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Vermont Art Online create virtual museums and galleries during Covid19

Louise Jones

Curators at Middlebury College Museum of Art in Vermont, Sarah Laursen and Sarah Briggs, developed Vermont Art Online in direct response to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Vermont Art Online is a resource for teachers and families that offers virtual tours of art museums and galleries throughout the state of Vermont.

“At a time when billions of people around the world are separated from one another, museums can bring us together.” Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture

Visible social impact

As well as benefiting those visiting the online museums, the virtual museum and gallery site also helps to increase institutions’ visibility by increasing traffic to their web pages. As curators and educators with digital media backgrounds, they used their skills and local connections to empower fellow curators. “The fact that we have such a close-knit network in Vermont made it possible to carry out this collaboration in such a short time frame.” Sarah Laursen

ThingLink Media

The ThingLink exhibits were embedded in the Vermont Art Online website, which was distributed to media outlets, cultural institutions, and educational networks. The landing page for the ThingLink tours is an interactive map of Vermont. Clicking on a museum icon brings visitors to the landing page of an individual museum or gallery. From there, icons link to information about the institution and ways to support it, and an arrow leads the visitor into the site and through up to three linked photo spheres. In cases where 360 photos could not be taken because of safety concerns, 2D installation shots were used instead. The tours are annotated with text, photos, external links, and video provided by the Vermont curators and their websites.

Google Street View was integral to their approach. “We sent curators a video tutorial for the Google Street View app and asked them to send us photospheres, high-res images, and content to annotate them. I (Sarah Laursen) began working on the ThingLink pages and Sarah Briggs designed a Squarespace site with educational resources. Within ten days, we had signed on about 30 institutions, secured funding, built and launched the site and conducted a few press interviews!”

Sarah and Sarah knew that many staff members and even directors would be discouraged or barred from entering their galleries within a matter of days due to social distancing measures, so they asked the Vermont Curators Group to put out an immediate call to museum and gallery curators across Vermont, stressing the time-sensitive nature of the task. Once all the materials from participating institutions were collated, ThingLink was used to stitch them together into immersive virtual exhibits of the rooms, artefacts and artworks.

“Culture never stops, & it is crucial that museums keep going too, especially in the face of #COVID19  UNESCO 2020.

What are some benefits of a virtual museum?

Vermont Art Online benefits two groups: communities, and the participating institutions. Parents, teachers, and individuals looking for high-quality online arts programming have few obvious resources to turn to, especially for local content. With Vermont Art Online, a single place was created where the public can easily find a range of engaging and educational experiences. This also benefits the museums and galleries  who are featured on the site because it makes them visible to new audiences who might not have heard of their institution before, or thought to go to their site for online programming.

“We hope that people will discover arts and cultural organizations they have never been to, and put it on their bucket list to go when doors reopen”. Sarah Laursen and Sarah Briggs

With many thanks and well wishes to Sarah and Sarah – Vermont Art Online. They can be contacted at info@vermontartonline.org

How does a virtual museum work?

A virtual museum is really any representation of a museum or gallery in an online space, and one which can generally be navigated around by the user, with varying degrees of guidance. The Covid19 pandemic resulted in many museums accelerating their online offering and improving the online user experience. (See more on this in Museums facing COVID-19 challenges remain engaged with communities.)

We show you how easy it can be to create virtual museums in these selected case studies, which have all used ThingLink for their online exhibition design and hosting.

  • Highland Folk Museum: a virtual museum which incorporates rarely-seen artefacts from the open-air museum’s archives into the interactive exhibits. Includes multimedia tags containing 3d models and 360 tours of reconstructed buildings.
  • V&A Dundee: Scotland’s flagship design museum widens access to museum exhibitions with ThingLink.
  • Royal Ontario Museum: ROM left behind the traditional museum approach to solve access issues. The virtual museum tour of their Great Whales exhibition is based on the exhibition in the physical museum. Includes a great example of a museum map based on “fast travel” functionality.
  • Budapest Museums and Galleries: A collaborative virtual gallery of exhibits across 6 major national cultural institutions in the Hungarian capital

How do I create an online museum exhibit?

Get started today with a trial account thinglink.com/edu. Build virtual tours of your space using 360 images, upload 3D models of your artefacts, share your tours via embed, social media or even in virtual reality mode!

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