Cuseum – Interview with Founder and CEO Brendan Ciecko

Cuseum is a Boston based technology company founded by Brendan Ciecko in 2014. Cuseum partners with museums to create AR apps and is dedicated to using technology to enhance the museum visitor experience. Founder, Ciecko is an entrepreneur, designer and typographer who is passionate about art, museums and tech – the motivation behind Cuseum. Here, we ask how the company was founded, projects they have worked on so far and hopes for the future.

Hello Brendan, thank you for agreeing to talk to us today.


Can you tell us about Cuseum?

Cuseum helps museums engage their visitors, members, and donors using the power of technology. We’ve developed a suite of tools specific to the needs of museums, cultural institutions, and public attractions, and make it easy for them to publish mobile apps, access visitor analytics, and generate new revenue opportunities.


What led you to found the company?

I’m deeply passionate about arts and culture and saw the ways in which technology was changing everything around us. Technology has transformed how we communicate, socialize, and see the world. With my previous company and through personal interest, I had the opportunity to work with a few cultural institutions and saw just how painful, frustrating, and obsolete most of their technology was. Major priorities around access, visitor experience, engagement, and satisfaction were being hindered by clunky, outdated technology. I founded Cuseum to solve this and provide the sector with tools that are intuitive, adaptive, and cost-effective.


Which museums and galleries are you partnered with and how are they using the app?

The family of organizations we work with grows each day, and we’re proud that hundreds of museums have leveraged our platform in some way, shape, or form. To name just a few, notable art museums like SFMOMA, Perez Art Museum Miami, ICA Boston, MASS MoCa, and North Carolina Museum of Art use our platform to provide their visitors with a deeper, more educational, and enriching experience. Additionally, major landmarks like the White House, world-class art fairs like The Winter Show, and many cultural districts around the United States use our technology as well.


What are the advantages of having a digital membership with Cuseum?

Years into providing museums with our mobile engagement platform, our first product, we started hearing more and more of our customers asking if they could add membership to their apps. Taking a step back and with the goal of fully understanding all aspects of the membership department, we saw an opportunity to help organizations save time, money, and increase convenience to their members by sending digital membership cards, rather than traditional physical cards. For the member, they receive their membership card via email, tap to install to their digital wallet, and when they arrive at the museum, it pops up automatically, reminds them of their benefits, and more. This is the natural progression for membership programs, and we’ve deployed millions of digital membership cards to date.


What are some of the challenges you have faced with the technology?

Anyone in the technology space will tell you that building software, in general, is challenging. Building software that can scale up to serve hundreds of organizations and a multitude of users is no small feat. But, when you remain passionate and focused, it makes overcoming any challenges a mere blip in the journey.


As technology has advanced how has the app progressed? What sort of updates have been made?

Our platform is constantly evolving – in addition to ongoing enhancements, we’ve rolled out support for augmented reality, image recognition, multi-lingual support, and other helpful features.


In 2017 you worked with Perez Art Museum, Miami and the artist Felice Grodin, creating four location-based AR works that could be viewed at various spots in the gallery space. Can you tell us a bit more about the project, what the process is like working with the artist and developing the technology?

We worked closely with PAMM team and artist Felice Grodin to bring a series of new works to the public, in what was the first use of Apple’s ARKit in the museum sector as well as the first AR-only exhibition in the world. The exhibition features newly commissioned works that respond to climate change with a dystopian reality overtaken by invasive species. It has been clear to see how augmented reality can be used to change the way people experience with existing art and culture, but we were all very interested in seeing how AR could be leveraged in the production of new culture, as a entirely new medium. The exhibition was full of many unknowns, but there is something to be said about the sheer excitement and energy that everyone brought to the table during each phase, from start to finish.


You have also worked on a really interesting project that used augmented reality to replicate artworks that were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. How did the project come about?

Sometimes our company feels like a laboratory, as we’re always testing out new technologies, new ideas, and new features. After showing my team some new prototypes that utilized augmented reality, a member of our team put the idea of using AR to digital put the stolen art back in their frames at the Gardner Museum. After some experimentation, needless to say, this proved to be possible. Much to our surprise, Hacking The Heist took on a life of its own and experienced an incredible surge of interest from the media, cultural sector, tourists, and beyond. We were excited to see this project contributed to new dialogues around the Gardner heist, the power of technology in creating new experiences, and even the potentials of restituting and restoring art that has been looted, stolen, or destroyed.


“Virtual trespassing” is a term that is being used at the moment. Should there be legal limits of augmentation set in place in order to create some clarity?

There have certainly been a number of projects that have sparked conversations around who “owns” the new digital layer created by augmented reality. We live in an era of “permissionless innovation,” and I’m convinced that, in most reasonable cases, we shouldn’t be too concerned about motions that put art and culture into the hands of the public to experience, augment, and remix the world in new ways.


Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you are working towards at the moment?

We’re currently working on a hand full of augmented reality developments, including a new approach to wayfinding that we believe will have a significant impact on how people visit museums. We’re also expanding upon the primary research we conducted (Augmented Reality Museum Visitor Impact Survey) this past summer on the impact of AR on the museum-going experience.


What do you hope for the future of Cuseum?

From the earliest days of Cuseum, it has been my dream to build a company that truly helps museums succeed in the digital age as well as help them provide more access to broader audiences. We’re on our journey to becoming the leading provider of technology to museums and cultural institutions, and nothing could make me happier!