BoW Title: ArtStories (made with Griot open source software developed by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts)
Institution: Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Designer: The Digital Experience Team at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Category: Digital Exhibition

Griot open source software that created the ArtStories responsive design website is one major deliverable of The Digital Experience (TDX) project at the MIA. TDX was initiated in 2013 by Douglas Hegley, MIA’s Director of Media and Technology to deliver new interpretive media and technology projects that inspire and delight audiences and support deeper visitor engagement. All TDX projects meet strategic goals:

  • Interfaces are quickly and easily navigated
  • Provide multiple layers of content for varied audiences
  • Enable self-guided exploration and learning
  • Content has the greatest impact – audiences remember the stories, not the technology
  • At the museum, encourage users to engage and/or re-engage with the collection
  • Enable and encourage lively social interaction
  • Accessible to all ages, cultures, education level and socio-economic standing
  • Develop products using iterative cycles that include direct audience input (see image attached)

A survey of available software to accomplish TDX goals showed a paucity of open source options for audience engagement and storytelling. The MIA endeavors to be a leader in the field, developing software to meet needs beyond its own walls. By sharing its software tools openly and at no cost, the efforts of the TDX project are available to support museum interpretation and delight audiences widely.

To develop Griot, the TDX project considered:

  • Visitors seek concise information that offers context, to help them understand and engage with the objects nearby.
  • Museum guides can use the interface effectively.
  • Art works will be presented with engaging stories, differing in tone to traditional museum didactics.
  • While visitors are increasingly bringing their own smart devices along on museum trips, the museum will continue to provide devices for those who do not.
  • Content is shared via the internet to anyone who has ability to connect.

The first phase of Griot was completed in November 2013, to coincide with the re-opening of the MIA’s African Art Galleries. Tablet devices were installed in the galleries for visitors to explore and enjoy the first set of ArtStories. The initial roll-out met with positive response from audiences and the press. The tablets are in use every day, engaging people in social interactions and shared experiences, as well as allowing individuals to dive deeply into the content on their own.

The second phase of Griot/ArtStories was completed museum-wide in February 2015. Announcing it to the public, the museum noted “ArtStories invites you into an interactive, in-depth conversation about great artworks, from hidden details to secret backstories. Zoom in. Dive deep. ArtStories is a web app. It’s available on iPads in the MIA galleries, and it’s also optimized for your smartphone or computer. Try it on your personal device as you explore the galleries or from the comfort of home.”

Future plans for Griot include:

  • Continue improving Griot tools using iterative cycles based on audience input
  • Grow the network of collaborative partners who implement and possibly extend Griot for the benefit of all
  • At the MIA, add more ArtStories for deeper and richer engagement with the collection

What is Griot?

Griot is the engine behind great digital storytelling. The West African term “Griot” means “wise story-teller”. The Griot toolset provides user-friendly methods for crafting stories with multimedia content (images, audio, and video). The package includes three specific tools for (1) authoring/loading content, (2) presenting stories, and (3) tiling & annotating images to enhance zooming, panning, and highlighting particular details. The tools are used to produce mobile device-ready experiences and/or websites. Because the software is open source, it is free and may be used by many different types of organizations. In addition, open source enables skilled developers to contribute to the software, enhancing Griot for all who use it.

Griot specifications

  • AngularJS MVW Framework
  • WordPress CMS (similar systems could be adapted – Drupal, Joomla, etc.)
  • JSON

Griot toolset components and documentation

Building Griot: How We Work

The TDX project uses an iterative approach to software development. This begins with early prototypes – often sketches on paper – brought to the public for formative testing. Visitors are asked specific questions about the interface design, and their responses are collected, collated, and turned into action plans. From this feedback, working versions of digital interactives are built, and the cycle is repeated: visitors try them out, respond, and those responses are taken into account to build out the production version. For any given project, the team will go through from 3 to 6 cycles.

This ongoing, iterative approach enables the museum to deliver experiences that the public has helped shape. Once final versions are installed and in-use at the museum, MIA conducts formal evaluations using standard evaluation methods (observation, timing and tracking, interviews). The data is analyzed and shared with the team before they begin the next production cycle. Combining formative testing, multiple iterations and summative evaluation empowers to team to work directly with the public in order to deliver engaging and inspiring content.

Is Griot Successful?

In 2014, the MIA contracted with Audience Viewpoints Consulting to evaluate the integration of in-gallery technology from the visitor viewpoint. Primary findings of the summative evaluation included:

  • MIA visitors will use technology in the galleries. They will spend a significant amount of time with the technology, and will read aloud and discuss as they do so. The technology was used effectively and with positive response by individuals and groups.
  • The use of technology does not detract from visitor focus on the art. The technology was transparent, allowing audiences to focus on the collections and their context. When visitors left the gallery, the descriptions of their visit were almost exclusively about the art, and notably not about the technology.
  • People who used the technology spent more time in the exhibit than those that did not use the technology (even after subtracting the time spent using the technology).


The TDX cross-functional project team members included staff from the following museum divisions: Curatorial, Learning Innovation, Audience Engagement, Visual Resources, and Media and Technology. The project team ultimately extended to include several other departments of the museum. (Please see below a link for Supporting Document 4: TDX Project Team.)

Douglas Hegley: Executive Sponsor, Director of Media and Technology, project conception

Karleen Gardner: Steering Committee, Director of Learning Innovation, interpretive writing

Matthew Welch: Steering Committee, Deputy Director and Chief Curator

Mike Mouw: TDX Project Manager, project coordination

Alex Bortolot: Curatorial Content Strategist, research, content creation, interpretive writing, story editing

Paige Patet: TDX Project Assistant, project coordination, content creation, interpretive writing, story editing

Amanda Thompson Rundahl: Head of Interpretation, content creation, interpretive writing

Andreas Marks, Chris Atkins, David Little, Dennis Jon, Eike Schmidt, Erika Holmquist-Wall, Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers, Jennifer Komar Olivarez, Jill Ahlberg Yohe, Liz Armstrong, Nicole LaBouf, Patrick Noon, Rachel McGarry, Risha Lee, Thomas Rassieur, Yang Liu: Curators, research, content creation, and interpretive writing

Dawn Fahlstrom, Heather Everhart, Kristin Lenaburg, Kristine Clarke, Natasha Thoreson, Nicole Soukup, Nicole Wankel, Roma Rowland: Curatorial Administrative Assistants, WordPress authoring, image and video acquisition, rights coordination

Britta Jepsen, Camille Erickson, Elise Poppen, Laura Scroggs, Laurel Gramling, Zachary Forstrom: Curatorial Interns, research, interpretive writing

Meaghan Tongen: Media and Technology Project Coordinator, agile software development ScrumMaster, rights coordinator, WordPress training

Jennifer Jurgens: Graphic Designer-Web/Interactive Media, interface design and layout, art direction

Tom Borger: Web Developer, WordPress plugin development, front end integration

Kjell Olsen: Web Developer, image tiling / annotation development, front end integration

Andrew David: Head of Software Development, API development, infrastructure design

Tim Gihring: Editor, content creation, interpretive writing

Amanda Hankerson, Ana Taylor, Charles Walbridge, Dan Dennehy: Photography

Josh Lynn: Digital image processing, metadata coordination, image file preparation

Heidi Raatz: Image rights consultation

Mike Dust: Video and audio producer/director

Ryan Lee, Xiaolu Wang: Videography, video editing, installation

Mike Tibbetts, Rose Nelson, Ryan Jensen, Steve Scidmore: IT support, installation, maintenance

Frances Lloyd-Baynes: TMS consultation

Michael Lapthorn, VJAA: gallery iPad furniture design

Al Silberstein, Shawn Holster, Tom Myers: iPad furniture construction

Steve Johnson: Electrician

Title of Image: Griot ArtStories Mobile Test


Formative testing: this photo illustrates formative testing at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, showing random visitors who have stopped at a table in the galleries to provide feedback on an early version of Griot tested on their personal smartphones. You can see a few Post-it notes with user’s feedback placed on the whiteboard. The TDX project does this kind of software testing as frequently as possible, to provide continuous course corrections and deliver high-quality results. User feedback is gathered as data into a spreadsheet to inform the museum’s software project team.

Title of Image: Griot Visitor Feedback Home Page


Formative testing: along with navigation and the content of the stories, visitors have been encouraged to offer their ideas and feedback to improve the ArtStories home page design, whether this is viewed on a digital tablet or smartphone. This photo shows visitors attending the “Nerd Thursday” annual event at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Visitors’ user experience and ideas are captured on Post-it notes and in wireframe sketches, to inform and inspire the software development team.

Title of Image: Griot Curators Writing Workshop


Griot is an interpretive storytelling tool, therefore its content is king. This photo shows Curators collaborating with staff from other departments at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts during an intensive writing workshop led by Kris Wetterlund of Sandbox Studios. The workshop focused on writing specifically for Griot software using a Microsoft Word content outline designed to organize text, images, and videos the authors wanted to include in their stories about art objects. (See an example content outline below, as linked Supporting Document 2.)

Title of Image: Griot ArtStories Home


This is a screen shot of the ArtStories Home Page currently in use at the MIA. The interface is elegant, uncluttered, and responsive so that it can display on any size or resolution screen. At present, the MIA is sharing ArtStories content using Griot across its wireless network onsite, for iPads installed near seating areas and/or for visitors using their own devices.

Title of Image: Griot Family ArtStories


Griot provides an interpretive software platform for social learning and sharing of information by users of all ages and abilities. Shown here is a family of four happily engaged with ArtStories on an iPad made available in the galleries of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Title of Image: Griot DeYoung Embodiments 


The DeYoung Museum adopted Griot open source software to provided interpretation for the museum’s Embodiments exhibition of African sculpture. A large multi-touch screen allows visitors to select works or art and then explore close details that are difficult to see in the galleries. The software provides additional context about the cultural significance and materials of the object. Demonstrating the ease of adopting Griot, staff at the DeYoung implemented the software for public use very quickly, with little to no assistance from the MIA.

Title of Image: Griot at St. Louis Art Museum


A massive panoramic painting of views of the Mississippi River on exhibition at the St. Louis Art Museum is interpreted through Griot. The panorama is a long scroll with numerous scenes depicting rustic life on the river. Griot offers a digital way to view and explore segments of the large painting. Only one segment from the panorama is presented in the gallery, with Griot offering incredibly detailed views of this and all other sections of the painting through a multi-touch screen.

Title of Image: Griot at St. Louis Art Museum Screen Shot


The long painted panorama in the St. Louis Art Museum is twenty-five large scenes of the Mississippi River, but only one section can be displayed in the gallery. Griot provides access to all of the additional sections, and the software allows visitors to go behind the installation to see how the painting is stored by being wound onto huge spools. Conservation information is provided, as is the historic motivation to create ambitious panorama paintings as forms of public entertainment in the days before video projection. To view this Griot website:

Video 1. Title of Work: Kehinde Wiley

Duration: 6 minutes 28 seconds

Griot offers the ability for mobile users and museum visitors to watch video segments that bring artworks and stories to life. In this video interview with Kehinde Wiley, the artist explains the historical and contemporary culture that influence his portrait paintings.

Link to this video within ArtStories:

Video 2. Title of Work: Shankara Sri Giri

Duration: 3 minutes 37 seconds

With an artwork like the Indian sculpture Shiva Nataraja at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, curator Risha Lee chose a video by the Ragamala Dance Company to showcase both the creative and destructive force delivered by the god Shiva through his dance. The video segment adds layers of meaning to the sculpture for users of Griot, while shedding more light on an important culture in the museum’s global art collection. The curator’s Griot content outline shows how the need for this video is identified in the research. (See link below to read Supporting Document 2: Griot Content Outline Shiva Nataraja.)

Link to this video within ArtStories:

Video 3. Title of Work: Boli

Duration: 1 minute 36 seconds

Griot software offers the ability to show video interviews of expert curators, like this segment with Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers explaining the significant African Boli sculpture at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Link to this video within ArtStories:

Supporting Document 1: Griot open source summary November 2014                               

Two page overview of the Griot open source software tool. This document is shared with potential collaborative partners.

Supporting Document 2: Shiva Nataraja Griot Content Outline

As referenced in other sections of this submission: Example of Griot content outline used by curators and authors to organize and facilitate their interpretive writing, image research, and video selections for the interpretive software.

Supporting Document 3: Executive Summary MIA Griot

One page Executive Summary of the audience evaluation conducted by Kate Haley Goldman of Audience Viewpoints on the use of Griot open source software in gallery iPads, as part of The Digital Experience (TDX) project in the African Galleries of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Supporting Document 4: TDX Project Team Development Spiral

The Digital Experience (TDX) team organizational “spiral”, showing museum staff and consultants who were involved in the design, development, and delivery of the Griot open source software. The chart shows that the team puts the audience at the center, and again at the edge as primary stakeholders.

Supporting Document 5: MIA Griot African Galleries Evaluation Report

Complete audience evaluation report conducted by Kate Haley Goldman of Audience Viewpoints on the use of Griot open source software in gallery iPads, as part of The Digital Experience (TDX) project in the African Galleries of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.