THE designers behind a new app hope their work will give unique and easy access to some of the country’s greatest art treasures.

The free app, Art Crush, has been developed by Newcastle-based digital design agency Bloom as part of Sunderland Culture’s prestigious partnership with Arts Council Collection (ACC), the National Partners Programme. Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens is one of only three galleries nationwide chosen to host artwork from the Arts Council Collection, an important national loan collection of modern and contemporary British Art.

The app will showcase works from the ACC, which includes art by Grayson Perry, David Hockney, Mona Hatoum and Anish Kapoor.

“For our pitch to Sunderland Culture we created a series of user flows which informed the development of a clickable prototype and worked with an animator to bring these concepts to life. Rather than expecting people to imagine how the app could be, we created a realistic interpretation of how the app would be and this was well received,” said Jason Longworth, co-founder and MD at Bloom.”

“Once we were commissioned to take on the project, we went through multiple rounds of refinement to enhance the app visually and also to create all the relevant user journeys. We wanted to create an experience that felt natural and effortless with no dead ends or drop off points,” Jason added.

Bloom collaborated both with Sunderland Culture and Arts Council Collection on the project and recognised the app had to be easy to use.

Bloom co-founder Dan Pace explained: “The audiences for the app are really broad, and we want it to appeal to a wide spectrum of people who naturally will have different levels of technical understanding. For some this might be one of the first apps they’ve downloaded. For others, it’s a part of daily life trying out new apps. We’ve therefore kept ArtCrush really simple and streamlined. Our hope is that it will bring the artworks to new audiences in a unique way.

“As well as ensuring the app was enjoyable to use, another challenge was how to make sure that the swipe functionality was consistently reliable despite the artwork having a wide range of styles, sizes, orientation and focal points. A challenge for the team at ACC was to obtain permission from all of the relevant artists. We’ve really enjoyed working on the project with Sunderland Culture and ACC – their passion and energy were amazing.”

“Thankfully, all of the challenges have now been overcome and the app will be available from Google Play and Apple App storeby the end of the month.”

Rebecca Ball, Creative Director at Sunderland Culture, said: “We’re delighted with Bloom’s work on Art Crush and now we just want to get it into people’s hands.

“The app will give easy and immediate access to the Collection, which includes important works by all of the most important artists working in the UK over the last 70 years.”

Art Crush allows people to interact with the Collection by selecting artworks they like by swiping left or right. The works that are ‘liked’ form a personal digital art collection, and the app also provides the user with a fun ‘Art Personality’, which describes the user’s characteristics as an art lover. The user can then share their ‘Art Personality’ through social media and challenges others to find theirs.

Rob Hill, Digital Manager for the National Partner Programme, said: “The team at Bloom has been excellent and brought a wealth of new ideas and creativity to the project, from their initial pitch, through development and finally delivering an app that realises the Sunderland team’s original vision of offering users a fun and original way of experiencing the Arts Council Collection.

“Bloom was able to thoughtfully develop the initial brief to deliver a user experience that is playful and accessible while respecting the integrity of the original artworks through an intuitive and minimal interface, offering audiences the opportunity to meet an exciting selection of modern and contemporary British art.”

The Art Crush app is supported by Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley (DCNETV). Penny Day, Innovation Specialist at DCNETV, said: “Art Crush brings innovation by changing the way different audiences can interact with artwork and art venues, but it’s so much more than that. Especially in current Covid-19 circumstances, Art Crush provides a welcome opportunity for individuals to engage with artwork from the comfort of their own homes, when they might otherwise not be able to.

“The innovative nature of Art Crush really excites us and it’s been an absolute pleasure working with Bloom and Sunderland Culture to bring the app to the UK public.”

Art Crush is also supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. Art Crush is also funded through the GX Project. The GX Project is led by NewcastleGateshead Initiative in partnership with the Innovation Super Network and is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

The app will be used and promoted by ACC’s two other National Partner Programme venues, Firstsite in Essex, and Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange in Cornwall.

About 1,000 works from the Arts Council Collection’s 8,000 artworks will be available to explore within Art Crush. Users will also have the option to browse and filter the collection via an artist, a medium, a decade or a theme for a more engaged experience.

For more information about Art Crush, or the ACC, go to www.sunderlandculture.org.uk