Over the past decade, virtual and augmented reality tools have become increasingly popular interpretive resources for museums. Now, visitors are exposed to new, innovative experiences at their favorite cultural institutions, sometimes without even needing to leave the comfort of their homes. From 360 videos on Facebook and YouTube, to mind-bending apps to use on site, museums are experimenting with exciting ways to engage their audiences.
In 2017, the Smithsonian American Art Museum teamed up with Intel to “
develop an experience that takes advantage of room-scale VR’s immersiveness.” The Smithsonian and Intel worked with VR studios like V.A.L.I.S. and Framestore to make a virtual recreation of one wing of the art museum. Devindra Hardawar, a writer for Engadget, said his experience with the virtual tour wasn’t “photorealistic,” but was still fairly convincing. “It felt like I was standing in a museum, which is the ultimately the most pressing goal,” he wrote.
During a recent exhibition of Parisian artist Modigliani, the Tate Modern in London
conceptualized a virtual reimagination of his final studio in Paris, where the artist lived and worked between 1919 and 1920. The Tate, in partnership with VR company Preloaded, reconstructed the studio using the actual physical space as a template, then referenced “first-hand accounts and historical and technical research” to create the VR experience. The museum also digitally recreated Modigliani’s artwork, collaborating with the Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“This research allowed us to portray these artworks with painstaking accuracy, from the surface texture of the canvas, to the types of paint and brushes the artist may have used, to the type of stretcher the self-portrait may have originally been painted on,” the Tate wrote on their website.
And now, this groundbreaking technology has made its way up to the Adirondacks at
The Wild Center in Tupper Lake.
The Wild Center officially opened its doors on July 4, 2006, beginning over a decade of celebrating the Adirondacks as “
a great American success story.” Since then, The Wild Center has expanded its range with interactive exhibits and programs like Planet Adirondack, Wild Walk, and the Youth Climate Program.
Now, with the help of Patrick Murphy, the Center’s Community Engagement Coordinator and recipient of MANY’s 2018 Rising Star Award of Merit, the Wild Center is heralding in a new era of immersive museum experiences with their recent collaboration with the virtual and augmented reality company, Frameless Technologies.
When Murphy attended last year’s New York State Tourism Industry Association annual conference in Lake Placid, he was struck by the conference’s emphasis on the benefits of virtual reality on the tourism industry. He had previously been made aware of Frameless Technologies through the Center’s Executive Director, Stephanie Ratcliffe.
“Their whole keynote address was about VR and tourism marketing,” Murphy says. “It all kind of fell into place.”
Murphy worked with Frameless Technologies to shoot a sample of what they could do for the Center – a 360 video tour of the site. Like the VR experiences at museums like the Smithsonian or
the MOCA in Los Angeles, the Center’s 360 video creates a new opportunity for off-site visitors to immerse themselves in a space to which they may not readily have access.
Michaela Gaaserud, Frameless Technologies’ CEO, says that what her company’s goal when working with clients – especially museums – is to make unique experiences accessible. “It’s difficult to get tour operators to come out in person and check out The Wild Center,” she says. “That way, they can become more aware of it.”
Since the Wild Center and Frameless Technologies began their partnership, Murphy has showcasing the video to potential donors and clients with VR goggles and brought the 360 video tour of the Center with him to trade shows. The video is also available to those without access to VR goggles on YouTube, where users can navigate through the tour using their mouse and keyboard. “It’s pretty amazing to see how much more action you get off of this type of experience other than regular videos or still frames,” Murphy says. “We feel pretty good about it right now.”
The Wild Center is also home to two other immersive virtual reality experiences: Science on a Sphere (SOS) and an augmented sand table.
Developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Science on a Sphere is a “room sized, global display system that uses computers and video projectors to display planetary data onto a six-foot diameter sphere, analogous to a giant animated globe,” according to NOAA.
Science on a Sphere at The Wild Center. Photo courtesy of The Wild Center.
The SOS system gives museums and science centers like The Wild Center the opportunity to enhance their educational programs by directly putting their visitors into the learning experience.
So, what does this all mean for other museums and cultural institutions like The Wild Center? Traditionalists may say that adding technology like virtual reality and augmented reality defeats the purpose of the tried-and-true museum experience, when in actuality, these resources may serve to enhance that experience. “Virtual reality is the only type of media that elicits both a mental and physical response,” says Gaaserud.
The augmented sand table at The Wild Center. Photo courtesy of The Wild Center.
Bringing new technology into museums broadens the scope of people that can be reached, especially if it’s technology that can help transport someone on Long Island to the Adirondacks with just a click of a button. From the Smithsonian to The Wild Center, the possibilities are endless.
“There’s just so much versatility within the technology,” Murphy says. “I think this kind of flexibility is key for people to be able to understand that even though The Wild Center may be using it in one way, another place can use it in a different way.”
Words by Sarah Heikkinen. Photos and video courtesy of The Wild Center.