Leaning into the art and leaning into the visual component of this project were easily accomplished with Experience Builder. It allowed us to build a customized site with strong visuals, without being developers.
Florida International University Creates Interactive Web App with ArcGIS Experience Builder to Showcase Sculpture Collection
The Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami, Florida, is a 46,000-square-foot facility that is home to 6,500 works of art. With a focus on contemporary art from the United States and international regions like the Caribbean, the curatorial team at the Frost Art Museum at FIU, led by chief curator Amy Galpin, organizes 10–12 exhibits each year to provide the community with free access to world-class art.
As part of its collection, the Frost Art Museum at FIU has what's known as the Sculpture Park, which consists of around 30 sculptures scattered around the 344-acre campus. There was no guide or map available for students and visitors to know the locations of each sculpture on campus. As such, Galpin worked with Diana Ter-Ghazaryan to develop a virtual guide that would help people navigate the Sculpture Park and learn more about the works of art.
Ter-Ghazaryan, now an associate professor at the Spatial Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California, was previously a geographic information system (GIS) research associate at the GIS Center at the FIU Libraries, which is FIU's central hub for all things related to geospatial technology. In her role at the FIU GIS Center, she helped students and faculty incorporate geospatial solutions in their work. For this project, Ter-Ghazaryan worked with a student assistant to collect data and transform it into an interactive web application using ArcGIS Experience Builder, allowing Galpin and her team to share these stunning works of art with students and the larger community.
The FIU Sculpture Park application was inspired by GeoMuse, a collaboration between Ter-Ghazaryan and Lien Tran (then an assistant professor for the Department of Interactive Media) during their time at the University of Miami. While at the University of Miami's Department of Geography, Ter-Ghazaryan had students collect latitudes and longitudes of sculptures on campus for a lesson in collecting coordinates and using GPS. As her students worked on this assignment, Ter-Ghazaryan realized that while the university's Lowe Art Museum had a printed map of the sculptures, it was only printed in limited edition and had not been updated with the recent locations of the art pieces.
Ter-Ghazaryan and Tran (now an assistant professor at DePaul University) applied for funding from an internal grant and assembled a student group to build an interactive web application that would enable people to explore the sculpture collection, GeoMuseUM, virtually.
With the success of the GeoMuse application, Ter-Ghazaryan proposed a similar app to Galpin when she began at FIU. Galpin was enthusiastic about the project because she said there was no central way for students and visitors to explore the outdoor collection of sculptures. There was also the need for more information about the public art on campus.
"I definitely value the significance [of the digital space] and its opportunity to reach larger audiences. This was an opportunity to create a map that people could use to find out more about the work on campus," says Galpin. "I was really buoyed by the fact that Ter-Ghazaryan had had this prior experience and knows how to collaborate."
Data Collection and Development
For the GeoMuse application, Ter-Ghazaryan and her students worked with a developer to create the custom-built app. At FIU, she went in search of a new solution that would be easier to deploy and maintain. Ter-Ghazaryan and her former student assistant Dan Frome, now a GIS specialist for Miami-Dade County, explored two different tools for creating web applications and decided to use ArcGIS Experience Builder. ArcGIS Experience Builder allows users to create web applications using flexible layouts, content, and widgets.
According to Frome, the other solution they considered had limited capabilities for creating a customized app. As such, he knew Experience Builder was the right choice because the new app needed to have a strong visual component to showcase the art as well as the descriptions of the work.
"Mostly it seemed to come down to ease of use for the user and UI, navigation, and display, and something that you could customize to make as simple for everybody as possible. But [it would also] look good and be intuitive," says Frome. "Whoever built it can build it without having to jump into spending a year learning how to be a web developer."
Ter-Ghazaryan also liked the ability to make a visually appealing app with Experience Builder, explaining that she was inspired by the product demonstrations she saw at a prior Esri User Conference. After presenting early mock-ups of the site made with Experience Builder to the Frost Art Museum team, they moved forward with using it, utilizing online learning resources and conference videos to boost their skills.
"It was a lot of jumping in and tinkering around. [Experience Builder is] fairly intuitive. It kind of came together, just learning about different widgets and different tools and how to implement them . . . and learning what various functions that would be helpful," explains Frome, adding that they were able to get it going fairly quickly.
Ter-Ghazaryan and Frome began development by first getting a spreadsheet that lists the works that Galpin wanted to be included, along with their locations. Then, Frome walked the FIU campus to collect the latitude and longitude of each sculpture with a mobile phone using a form set up in ArcGIS Survey123. ArcGIS Survey123 is a tool that enables users to create, distribute, and analyze surveys.
Throughout the collection and setup process, Ter-Ghazaryan and Frome had check-in meetings with Galpin and the museum team to update them on progress and ensure that they were creatively on the right track. The final site includes photos of each piece, the location of the sculpture, and curatorial information such as the year produced and the artist's name. A map is available as well for easy navigation.
The Final Product
With the goal of engaging the student community and the general public, the virtual sculpture park site was launched in the summer of 2021. Experience Builder allowed Ter-Ghazaryan and Frome to build a customized site that is functional on both a mobile device and a desktop. Frome says Experience Builder had features that helped keep the layouts for both versions consistent and working well. He adds that the ability to play around and experiment with different displays and buttons was very helpful.
"The visual component of this is really the most important. Being able to see things, being able to take a good picture and have it display . . . all that kind of stuff is really what made [Experience Builder] the obvious choice to use," says Frome.
He adds, "[We were] able to have something workable finished quickly without coding it from scratch and being a developer or having to outsource that or pay for it."
The virtual sculpture park includes multiple features that Galpin likes, including the option to read descriptive text about the work and view large images of the sculptures. Also, there are different views of the map that contribute to a user-friendly experience.
Ter-Ghazaryan liked that Experience Builder allowed them to easily work from the cloud and connect different systems. Frome says he had to travel for several weeks during the project and was able to continue work, which he notes was very helpful.
"The connection of Experience Builder to Survey123 and the seamless connection through ArcGIS Online made it really easy and quick for us to be able to collect the data to bring it right in, and then just deploy that web map right into Experience Builder," says Ter-Ghazaryan. "I think that was a really important benefit of working on the cloud platform."
According to Ter-Ghazaryan, museums often have video tours or 360° videos of their collections, but they don't typically use a map or locations as a basis for exploring the art. She says the virtual sculpture park was a great way to highlight the collection and show how Experience Builder and the site map can help connect the virtual and physical realms. Galpin knows it will also bring attention to the creative works of the museum.
"I see this map as a holistic way in which we are realizing our mission, and caring for the art in our collection, and offering opportunities for the public to engage with it in different ways," says Galpin.