Virtual memories, real places: The Curzon Memories App
Distant memories are being brought to life in their historic locations using smart phones, thanks to research at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol). The result is a rich multimedia experience for the visitor. Starting with the historic Curzon cinema in Clevedon, Somerset, the idea has been so successful that it is now being extended to new locations and contexts.
The Curzon Memories App was developed by Dr Charlotte Crofts of UWE Bristol's Creative Media Research Group, supported by an Early Career Researcher Award from the University. The app enables visitors to see and hear images and stories from the 100-year history of this remarkable venue, prompted by QR codes located around the cinema’s interior and on exhibits in its collection of cinema technology. Even outside in the street, the app uses each visitor's location as detected by their phone's GPS to download data.
Award nominations and impact
The project has attracted many plaudits and widespread media interest. Dr Crofts was interviewed on BBC Radio Bristol's Saturday Breakfast Show and in the International Journal of Cinema. Her work was also featured in The Guardian and Wired magazine and selected for AppCircus, the international app awards. The Curzon Memories App was nominated for the British Universities Film and Video Council's 'Leaning On Screen' Awards, 2013.
Cultural history apps
Building on the success of the Curzon project, Dr Crofts is now deploying the insights and experience she has gained in a variety of further exciting projects.
This includes work supported by the "REACT Heritage Sandbox", a set of projects funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. In partnership with Calvium, the same company that helped develop the Curzon App, and Bristol City Council, Dr Crofts is developing a mobile platform called 'City Strata' to stream historical information to mobile devices around the city. This was piloted with a prototype app ('Cinemapping') that enabled users to access Bristol's cinema history in the places where it actually happened.
She has since developed a spin-off app called 'The Lost Cinemas of Castle Park' which features 13 cinemas in and around Bristol's Castle Park. It was launched in November 2012 to coincide with the anniversary of the Bristol Blitz which destroyed the magnificent Regent cinema in November 1940. A further event in March 2013, organised by Dr Crofts, celebrated the opening in 1910 of Bristol's first purpose-built cinema, the Queen's Picture House.
Early Career award
"As a result of the Early Career award, I've learned how to manage a successful project and gained experience in iterative design processes," says Dr Crofts. "The grant enabled me to develop my leadership skills as a creative producer, and to move from my background in filmmaking to this fascinating new area."
She is now working on a number of other ideas that could develop the same underlying platform and software layers for use in other locations, and to enable the development of further exciting cultural and historical applications.