Museum Without Walls

The audio tour that captures listeners who would otherwise not go to museums.


Public art may be something we all take for granted. We see it everyday on the streets of Philadelphia and rarely stop to really take notice. We have the LOVE sculpture, Rocky, and The Thinker in all of our back yards, but maybe we have become all too familiar with pieces like these to realize how outstanding Philadelphia’s public art is. When we see it everyday, it becomes like any landmark you pass by. Museum Without Walls, the Association for Public Art’s audio tour, is reengaging people with Philadelphia’s sculpture in exciting new ways.

Museum Without Walls started with the idea that every sculpture has a story. The interpretive audio program launched in 2010, reconnecting Philadelphia residents with the sculpture they come in contact with everyday. The audio program includes 36 sculptures, and tells their stories through over 100 different voices: including curators, experts, family members, and artists themselves. Each audio program is created with an authentic voice model, meaning the story is “always [told with] a first person relationship to the artwork,” according to Jennifer Richards, Development and Communications Manager.

Two or three people closely related to the work, such as experts, family members, or the artists themselves, tell a story about the sculpture in a way that someone would the news. The Association for Public Art brought together public radio, folklore, and technology experts to “follow a story line instead of telling everything there is to know about a sculpture,” says Richards. They wanted to keep the audio interpretive, so that people can relate to it according to their own personalities and interests. In this way, the tours tell listeners more about how to look at a work of art, but still let people bring themselves into the experience.

This authentic voice is what the association found missing from other audio tours, like those in museums. Museum tours aim to tell facts about artwork, to people who have already paid to go see it. Richards explains “traditional museum tours are very didactic,” sometimes coming across as high and mighty to the listeners. “Walking up huge stairs and paying a fee is daunting to some people,” says Richards, who tries to captures listeners who would otherwise not go to museums.

Although the association also loves museumgoers, they really try to capture the “spontaneous user” who walks down the Parkway everyday from work. The type of person who walks past the Joan of Arc sculpture and thinks, I love this sculpture, I’m going to listen to this audio tour today. For this reason the audio is limited to around three minutes, trying to engage the user for the entire time. Richard feels they’ve met their goal if “people listen all the way through.” After all, they want to leave people feeling smart, thinking about a familiar sculpture in entirely new ways by letting people “reconnect and notice it.”

Soon, the association is releasing a phase two of Museum Without Walls, with 30 more stops. The first phase covered art mostly on the Parkway, and the second will feature stops at City Hall, Rittenhouse Square, and, West Fairmount Park. The Association for Public Art is proud to connect residents with Philadelphia’s sculpture. Be on the look out for more stories coming soon.

Jeana Mobley is a Sophomore Custom-Designed Major at Drexel University.