Despite the serious challenges that Covid-19 has thrown up for sector, it has given us the opportunity to do what we do best – to be creative with the resources we do have.
One of the first things I thought about when we closed the doors of the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, which houses the University of Leeds Art Collection, was how we could continue to share the gems that we look after.
For us, the joy in sharing our art is about the conversations and reactions of our visitors, so this was a fundamental element when thinking about translating our physical offer to the digital space.
We ran 10 polls from April to June, with the aim to put together an online exhibition from the results. Each poll had a theme and two artworks for our digital audience to choose from.
As ever, copyright is our biggest challenge. We worked closely with the art collection team to build a list of artworks that had the correct copyright conditions, and which also had high-res images we could utilise further down the line. With these restrictions in place we were limited in what artworks we could share, so while the final selection is good, it is not a full representation of our overall collection.
The polls received high engagement on all our channels, and the initiative gave our audience a feeling of ownership and connection to the collections used.
When choosing a platform for our online exhibition, we had to bear in mind that we are not able to make major changes to our website, and had no budget and limited resources and time. As a result, we choose Google Arts & Culture, a platform we previously used during its first world war centenary commemoration in 2018.
I was able to reacquaint myself with the platform and share my knowledge to train the team to use the system. This project also allowed some nice cross team working; the art collection team wrote the interpretation for the online exhibition, while our events and marketing assistants ran the polls and created the final product.
The final online exhibition, Your Art Gallery, makes use of the new Google Arts & Culture interface, which has a lovely zoom feature. The feedback from our digital visitors has been wonderful.
We plan to use the platform again for an upcoming exhibition, an annual art prize that we would normally hold in a physical space but have made virtual this year.
My advice for other museums looking to create an online exhibition would be to start by thinking about the building blocks that make up your foundation. For us, these were our key collections and audience engagement.
Laura Beare is the marketing and galleries assistant manager at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery