How Grant Programs and Accelerators are Pushing the Envelope on Technology, Interactivity, and Innovation

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Friday, May 23rd, 2014

CHESS Project Technology

A new generation of technologies is changing the way that museums and other entertainment venues engage visitors with interactive platforms and storytelling. We recently profiled the CHESS project, an EU-funded initiative that is developing and launching an easy to use platform that will allow museum curators to create unique, guided adventures through their collections. Another example we’re paying attention to includes a new round of grants being made in partnership with Stanford and Columbia Universities.

Stanford University and Columbia co-sponsor the Magic Grants program, which is designed to invest in technological and content innovations in the media space. The combination of sponsoring institutions – Stanford’s School of Engineering and Columbia’s School of Journalism – is telltale. So much innovation that’s occurring that affects storytelling in all its forms is happening at the nexus of narrative and technology. One of the projects selected for a grant is of particular interest to the entertainment and museum worlds.

As described in the Stanford press release: “Art++: Meaning Augmenting Art with Technology, Art++ aims to improve the experience of visitors in a museum gallery by proposing a new way of delivering information to them. Using augmented reality, Art++ will offer viewers an immersive and interactive learning experience by overlaying content directly on the objects through the viewfinder of a smartphone or tablet device. The Art++ team consists of Jean-Baptiste Boin, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering at Stanford; and Colleen Stockmann, assistant curator for special projects at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford.”

Disney Technology Accelerator

On a similar note, the Disney Accelerator set out specifically to fund a number of startups that are developing technology and delivery platforms to improve the theme park experience. There’s also an emphasis on innovations that allow brands with significant content IP (think for example of all those Disney characters and movies) to find new avenues to deliver that content in more interesting, creative and lucrative ways. Another project that we touched on briefly was the LACMA-based Art and Technology initiative that looks for unique ways to integrate technology into the creation of art, and into the art museum setting.

These programs are great examples of an increasing number of grant programs, incubators, accelerators, and other programs that are focusing on innovation within the entertainment field. In some cases, it’s the overarching mission of the program or organization. In other cases, the criteria simply allow participation from projects that could be used in museums, theme parks, and other themed environments.


Regardless of the specificity of the program itself, the premise is intriguing: apply some of the best practices for creating innovation from other areas (especially science and business) to solving the problems of theme parks, museums, and creating amazing visitor experiences. Those elements include a dedicated space for teams to work, access to funding, access to IP and technological resources, ongoing mentoring, and a steady stream of inspirational experiences that lead to cross-fertilization thanks to exposure to different disciplines.

From the development of technologies that can modernize and transform museum visits to finding ways to bring the best creative brains into the theme park space, these programs open an important avenue for exploration. How can big brands and other institutions that are active in entertainment design create the space for the innovations that can change the entertainment experience as we know it? Seed programs, grants, and accelerators are a great way to start. Do you know of any programs in this space that we should potentially profile? Let us know the details in the comments below.

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