by Caterina Pisu
Virtual Visits and Access
A museum may be visited in various ways, either alone or together with a party of others or virtually. Technology today makes this possible and visitors have the opportunity to visit museums from their own home.
Visiting museums on the web may be very useful in preparing for the real visit, but the spirit of a work of art as described in a museum may be lacking in spite of HD technology resembling closely reality as we know it.
Yet sometimes this is the only way for some of us to be able to visit a museum ! Having “access” to a museum means efficient technology to overcome barriers which may prevent access to visitors who are unable to reach a museum physically. This would greatly reduce differences and is sometimes the only possible solution for some art lovers and museum visitors.
Virtual visits: creating interaction
The inevitable limit of virtual tours is the lack of a certain atmosphere and emotion created by being there, and the personal and social interaction. The great difference between visiting a museum really and visiting it virtually, is the lack of human interaction.
The human element cannot be reproduced by virtual reality, unless the idea of virtual is adapted to new kinds of communication used by the social media. This is the idea at the root of the #smallmuseumtour project which simulates a museum visit throughTwitter. Its main feature is not high definition images, but the emphasis on dialogue within a virtual community interacting exactly as if each member virtually visiting the museum on site in different locations were all one party. The social aspect is perhaps the most important feature when it comes to overcome obstacles and inequalities. Bearing this in mind, we also considered institutions for the disabled, prisons and the like, while we worked on this project.
Museums staff and Visitors : two worlds meet
Overcoming barriers was not the only target of #smallmuseumtour. The formality between the public and staff attracted our attention. Excepting certain special occasions, in some museums the only staff in touch with visitors was Security staff. Thus, the “behind the scenes” was hidden or left to the imagination.
Yet whoever has visited a museum and conversed with the museum curator or other qualified staff would agree that they gained deeper knowledge and made new discoveries that otherwise would not have been made in an ordinary visit. Only rarely does close contact occur, and this is where we step in to offer precisely that kind of interaction through the medium of the social network on the web. We aim to create a close and exciting relationship with museums and the marvelous treasures they contain.
The #smallmuseumtour project
#smallmuseumtour has devised to this effect a plan to promote museums through dialogue and social interaction. The first of its cyclical virtual visits which took place May 12th to July 28th 2014on a weekly basis ; we involved twelve museums of various kinds and different forms of ownership. We avoided ‘tweet’ counts and other web statistics which usually determine the "success" of a hashtag, because our aim in fact, was to perfect virtual museum visits rather than create a web trend. We aimed at creating as closely as possible the reality of a visit to a museum, especially for those who were physically unable to admire real life collections and at creating a dialogue with museum curators, staff and followers.
Other opportunities have been introduced on the Web in various forms, as for example #AskACurator day, but #smallmuseumtour offers exclusively and for the first time, a virtual visit to one single museum at a time. Thus, closer attention is given to a further dialogue between curators and followers.
#smallmuseumtour step by step
In order to achieve the best results in terms of a virtual museum tour using Twitter as a social network, certain rules had to be applied: virtual visit duration is 60 minutes; eight pictures are chosen by the curators for each visit, and under special circumstances according to advice from the museum curators themselves, the number may be more. During visits, the Twitter accounts of National Association of Small Museums act as curators “assistants”, tweeting pictures at regular intervals. Museum curators commented each picture and answered questions put by the followers at that very moment. In some cases the tour takes on a livelier turn by adding quizzes and video.
A second cycle of virtual tours is planned at November 2014.