Visitors at the Normal Rockwell Museum can scan QR codes to get more information about the art.
Visitors at the Normal Rockwell Museum can scan QR codes to get more information about the art. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

No longer are the galleries at the Norman Rockwell Museum solely for strolling.

Today, guests can snap, swipe and scroll their way through exhibits at the Stockbridge site for deeper exploration and explanation of many of the works there using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

The Norman Rockwell Museum is just one of several cultural venues in the Berkshires beginning to use such technology to give visitors more access and a broader context surrounding the work, physical grounds and other operations.

Technology is used not only because it's modern and fun, but because it's empowering for people. Computer screens, digital projections, audio and video, mobile devices and websites can be used to create specialized and niche experiences, communicate across language barriers and age groups and transport audiences to realms regardless of physical ability.

This summer the Rockwell museum used its "Norman Rockwell: Happily Ever After" exhibition to pilot an interactive experience designed with Quick Response or "QR" codes. By downloading a free app, visitors can turn their mobile device into a kind of barcode scanner.

When a person scans the square-shaped QR code displayed by Rockwell's 1948 oil painting "Christmas Homecoming," for example, the image will reappear on the person's mobile device with some of the people's faces in the painting circled in red. When the viewer clicks on, or taps on, a highlighted face they will be connected with other images, text and in some cases video about the person in the picture.

In the case of "Christmas Homecoming," one can learn more about artist Grandma Moses; Rockwell's second wife, Mary Rhodes Rockwell, or Rockwell himself, among others. Audiences can also interact with the exhibit from home or school by visiting the webpage, www.nrm.org/hea.

"We are putting up additional QR codes around campus to offer enhanced information on the artwork and studio," said Jeremy Clowe, the Rockwell's manager of media services. He also made several of the photos and videos audiences can connect to through the QR codes.

Clowe said creating these kinds of more modern experiences is a way to deliberately reach more potential audience members.

In 2010, a group of five first-year Bennington College students audited the museum and how it was engaging their age group. In one portion of the report students wrote, "While the audio tour is technologically functional, it is not technologically appealing."

Beginning this week, for visitors who don't own a mobile device, the museum will be offering a few iPads to rent to take the QR code tour.

"We have also finally allowed visitors to take non-flash photography in the galleries, which has resulted in some beautiful Flickr and Facebook image galleries," said Clowe.

In terms of social media, Stephanie Plunkett, the Rockwell's deputy director and chief curator, noted the museum is also one of a handful of New England sites partnered with the Google Art Project (http://tinyurl.com/ltagrej), and will be the focus of Thursday's virtual interactive Art Talk, "Norman Rockwell Museum: Norman Rockwell's Influences and Borrowings," hosted via Google's "Hangouts" platform (http://bit.ly/17vuTwh).

More than 195 international visitors have RSVP'd to attend the online presentation, which begins at 11 a.m.

Plunkett said using such technology "has become the innate way people are communicating right now. Here, we're trying to use it in a way that we can give the backstory of our exhibits in a rich way."

Though this kind of high-quality experience takes place with the click of a button, the process to make it happen can take weeks, months, even years. It took the Norman Rockwell Museum nearly a decade to digitize its archives, from which it is now creating mobile experiences.

In Pittsfield, it's taken about two years and a grant of $150,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, for Hancock Shaker Village to ready its recently revealed web-based engagement initiative. Laura Wolf, Hancock Shaker Village's director of operations and marketing, said the new website, www.experience.hancockshakervillage.org, is filled with educational content and is accessible to audiences via their home computers but also to onsite visitors in the forms of iPad kiosks and so-called "Smart TVs" being installed on campus.

In Pittsfield, it's taken about two years and a grant of $150,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, for Hancock Shaker Village to ready its recently revealed web-based engagement initiative. Laura Wolf, Hancock Shaker Village's director of operations and marketing, said the new website, www.experience.hancockshakervillage.org, is filled with educational content and is accessible to audiences via their home computers but also to onsite visitors in the forms of iPad kiosks and so-called "Smart TVs" being installed on campus.

Content highlights of the initiative include: newly produced videos about the daily lives of the Shakers; a virtual kids' "Discovery Room," which mirrors many of the activities available to young visitors on site, and an architectural tour "filled with hidden treasures at HSV."

"Most museums are not able to make accessible 100 percent of their collections and grounds," said Wolf. "We have so much in our own collection that's behind closed doors, or in storage. The buildings here themselves are artifacts. But through technology, there are many opportunities to give access and share knowledge with our visitors."

Virtually, Hancock Shaker Village visitors can now browse the museum's full 22,000-object collection, thanks to a team of scholars led by curator Lesley Herzberg.

"The mission of Hancock Shaker Village is to bring the Shaker story to life and preserve it for future generations," said Hancock Shaker Village President Linda Steigleder.

"Our dedicated staff has digitized collection records, object photographs, historic and contemporary photographs, maps and other ephemera, and created digital versions of oral histories and videos, manuscripts and proceedings, and we are so pleased to finally be able to make these important resources available 24/7 to the general public and to scholars," she said.