Light streams inside the King Sculpture Court of the Allen Memorial Art Museum (AMAM) and onto the statues around the perimeter. To the left, a long narrow hallway lined with artifacts from Greece leads to other galleries. Where to go first? Since this is a virtual visit the museum is always open so time is not an issue. I grab a cup of coffee from the kitchen and lean back in my chair.
After the AMAM was forced to close its doors earlier this year due to COVID-19, curatorial staff quickly began to discuss how they might safely make the space available to all guests. The result is the creation of the Allen Augmented Reality (AAR), which launched this semester. This 3D world—an interactive replica of the physical space, complete with museum lighting—allows visitors to explore galleries as if they were there. By using a wide range of directional tabs and 360-degree views, guests can have a different experience with each visit. Clickable tabs next to artwork enlarge objects and provide detailed information.
Alyssa Traster, curatorial assistant at the AMAM, spent several months creating the AAR program. The project involved working with other museum curators and faculty to select a range of highlighted works, 3D scanning, content development, and design.
A benefit of AAR is who it reaches, explains Traster. “Now, anyone around the world with internet access can visit the museum. This is an important step in the work we are doing to improve accessibility and inclusivity at the Allen. I really hope this encourages new audiences to engage with and learn from the incredible artwork in our collection, and in turn, facilitate new relationships.”
Since its launch, AAR is making its way into classrooms on and off campus. According to Jill Greenwood, Eric & Jane Nord Family Curator of Education, the program has been used on second-grade virtual tours, and curatorial assistant Liz Yearsley is developing an I-spy scavenger hunt for children. The museum’s Allen Online Program Series uses AAR when discussing artwork via Zoom. And Hannah Kinney, assistant curator of academic programs, works closely with college faculty to design Zoom sessions, open viewing hours, and self-guided assignments for hybrid and in-person engagement. The program was also introduced to residents of Kendal at Oberlin.
“With multiple layers of media and resources embedded in each label, AAR offers the opportunity to look at some of your favorite AMAM works through different lenses,” says Traster. “For those familiar with the collection, I hope this [virtual space] sparks new curiosities in the works they already love, and invites them to look closer at those they may not have noticed before.”
Traster plans to add the Ripin Gallery by the end of the December. And since the Ellen Johnson Gallery, Education Hallway, and Stern Gallery West rotate each semester or academic year, they will require more scanning and maintenance, “but we aren’t ruling it out yet,” says Traster.
The AMAM joins other museums from around the country such as the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the Vatican Museum that have made their spaces virtually accessible.
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