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A medium-skinned woman with long black hair points to an image in a folded pamphlet while standing with a light-skinned man in front of Grant Wood's painting American Gothic. An array of other artworks fill the galleries surrounding them. A medium-skinned woman with long black hair points to an image in a folded pamphlet while standing with a light-skinned man in front of Grant Wood's painting American Gothic, which features a bald man with a pitchfork at right and a younger woman at left.

Introducing My Museum Tour

Digital Interactive



Ever wish you could design your own gallery tour? Now you can.

For the past year and a half, the Art Institute’s Marketing and Communications team has worked closely with colleagues in Experience Design to create an online tool that makes it easy to customize your next visit to the galleries. Marketing’s Shannon Burke and Experience Design’s Josh Andrews sat down recently to tell you all about it.

Josh Andrews: Because you’re the marketing professional, I think I’ll let you take the lead on describing My Museum Tour for our members. 

Shannon Burke: Happy to. My Museum Tour is a first-of-its-kind interactive tool available now on our website. It allows visitors to build their own self-guided gallery tour by choosing from a huge variety of artworks on view from across our collection. Everything is downloadable, printable, and easily shareable, and it’s a great way for visitors to use the museum as a way to connect—with each other as well as the art.

Close-up photo of a folded pamphlet that reads "My Favorite Artworks," among other text, held in a woman's hand. On the cover is a grid of works from the Art Institute of Chicago's collection. Beyond the pamphlet, on the wall and blurry, is the colorful suggestion of a painting.

My Museum Tour generates a PDF that you can print and take with you to the galleries. It can also be viewed on your phone.

Josh: Visitors to the Ryan Learning Center might be familiar with JourneyMaker, a similar interactive that debuted in 2016 and lets kids build their own gallery tour using child-friendly themes. 

Shannon: Yeah. That was sort of our starting point conceptually—we wanted to make a JourneyMaker for adults that was even more extensive and customizable.

Josh: When you and your team first came to Experience Design with this idea, we asked the same question we like to ask all of our collaborators: what problem are you trying to solve? And you articulated a really compelling case. 

Shannon: This project is in response to visitor feedback. We know there can be an intimidation factor when it comes to visiting the museum. Visitors, particularly new ones, can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the vastness of our collection. It can be hard to know where to begin. My Museum Tour was designed to address this directly.

Josh: Members, too, should find it fun and useful—it’s a great way to discover new works and shake up a visit. And you can use it to introduce family and friends to the museum. 

Shannon: Exactly. Our research around why people visit drives the key components of My Museum Tour. We know that what really gets someone to come here is a recommendation from a friend. We also know that, for the most part, people are visiting in groups and see a trip to the museum as a way to spend time together. And we know that they really value a personalized experience. My Museum Tour speaks to all of these things.

A medium-skinned woman with long black hair points to an image in a folded pamphlet while standing with a light-skinned man in front of Grant Wood's painting American Gothic, which features a bald man with a pitchfork at right and a younger woman at left.

Visitors use My Museum Tour to swing by Grant Wood’s American Gothic, 1930.

Friends of American Art Collection

When building a tour, you can select up to six artworks, which come with detailed descriptions. We chose the number six because a trip to the museum doesn’t have to be particularly long or taxing, and this helps set that expectation. Plus we imagine visitors will be drawn to other works—or even exhibitions—as they make their way through the objects on the tour. That’s part of the fun.

Josh: Your team put a lot of thought into how people would select the objects for their tour.

Shannon: We wanted to be sure that anyone could find or discover works to include without necessarily having a lot of art historical knowledge. We wanted it to be easy and enjoyable to use. And that’s where your team really came though—with the browser.

Josh: We built a special browsing tool that is all about discovery. You can type in a chosen keyword, for instance, and the program will pull up any related artworks on view. You can even type something descriptive about a favorite work and find it that way.

This was largely possible due to the work that we’ve put into our website in recent years. We’ve also invested a lot in our API—our application programming interface—which in short is the communication hub for all of our data and information about the museum’s collection. Over the years we’ve developed really strong search features that we’ve been able to leverage for My Museum Tour. Because it’s a part of this larger digital ecosystem, My Museum Tour can do things like automatically filter for artworks currently on view and identify works in specific styles, like Impressionism or Surrealism. Accessing the API lets us offer a wide range of starting points for building a custom tour.

A light-skinned man stands with a medium-skinned woman in front of Jacob Lawrence's vibrantly colored painting The Wedding, their backs to the viewer. The man holds a folded pamphlet featuring the same artwork.

Visitors take a close look at Jacob Lawrence’s The Wedding, 1948.

Purchased with funds provided by Mary P. Hines in memory of her mother, Frances W. Pick. © 2018 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Shannon: And if you still don’t know quite where to begin, My Museum Tour also has ready-made tours. These are complete tours we offer in a variety of categories, so you can choose something that interests you and be on your way in one easy step. Some of them involve pop culture, which is always fun. They’re a bit like the themed Highlights features on our website. But they’re shorter, a little more playful, breezier—and specifically designed to be used in the galleries.

Shannon: One of the reasons both the ready-made and custom tours are so easy to use is that they’re designed with navigation in mind. This was really important to us. 

Josh: It was one of the major goals your team had for this project—you wanted to make it easier for visitors to find the works they came here to see. With the API, we had a great foundation to start from, since this data includes current artwork locations. When you create a tour, the works you select will be automatically organized according to their location, so you’ll never have to backtrack to get from one artwork to the next. 

Shannon: That’s one of the coolest parts of My Museum Tour. Another, and probably my favorite, is that you can choose a title for your tour and address it to someone as you would a letter or a gift. There are even fields under each artwork where you can let the recipient know why you’ve chosen each work or mention a shared memory it evokes. 

Three side-by-side cellphone views illustrate the process of personalizing a tour using My Museum Tour.

Josh: And you can share your finished tour directly with that person. It will also be emailed to you automatically as a custom PDF that you can print out if you like, which makes a really nice keepsake from a visit—it’s perfect to include in a gift. Or you can view the tour on your phone.

Shannon: As we created My Museum Tour, I shared it with my grandma. She is 91 and lives in Western New York. She’s never been to the Art Institute, but she loves when I email her pictures from the galleries and things like that. My Museum Tour has been a great way to share the museum experience with her from afar and just keep in touch. I like to think it will help other people do the same.

Josh: I love that. As we’re having this conversation, My Museum Tour has only been available to visitors for a short time. What are you hoping to learn as people use it more?

Shannon: I’m excited to see which artworks they choose most often and if any patterns might emerge. We are always super interested to learn more about our visitors—the kinds of works or experiences that resonate, what they find most engaging. This allows us to create better, more meaningful paths for them to connect with art.

A light-skinned man stands in front of Diego Rivera's painting Weaving and holds a cell phone open to My Museum Tour.

Taking a moment for Diego Rivera’s Weaving, 1936

Gift of Josephine Wallace KixMiller in memory of her mother, Julie F. Miller, who purchased the painting from the artist at his studio in Mexico in 1936. © 2018 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Josh: Creatively speaking, I know you have some ambitious goals for the future of these tours. 

Shannon: Yes. We plan to have lots of fun with them going forward. I can see us engaging with partners and local personalities to create new custom tours. Like, what if Tom Skilling made one? Or we could react to local culture—say, by creating a tour based on The Bear called “Yes, Chef!” Tours like these have the potential to make our collection even more accessible and relevant to new audiences. 

And that’s really what this project is all about, at the end of the day: putting into action the values that this museum holds close. It’s a way for us to embrace our visitors and welcome them. If you come here and don’t know where to begin, or you think this place may not be for you, even the smallest setback can feel really discouraging. But if we can offer a way in that is personal, if we can encourage fun and exploration, and if we can make it easier to create meaningful memories with those you love, that’s a great start. It’s all about inviting people in. 

—Josh Andrews, project manager, Experience Design, and Shannon Burke, associate director, Marketing and Revenue

My Museum Tour is supported by

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