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Jump Inside Virtual Paintings at the Barnes with New App Created by SOE Professors

Barnes app

August 28, 2014

Have you ever found a painting so enticing that you wished you could jump inside and explore? A new, interactive mobile application created by Drexel University’s School of Education for young visitors of the Barnes Foundation allows you to do just that.

Using 3-D immersive graphics, the touch-screen app, entitled “Keys to the Collection,” launches a game environment of the Barnes’ beloved, world-renowned art collection. The app turns a visit to the Barnes into a game or can be used to explore the Barnes virtually from anywhere. Using augmented reality, users who play the game from the Barnes’ galleries can even use their avatar to jump inside masterpieces to learn about elements of art like lines, colors, shapes and depth of space.

The game, which is targeted for ages 7-14, invites players to complete an assortment of art missions, guided by Dr. Barnes’ dog Fidéle. Players accumulate keys to enter different realms, solve a variety of mysteries and add works of art to a growing portfolio. Players rack up badges and points to chart the thrilling quest for the elusive gold key which allows them to unlock a special room, create their own art gallery and win the game.

The game is free from the iTunes store and can be played on any Apple device. It also is downloadable from the Barnes Foundation website at

The official launch of “Keys to the Collection” will take place on Sunday, Sept. 7 from 1 - 4 p.m. at the Barnes Foundation (2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia) and is free to the public, though advance reservations for entry into the Collection are recommended by calling 215.278.7200. The day is also a Free First Sunday presented by PECO when admission to the Barnes is free.

Youth and their families who attend will have the first opportunity to try the app in the Barnes galleries. During the launch day, there will be music, activities with local artists who connect art and technology in hands-on projects, and presentations from key players in the design and implementation of the app.

A press preview will take place at the Barnes Foundation on Wednesday, Sept. 3 from 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m., and will include interview opportunities with representatives from the Barnes, Drexel and the Knight Foundation as well as students who will be trying out the game.

To create the app, the Barnes Foundation reached out to School of Education assistant professor Aroutis Foster, PhD, noted expert on game-based learning systems and principal investigator of Drexel’s GLIDE (Games and Learning in Interactive Digital Environments) Lab, and assistant professor Jennifer Katz-Buonincontro, PhD, who has a Master of Fine Arts degree in Visual Arts and a doctorate in educational leadership, and has taught art to students of all ages. She also directs creativity and learning research projects at Drexel, including those regarding problem perception and solving in leaders, leadership development through the arts and applications of aesthetic theory. Funded by a Knight Foundation grant for $245,000, with $70,000 in cost-sharing from Drexel's School of Education, Foster and Katz-Buonincontro served as principal investigators on the grant. The app was designed and developed by a team of Drexel faculty, students and recent alumni over the course of nine months.

“Our goal in designing the app was to engage young people with art on a personal level, and to encourage them to explore their own creativity, interact with other users about art and strengthen problem-solving skills,” said Foster. “But we also hope that the game system will have a broader impact on museum education for young learners, and that the design of game-based learning environments will facilitate creativity and transformative learning experiences.”

Ultimately, the game will help to broaden participation in the museum experience. It also has potential to reach learners from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, who are not able to visit the Barnes in person.

The game builds upon the principles of philosopher and education reformer John Dewey, utilizing his philosophy on transformative experiences and valuing the process of art as an experience.

“Kids from around the world can now interact with and learn about works of art form the Barnes Foundation through ‘Keys to the Collection,’” said Katz-Buonincontro. “It’s so exciting to work with the Barnes Foundation staff to bring this concept into fruition. ‘Keys to the Collection’ has the capacity to build creative self-efficacy and aesthetic understanding while having fun.”

What’s The Storyline?
Dr. Albert C. Barnes is going on an art tour and left Fidèle, his cherished little dog, in charge of the Foundation. Dr. Barnes asked Fidèle to have a new ensemble—or art display—ready when he gets back. After Dr. Barnes leaves, Fidèle realizes that something terrible has happened. The keys to the collection are missing and some of the paintings have lost their elements: lines, shapes and colors. He needs help in getting everything back in place quickly. That’s where players come in. Fidèle is the guide and gives clues. Players will also assist him in restoring the art that was left in his care and creating a new art ensemble.

How To Play?
First, every player creates an avatar and customizes their character's gender, hair and skin color and clothing. Then each player becomes an art inspector and looks to find the keys to the collection. The participant can become immersed in the Annenberg Court and six rooms of the Collection Gallery. There are four different game play experiences:

  • ArtSee: Jump into worlds inspired by paintings from the Barnes Foundation to restore their lines, shapes and colors
  • ArtDash: Race along art tracks to the matching paintings at the end
  • ArtPuzzle: Solve puzzles by rearranging parts of paintings into their proper spots
  • Ensemble Creator: Design an ensemble and share it online
Finally, the user can create a log-in to save their character, ensembles, badges and points. The app even has a social media capability so that other users can view newly curated collections, rank them on creativity and comment on them, making it an interactive experience.

Game production was completed by a full-time programmer, Kevin Gross, a recent graduate of Drexel’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, and a full-time mobile application and game developer, Robert Speck, also a recent graduate of the Westphal College's Digital Media Department. Caroline Guevara, a game design research assistant at Drexel, was also involved.

Additional support was provided by Jonathan Hopkins, Kimberly Inglot, Obinna Otti, Joseph Paluck, Pooja Rangan, Joel Rodriguez, Chelsea Starks and Amir Tahvildaran.

The music throughout the game is an original score composed by John Avarese, an assistant teaching professor in the Westphal College.

Learn more about the making of "Keys to the Collection" in this video by Cali Chesterman, a sophomore animation and visual effects major in Westphal College, which she created as part of her STAR (Students Tackling Advanced Research) Scholars Program this summer.