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Future’s made of virtual reality now.

As a global pandemic began asserting its influence on our lives with every uncovered sneeze, the creatives behind Gippsland’s art galleries got busy innovating.

Aug 16, 2020

Words: Gippslandia

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While there’s some healthy conjecture, a quote that’s frequently attributed to Charles Darwin is that ‘It’s not the strongest of the species..., nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change’. As a global pandemic began asserting its influence on our lives with every uncovered sneeze, the creatives behind Gippsland’s art galleries got busy innovating: conjuring brilliant new programs and platforms for you to continue enjoying their collections through.

With results that should earn the attention of all Gippsland businesses, our galleries, like many of the world’s most revered cultural institutions, swiftly transitioned to implement innovative digital solutions to sate the needs of their communities.

Learn how Gippsland Art Gallery did it, as Gallery Director Simon Gregg elucidates in the following interview.

"It has been a fascinating period of experimentation and learning for us"

How has the gallery adapted to the Covid-19 restrictions?

The coronavirus pandemic has been a very challenging period for everyone, with the Gippsland Art Gallery forced to close for ten weeks, but at the same time, it led to a period of unprecedented trial and innovation for us.

Many of the initiatives we developed we had been talking about for years, but it took the impetus of the pandemic, and the loss of the actual gallery as the primary means of engagement, for these ideas to really take flight.

It has been a fascinating period of experimentation and learning for us. We have created podcast interviews with artists, virtual children’s art workshops, virtual drawing classes, virtual 360° tours of our exhibitions, and our first online-only art exhibition. Through our social media channels, we have been showcasing the studios of local artists, and through the website we have brought the entire permanent collection of 2,240 artworks online for visitors to browse and search through.

Why is providing access to Gippsland’s public resources, including our galleries, important?

You realise quickly when the art galleries shut how vital they are to our individual lives and our broader communities. Those months of lockdown really emphasised this. We need art to tell our stories, to ignite our dreams and fuel our imaginations.

Art provides a nourishment that feeds a spiritual and emotional hunger that grows when we find ourselves in isolation. So, we saw our role of bringing art to the people take on a particular urgency during the pandemic

What does the use of digital technology add to a contemporary gallery?

We have found the number of people engaging with us online was ten times higher than our physical visitation had been. Where we might have had 4,000 people visit the Gallery during any given month, we’re now getting 40,000 visiting us online. It shows that audiences are ready to embrace technology to feed their art needs.

It’s obviously a different experience to visiting an actual gallery, but there are advantages in the way technology makes our content much more accessible, and it allows the user to dictate their own engagement.

"There are advantages in the way technology makes our content much more accessible"

The online programs put the virtual visitor in the driver’s seat, and they are able to, in a sense, ‘self-curate’. What it does is liberate our exhibitions and collections and opens up a new world of possibilities in terms of the way people access the programs.

It represents a fundamental shift in the way that we, as gallery and museum professionals, mediate the experience for audiences. While our roles remain essential to the functioning of the Gallery, there has been a seismic power shift that is democratising the arts. And that can only be a good thing.

Do the aforementioned initiatives improve the resilience of our artistic spaces or should galleries continue with their traditional programs (i.e. art hanging on walls)?

There is absolutely a need to continue traditional programming — to keep hanging art on walls — because nothing can ever replace the experience of physically interacting with an artwork, but at the same time, I see the future of galleries as a hybrid of the real and the virtual.

Audiences have shown us they’re looking for online content, so our role is to find that ‘sweet spot’ where the real and the virtual coalesce seamlessly and they actually enhance one another.

For instance, our new podcast series is essentially a virtual extension of the ‘First Friday’ conversation series that we introduced last year. Each program complements the other and it gives audiences more choices in the way they engage with the content.

What innovations would you love to implement at the Gallery in the future?

In the future, I think we’ll see even more hybridisation between technology and the physical gallery, so that visitors are not even aware where the two meet. We’re looking at ways of using different platforms to deepen our engagement and appreciation of physical artworks, and giving audiences greater control of what they see and how they see it. After all, as a public gallery, our collections belong to everyone.

It’s a really exciting time for art, and for galleries, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes us in the future.

As we mentioned, Gippsland Art Gallery isn’t the only gallery that’s been admirably nimble; East Gippsland Art Gallery has a beautiful and engaging new concept, Artists in Isolation, that offers local artists an opportunity to share their stories of life during the pandemic. They’re also ‘sending little hellos’ through their lovely Snail Mail Project — an excellent idea to involve your kids in.

You can join Latrobe Regional Gallery’s Senior Curator David O’Halloran for a walk through Any Which Way, an installed video work by Leigh Hobba, or immerse yourself in Listen In, a new online exhibition featuring the work of musicians and artists whose practice involves sound.

The View From Here, long-time collaborators with the Gippsland Art Gallery, and the Port of Sale precinct, was proudly involved in the latest technological advancements updating the website to facilitate the new 360° video tours that provide a gallery-like experience for the user. As well as the digitisation of six fantastic exhibitions currently on, the innovations coincided with the online publication of the Gallery’s entire collection —– a 12-month project.

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