While researching virtual museum exhibits for this week’s blog post, I quickly began flashing back to the first few months of COVID. During that time I was working for the Girl Scouts and trying to organize some virtual programming in the absence of summer camp and I often would have the kids visit virtual museums through Google Art and Culture in addition to live feeds from aquariums and zoos. It was great fun for a short while and definitely filled an explorative gap in many adolescent lives at the time. However I think it also really fueled us all up to go back to visiting in person. Although there are many extensive and robust virtual exhibits that will just never be similar to visiting a place in person.

With that being said, I first took a look at the Art Institute of Chicago’s “Visit Us Virtually” page. There are several ways that you can interact with the museum collection. Through tabs such as “Explore the Collection”, “Read and Reflect”, “Create and Learn”, and “Watch and Listen” online visitors can explore the different pillars of a typical museum experience. The “Explore the Collection” takes you to options for interactive virtual exhibits and various highlights. The content felt a little flat – very similar to blog posts and in the same format as the rest of the website. It was text heavy although the photos were quite clear, they didn’t give visitors a way to interact with the object (i.e zooming in, rotating the photos, etc..) The interactive pages are have slightly more depth and allow online visitors to scroll through the exhibit and view short videos, closeup photos, and more information on each exhibition.

The Create and Learn portion of the virtual exhibit includes writing prompts, art ideas, and resources for educators. I appreciated the downloadable coloring pages and ‘journeys’ which were beautifully crafted workbooks that could be printed at home. I can imagine parents and teachers finding these types of resources really helpful when in-person learning is not available. Overall I can tell that this virtual collection had a lot of thought and care put into it. Various departments certainly collaborated on the various galleries and activities that were all available online for free.

The second exhibit that I looked at is UAMN’s “Shake: Earthquakes in Interior Alaska”. The first part of this exhibit that I explored was the photo tour. The photo tour gives people an idea of where the exhibits actually are in the room, it’s not necessarily showing off any of the content of the exhibit. I was reminded of a conference that I attended last fall where museum professionals discussed whether or not you should be putting photos of what is in your museum online. The overall consensus was that it doesn’t matter how much of your content you put online, people will still show up to the museum to see it in person. I often think about what I post on UAMN’s social media and try to consider if we are “giving too much away”, and I thought it was interesting – and true – that no matter what you put online, it is always enticing. Rarely do people see the online photos and think “nah, I’ll skip that one.”

The video tour of the exhibit is extensive, and I think if one were to watch all 21 videos one would know quite a bit more than one would from just walking through the exhibit. I found it hard to stop myself from playing video after video. I tried to download the app, but I wasn’t able to open it on my laptop due to the app being from an ‘unknown developer’. I could tell that this virtual exhibit had collaborative teamwork on the content, design, and app development. I certainly felt that the Earthquake exhibit rivaled some of the virtual exhibits curated by larger museums.

One Thought to “Virtual Exhibits”

  1. Amy Gauger

    One thing that I definitely agree on was that people usually don’t say, “Nah, I’ll skip that one” when deciding whether to visit exhibits in person after viewing them online. For me at least, it’s like seeing a famous artifact or movie prop after I’ve seen it online – I don’t know why, but it does actually increase the pull of wanting to see it in person for me!

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