Smartify makes all museum audio tours free for rest of 2020

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

Stories behind art treasures such as Delacroix’s The Death of Sardanapalus in the Louvre and a 19th-century relief of Phaeton driving the Chariot of the Sun at the Royal Academy of Arts are to made free for the rest of the year by the world’s most downloaded museum app.

Smartify is often known as the “Shazam for art” app in that it allows people to identify works of art by simply scanning them on a smartphone. It has about 2m artworks from more than 120 venues.

It also has audio and visual museum tours which are a mix of paid and free depending on the museum or exhibition.

Because no one will be seeing the Mona Lisa in Paris or the Laughing Cavalier at the Wallace Collection in London any time soon, Smartify said it would make all its audio tours free for the rest of the year.

Exhibitions that were due to open, but have been closed because of coronavirus, will also be launched on the app as audio and visual tours.

The Smartify app was founded in the UK as a social enterprise by four friends in 2017. Anna Lowe, one of the co-founders, said the mission had always been about supporting museums and increasing access to art.

“We started with around 30 museums, predominantly in the UK, and now we’re global with 2m artworks and we are the world’s most downloaded museum app.”

The job now was to help make sure museum collections were as accessible as possible, she said.

“Obviously we have seen a change in the way the app is used,” she said. “We started the app from a love of visiting museums and galleries and seeing and connecting with art. At times like this, really strange times, people look to art and music and culture for inspiration, solace … a sense of normal.

“Anything we can do to help that and help people access art and culture is important at a time like this.”

Many galleries are now adding tours for exhibitions that have closed. They include the Watts Gallery-Artists’ Village in Surrey, which closed one week into its new exhibition exploring the art critic John Ruskin.

The Museum of London is soon to add an audio tour of its Clash: London Calling display. All the objects in the show are already listed on the app.

The Lowry in Salford and Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire are also working on new tours that will be added soon.

Among the audio and visual tours now free to listen is one by Mary Beard, a mythology trail through the RA’s collection, and a masterpieces of the Louvre tour which takes people from the Great Sphinx of Tanis to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and The Virgin of the Rocks.