Digital reviews - Museums Association

Digital reviews

Rachel Ellis digs a blossoming collection of homegrown videos
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Rachel Ellis
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Cowderoy & Moss Ltd, Morning Glory. Part of the Garden Museum's exhibition on floristry heroine Constance Spry

Film | The Garden Museum, London

As you read this, we will hopefully be a little closer to regaining some form of a normal, less restricted life. It would be great if the summer could involve visiting museums, perhaps attending small events and spending more time with the people we love. But at the time of writing we are still very much locked down and I find myself drawn digitally to the places I loved to visit pre-Covid. The Garden Museum in London is a beautiful sanctuary in the middle of a crazy busy city and I crave a visit to one of its quietly inspiring events or exhibitions followed by a sit in the cafe, surrounded by lush greenery (sigh). 

Workroom at Constance Spry’s school in Marylebone. Silver Gelatin Print. 20.5 cm x 26.5 cm.

The museum’s digital offer is pretty limited to be honest, but as a keen gardener and flower arranger with a mild lockdown obsession for old gardening and flower arranging books, I was delighted to discover on a recent browse of its website that the museum has an exhibition about early 20th-century floristry hero, Constance Spry, planned for when it reopens. Something to very much look forward to. 

While we wait patiently for its reopening, the museum is making films for its stuck-at-home audiences. Its view-for-a-tenner films may make some balk with so much free stuff out there to view, but last night I happily paid the money, poured myself a glass of wine and planted myself down to watch top florists, Shane Connolly and Emily Thompson chat for an hour about Spry, her flowers and the impact that she’d had on their careers. It was the best night in I’d had in ages. 

Even better, the museum has made loads of films during lockdown. I plan to buy one every time I need a little boost.

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The films are not about the museum at all. Instead, really big horticultural hitters are just asked to talk about stuff they’re really into. The museum has always felt like a place that quietly reflects – to a nation of gardeners – the stories and the people involved in this activity, and it’s great to see the museum’s online public programme doing just that, even while its doors are closed.

Digital accessibility | The Minack Theatre, Cornwall

The Minack Theatre's stunning setting is now available to enjoy in an immersive virtual experience

A few years ago, on a rainy day out in Cornwall, we ended up at the Minack Theatre – the staggeringly beautiful setting for plays, musicals and operas, which was hand carved into the dramatic Cornish cliffs in the 1930s. My mum-in-law had always wanted to see it, and so we popped by, hoping we might be lucky and find that they had some spare tickets. On days when there aren’t performances they run tours of the site. There’s a cafe and a small exhibition space too.

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We were in luck. There was room on the tour but we realised quite quickly that my mum-in-law, whose mobility was becoming a problem at the time, wouldn’t be able to cope with the masses of steps that you have to descend and then climb back up. Sadly, she had to stay at the top of the site – but with coffee and cake, thankfully – while we took our small and needing-to-be-occupied children on the tour.

A contour map of the natural amphitheatre, the Minack, is built into

It was brilliant therefore to see that the Minack has recently developed an immersive 180˚ cinema experience, giving a way of exploring the theatre for visitors who cannot manage steps. Minack staff also say that it provides a real wow factor for all visitors, not just those who are unable to fully access the site. 

The experience has been developed by using fixed point 360˚ camera footage as well as bird’s eye drone footage and 3D scans. Plan8 VR, the company who worked on this project with the Minack, has produced a video about the project, which is well worth watching.

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Zoom art classes and tours | Royal West of England Academy, Bristol

A life drawing class at the Royal West of England Academy

Who’d even heard of Zoom 18 months ago? I certainly hadn’t. Now a life without it is difficult to imagine. The Royal West of England Academy (RWA) in Bristol moved its classes onto Zoom during lockdown. From illustrating picture books to life drawing, and even dog drawing, there is something for everyone. 

These are a mixture of paid-for and free classes and they all sound like a great opportunity for fun, meeting new people and learning new skills. The academy has also been using Zoom to run virtual tours for people who are blind or have a visual impairment. These descriptive tours involve artists and curators, who give detailed descriptions of artworks exhibited at the gallery, followed by a discussion of the works. 

Even as we head back to the lives we once knew, it’d be great to think that events and classes like these will continue to give wider access to museums and galleries beyond the pandemic. 

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