually, museums probably already do a good job of encouraging sketching. Many museums offer workshops to sketch. But what if museums offered blank sheets of paper alongside the gallery maps?
[3 minutes of reading] Read more »

Offer Xerox selfies in front of the museum

Total goofball idea. This would be more of an art project than a museum initiative.
[2 minutes of reading] Read more »

Encourage more security guard interaction

One of the security guards was fantastic, encouraging a visitor to capture macro photography of a Georges Lemmen Post-Impressionist painting.
[4 minutes of reading] Read more »

Explore the museum with a kaleidoscope lens

The gift shop could sell fun cell phone lenses, like the $8 kaleidoscope lens that I used throughout the museum. Your perceptions totally change viewing the art through a refracting lens. Everything comes to life on another level.
[2 minutes of reading] Read more »

Give away free art with admission

With every ticket, the Art Institute could give away a free Artist Trading Card from local artists. I give 16 reasons why this would be beneficial to the museum.
[3 minutes of reading] Read more »

Hold a sock sliding competition in the galleries

The Art Institute has a very long hall that is often used for dance performances and talks. It would also make for a great sock sliding competition. Who can slide the farthest? Who can slide with the most style?
[1 minute of reading] Read more »

Encourage museum shop visitors to arrange store products in creative ways

The products in the store is one of the few places in the museum where you can actually touch the art. Encourage shoppers to display the products in fun patterns.
[2 minutes of reading] Read more »

8 ideas from teens, 8 ideas from me. We now have 16 thoughts on how to enhance the art museum experience. If you have any ideas, please leave them in the comments. Thank you.

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Marina Teramond
Marina Teramond
2 years ago

Oh, art springs my wings and gives me a lot of inspiration to create. To tell the truth, I think that art requires development and attention. Because of this fact, it is really significant not to be indifferent to the sphere of art and make your special contribution to it, like mentioned people have done. I really respect them because of their wish to improve the art museum, breathing new life into it. What inspires me the most is that every person suggested a truly fascinating and not typical solution to expand the capabilities of the museum. I’m certain that any idea is really effective and will bring totally positive changes. Frankly, Adriana’s offer conquered my heart and I completely support it because I adore music and I directly connect it with art. It is a creative solution in all respects and I think that a lot of people will be delighted to listen to music in museums matching a certain era because music can fill museums up with a much more special pleased atmosphere, helping visitors to extract even more memorable experience and becoming more enlightened.

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