When the Art Is Watching You | WSJ

Museums are mining detailed information from visitors, raising questions about the use of Big Data in the arts

 

ILLUSTRATION BY MORGAN SCHWEITZER

 

One morning last week, a team of experts at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum searched for hidden spots in the rotunda to conceal tiny electronic transmitters. The devices will enable the museum to send messages about artworks to visitors via their smartphones while at the same time collect details about the comings and goings of those guests.

 

At today’s museums, all eyes aren’t just on the art. They’re on the visitors.

 

Across the country, museums are mining increasingly detailed layers of information about their guests, employing some of the same strategies that companies like Macy’s, Netflix and Wal-Mart have used in recent years to boost sales by tracking customer behavior. Museums are using the visitor data to inform decisions on everything from exhibit design to donor outreach to gift-shop marketing strategies.

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