Developing online exhibitions at Victoria Gallery & Museum
Like many museums, Victoria Gallery & Museum in Liverpool switched to an online model during lockdown, creating new content such as activity pages for children and adults.
One of the first things we did was add additional content to the existing exhibition web pages enabling visitors to view exhibitions from their own homes.
The team used Art UK’s Curations Tool to create online exhibitions, one of which has been selected by Collections Trust as a good example of displaying collections online.
One of our early successes came through participating in the BBC’s #MuseumFromHome day at the end of April. Our curator of art and exhibitions selected a number of paintings from the collection that humorously highlighted what we were all missing during lockdown – but also what we could do during this time.
This micro-exhibition, called Stay Home/Stay Safe, was shared in a series of tweets each featuring a painting.
Before the museum closed our temporary exhibition, The Secret Art of Survival: Creativity and Ingenuity of British Far East Prisoners of War 1942 – 1945, was proving hugely popular. The National Lottery Heritage Fund, who supported the display through our exhibition partners the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, funded us to commission a virtual reality interactive fly-through of the exhibition.
We have created creating virtual interactive tours of the galleries now that we can access the building again, and will continue to do so as we change our exhibitions over. Our fantastic volunteers have provided video footage that we have turned into YouTube videos to provide more information on the different areas of the building that would have previously been covered in a volunteer-led tour.
Moving content online has enabled us to keep in touch with our existing audiences and reach new audiences. We are being seen and recognised more nationally and internationally than we were before. It has also enabled the team to learn new skills and work more collaboratively.
Our biggest challenge has been trying to create content when we did not have existing digital material. Being unable to access the building for several months also prevented us from obtaining this when we desperately needed it.
Apart from the virtual reality fly-through of the Secret Art of Survival exhibition, all of the content has been produced without any budget. This has been a challenge as we initially thought that we would need better equipment and software but the team overcame this by sourcing free software that we could use.
My advice to museums looking to develop online exhibitions and virtual tours:
- Find out what skills your team have and provide opportunities to utilise these skills. Utilise your volunteers and keep them engaged and active.
- Familiarise yourself with copyright issues around using and publishing digital images, film footage and textual material. It might not be as fun as creating the content but it is important and should not be forgotten.
- Don’t forget to acknowledge what your team are doing and make sure you genuinely thank them. It’s important that people feel valued and understand the importance of what they are doing and why. We can only be successful and achieve our goals if we work together.
Nicola Euston is the head of museums and galleries at the University of Liverpool