With museums in England in lockdown once more, Birmingham Museums Trust has found a new way of making its collections more accessible to the public.
The trust has formed a partnership with the recently launched online game and art platform, Occupy White Walls, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to enable players to collect and curate their own exhibitions in a virtual world.
The collaboration means that users can access an initial 200 pieces from Birmingham Museum and Gallery’s art collection to curate, design and build digital art exhibitions. The available collection includes some of the city’s most famous artworks, such as The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown and Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
The partnership plans to make the full collection of Birmingham’s public domain images available on the platform in due course, including many works from its stored collections.
Occupy White Walls was created by London-based digital start-up StikiPixels and currently has over 75,000 users. In the game, players collaborate to curate exhibitions; the virtual environment enables users to combine Renaissance paintings with modern art, or bring paintings from all corners of the globe together in the same space for the first time.
In addition to artworks held by museums and galleries, the platform features a range of new art by emerging digital artists.
“One of the things that appealed to us is that there’s no hierarchy in there – it’s not about having famous artists at the top and others at the bottom,” says Linda Spurdle, head of digital at the trust. “It’s a great way to discover art.”
All pieces appear in their original dimensions – something that Spurdle believes may make the platform a useful planning tool for curators. Users are also able to build their own galleries, giving them the freedom to imagine new environments to display the artworks.
As part of the project, StikiPixels has created a virtual version of Birmingham Museum. “It’s not a physical space so nothing has to stay the same,” says Spurdle. “In the reimagined Birmingham Museum, you can see the sea all around you. It’s Birmingham-by-the-Sea.”
The partnership is the first of its kind between a UK cultural institution and an AI-driven online game, although public domain works from other galleries also sit within the game's digital collection. The trust is considering a series of events in collaboration with StikiPixels when its museums are able to reopen.
Spurdle’s advice to other institutions considering digital partnerships is to “loosen up a bit” and not be afraid to try new things.
“These times have shown how art is one of the things that is really important in people’s lives,” says Spurdle. Online engagement means that “museums have been taking themselves a little less seriously and showing a bit more fun and personality”, she adds. "That’s been really good for them.”
The project is the latest in a series of innovative digital collaborations that Birmingham Museums Trust has participated in during the pandemic. Other initiatives include Bennie’s Babbies, a photocollage created by the hugely popular artist Christopher Spencer, also known as Cold War Steve, using the trust’s digital image resource, and a collaboration with digital artist Rosa Francesca to make Pre-Raphaelite painter Frederick Sandys’s painting of Medea “sing”.