Written by George Peckham, ITP Assistant

Game On: Creating playful and participatory online activities

Silvia-Filippini Fantoni, Deputy Director Learning & Engagement, Newark Museum of Art.
Linda Spurdle, Digital Development Manager, Birmingham Museums Trust

The Covid-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated the need for museums to shift to a more active and engaging online presence. In this session we heard from two case studies of museums that, over the course of the pandemic, developed online games aimed at a younger and more diverse audience. They address the challenges and lessons, and discuss how digital technology can be used to create meaningful experiences beyond the pandemic.

Birmingham Museums Trust

Linda Spurdle of Birmingham Museums Trust (BMT) shared a couple of projects that the organisation has been running to encourage more engagement from their audience online. Linda reflected that BMT, like most museums in the UK, were unprepared for the lockdowns caused by the pandemic. Their website was focused on onsite visits and events and not on online programmes. A high number of their staff were furloughed, causing a loss in expertise and support. To adapt to these obstacles, BMT ran two programmes online to engage online.

The first the project was called Cut Copy Remix, which aimed to work with digital artists to make use of Birmingham Museums Trust Digital Image Resource. BMT is the only collection in the UK that has made all out-of-copyright artworks available for free under a Creative Commons Zero License. Artists could propose a work and successful proposals would be commissioned to create the work for display in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and online.

Cut Copy Remix 2022 call for artists: https://www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/blog/posts/cut-copy-remix-2022-call-out-for-artists

The second project is a collaboration with the online platform Occupy White Walls. This is an online multiplayer game which lets users create 3D galleries to display digital art and curate exhibitions. Birmingham Museums Trust became the first museum to partner with Occupy White Walls to create a virtual Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Users can create a virtual exhibition at the museum from the comfort of their own home, using over two hundred artworks from Birmingham’s collection of Public Domain images.

Using Occupy White Walls has allowed Birmingham Museums Trust to a new audience, especially a younger audience who dominate the userbase of online video games. In the game, players collaborate to curate their exhibitions. Players can acquire digital copies of any BMAG artworks they find inspiring and build their gallery around those.

Watch a video about the project here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsZSZ-PoZ_Q&ab_channel=OccupyWhiteWalls-OWW

Take a tour around the virtual Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery here: https://roundme.com/tour/649384/view/2055347

The Newark Museum of Art

Next we heard from the Newark Museum of Art, which has also pivoted to virtual experience following the closure of the museum in March 2020. The museum started by offering public and private virtual tours to its members. The private tours were conducted via Zoom for groups of 10 people or more and allowed for participants to ask questions to their guide and they are taken around the museum virtually.

The museum began launching more virtual programmes with more of a focus on participatory and game-based activities. This was to engage and younger and more diverse audience. This included virtual group games hosted over zoom, such as a virtual escape zoom called Escape from the Ballantine House; this games challenged you teams to race the clock and escape the house, a historical house in Newark managed by the museum, before you get caught.

Newark Museum of Art also organised and competed in Art Olympics: March Madness, where museums competed against each other virtually. Representatives from museums presented art works from their collections and viewers voted on their favourite.

Virtual Tours: https://www.newarkmuseumart.org/virtual-tours
Virtual Games: https://www.newarkmuseumart.org/virtual-games-groups
Art Olympics: https://www.newarkmuseumart.org/art-olympics-march-madness

Connecting with audiences via digital tours

Raoul Curtis-Machin, Operations Manager, Culloden Battlefield
Brett Harding, CEO, YourTour

In March 2020, the National Trust for Scotland and YourTour collaborated to create a 360 video ‘VirtualVisit’ of Culloden battlefield. The Battle of Culloden: The Jacobites’ Last Stand is a virtual 360 degree visit around the battlefield produced in partnership with YourTour, the Trust and with funding from Innovate UK. The virtual tour was created to commemorate the 275th anniversary of the battle.

Innovate UK is a UK government agency and grant giving organisation that launched a competition which offered funding for projects that innovate in the response of global disruption. It aimed to help the heritage sector in the UK explore ways to mitigate the negative effects caused by Covid-19.

It was clear from the presentation that virtual tour helped Colluden Battlefield expand their audience globally. The site does have the Inside Culloden Visitor Centre, which is a new accredited museum, but would have been closed during the pandemic. Their statistics showed that over 21,000 virtual tours were taken in the first 2 weeks of launching. Over 75% of these tours were taken by people outside of the UK, which a big audience coming from North America.

Take the virtual tour: https://virtual-visits.co.uk/battle-of-culloden/

Digital skills for digital futures

Sophie Frost, Research Associate, One by One
Maria Paula Arias, Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University
Nia Evans, Digital Editor, Amegueddfa Cymru – National Museums Wales
Arran Rees, Research Associate, School of Fine Art, University of Leeds

This session asked if we, as museum professionals, have the right skills to collect our digital culture? The objective of these speakers was to draw on their own experiences and approaches to discuss fresh ways of using and thinking about digital to manage communications, collections and brands.

One of the first points that was acknowledged during the discussion was that the Covid-19 pandemic has forced many museum’s hands in embracing digital. Before the pandemic, digital was an afterthought when thinking about museum projects. As a result many organisations and institutions are still coming to grips with the best way to use digital in order to reach their audiences.

Throughout the discussion, the panellists shared some useful points to keep in mind when using digital and social media to promote collections and brand:

  • It is important to truly understand who our communities and key demographics are.
  • With social media, we are distributing museums and collections across diverse audiences who might not have a positive relationship with museums.
  • There are a lot of negative associations with social media and translating personal experiences with other people online. We are opening up to people who might not embrace what we are sharing – it is not always easy to be vulnerable online.
  • Look at statistics to understand what is working and what is not working. There are different demographics and audiences to be found on different platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. Be where your communities are. If a platform does not serve you, do not be afraid to let go of it.
  • Museums need to have policies on how to deal with trolls, hate online, and how to have fun on social media platforms.
  • Digital poverty is real. In Wales, for example, 10% of population were not online in 2020. Furthermore, connectivity in some areas of Wales in very poor.
  • Museums need to reflect on where their value is placed. For most museums, value is placed on physical collections and physical spaces. If value is shifted to the digital, they can better reflect communities and be more outreaching.
  • It is important to be flexible. Do not throw all your eggs into one basket, but adapt and change with the changes of the online space.

Other digital projects shared during these events:

Museums Association Toolkit, Measuring socially engaged practice: https://www.museumsassociation.org/campaigns/museums-change-lives/measuring-socially-engaged-practice/