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Clark Art Institute's New "Acoustiguide" Tells the Stories Behind the Paintings

For Immediate Release

August 20, 2000

WILLIAMSTOWN, MA (August 20, 2000) - Who were the two women who posed for Renoir's At the Concert? Why are Bouguereau's nymphs pushing the satyr into the water? The answers to these and many other questions can be found in the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute's new Acoustiguide. After more than a year in development, the new audio guide is now available to enhance the visitor's experience of the Clark collection. The units, developed by the Acoustiguide corporation, resemble cellular phones and incorporate digital technology that allows the visitor to design their own tour, listening to information only about the paintings they choose rather than following a set recorded tour from beginning to end.

"I hope all our visitors will take advantage of this new technology to make the most out of their visit," says director Michael Conforti. "Even our frequent visitors will learn things about their favorite paintings that they didn't know before. The beauty of this new Acoustiguide system is that visitors can choose which works they want to know more about, and get even more information about certain topics if they wish. The Acoustiguide also encourages the viewer to really look closely at the paintings, which is very rewarding."

The Acoustiguide is programmed with entries on more than fifty of the most important and popular paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts objects in the collection. All of the works of art included on the guide have a special symbol and a number on the wall label. Visitors punch in the number and press the play button to learn about the object. The Acoustiguide also includes an introduction about the Clark's history and activities, narrated by Conforti. "Layering" of information allows listeners to hear more about selected topics that interest them. For example, after listening to the entry about Renoir's At the Concert, one has the option to hear additional background about Renoir. Each unit is programmed with over one and a half hours of recorded material, but visitors may listen to as many or as few entries as they desire, in any order they choose.

"The simplicity of the unit is one of the reasons we chose the Acoustiguide company," says Conforti. "There are no headsets to fuss with or tapes to rewind. You just punch in your painting and hold the lightweight 'phone' up to your ear, and you're all set. We wanted to make it as easy and enjoyable as possible for our visitors to learn more about our collection." For many years the Clark offered recorded tours that played cassette tapes and required a headset to hear. While the tours were popular, the technology required visitors to follow a set path and made regular updating difficult. The tours were unavailable whenever the change of location or loan of a painting required that the entire tour be re-recorded. Because of the "pick and choose" nature of the new Acoustiguide, there is no need to update the guide when a painting goes off view for conservation or on loan to another institution. After identifying the need to replace the recorded tour, the Clark chose the Inform® system by Acoustiguide, the world's leading supplier of self-guided audio tours in museums and historic sites in eleven countries. The production of the tour took over a year. Clark curators first selected the works of art that would be included and what entries would be "layered" with additional information. Then, representatives from Acoustiguide toured the galleries with the curators, listening to them speak about the selected objects. Based on these conservations and additional research, Acoustiguide writers drafted a script for the Clark's review. Voice over actors then recorded the various entries, and Michael Conforti recorded the introduction. Finally, the fifty units were programmed. Once the new wall labels with the Acoustiguide symbol were hung in the galleries, the Acoustiguide was ready for the public; the units entered into use earlier this month.

The Acoustiguide is available year-round at the Clark during regular gallery hours. Rental fee for the unit is $3.

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  The galleries are open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free through May.  For more information call 413-458-2303 or visit www.clarkart.edu.

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