What do Montrealers think about online exhibitions?

Reflecting on the future of museums, online showings, and art’s place in a COVID-19 world

Before COVID-19, visiting brick and mortar museums in Montreal was rather easy and enjoyable, with many free exhibits offered as well. Now, in a COVID-19 world, and with Montreal in the red zone, museums are not as easily accessible.

Despite this, the good news is that there are a multitude of virtual exhibitions that people can access, free of charge, to get at least some kind of museum experience. The Virtual Museum of Canada has a wide array of exhibitions that people can choose from, most of which are offered in both English and French.

But how much does this switch to online museums actually affect Montrealers? How often did Montrealers go to museums pre-pandemic? Eleven people responded to a survey posted in the Montrealers Helping Montrealers Facebook group. While this is a small number of people compared to the population of the city, this represents the opinions of a microcosm of Montreal.

45.5 per cent of respondents said they went to museums less than once a year, whereas 18.2 per cent of respondents said they visited monthly. 63.6 per cent of participants stated that they were aware of the availability of free museum exhibitions in Montreal, and 36.4 per cent were not.

When specifically asked if they were aware of the Virtual Museum of Canada, 81.8 per cent of respondents said they did not know about it, and only 18.2 per cent were aware of this website. The lack of awareness of the Virtual Museum of Canada website could lead to people missing out on the opportunity for arts access during this pandemic.

The Virtual Museum of Canada is a website that features various art exhibitions exploring different topics. For example, there is a section on History and Society, which features a virtual tour of the monastery of the Ursulines of Québec. Under the Nature section, there is an exhibition called Navigating the Saint Lawrence. This exhibition allows participants to see how the challenges associated with navigating the river have evolved over time.

In the same survey, participants were asked how they felt about the initial closure of museums during the first wave of COVID-19, and the responses were varied.

“It didn’t affect me as I don’t usually visit museums,” said Marta Josefina, 21. “Only for school purposes, I would visit museums.”

“Safety takes priority over museum visits until there is a vaccine,” said Toni Lavery, 65. “I let myself grieve and let it go for the good of all.”

“I felt it was a good choice since it’s not essential,” said Jessica Andrade, 20.

Participants were also asked about whether they think that having access to museums is important or not, and why.

“It’s history and art,” said Jade Jolicoeur, 25. “It helps us see the world through other people’s eyes. It’s very important.”

David Stern, 36, said that it “lifts the spirit and mind” for those who want to attend museums, and Jennifer Michelle stated that “art of all types is an important part of [people’s] [lives].”

Due to the pandemic, the state of brick and mortar institutions might be called into question, including museums. In the same survey, when participants were asked, “Do you think that virtual exhibits will take over brick and mortar museums given the context of the state of Quebec,” only one of the eleven participants said yes.

Taking part in the access to online exhibitions is a great idea. Five of the 11 survey participants said that, on a scale of one to five, their interest in using virtual exhibitions was at four.

For those who are interested in virtual exhibitions, there are many options available.

Morbus Delirium is an interactive exhibition that was put together by the Montreal Science Centre. It is offered in both English and French, and in a mode designed for those who are visually impaired. The exhibition is focused on trying to solve an epidemic that is in Quebec — quite a topical subject matter for an interactive exhibition. This might be controversial, but it can also make people interact with the idea of a virus in a different way. Also, because it is being put out by a Science Centre, it is less likely to take a fear-mongering approach.

The game allows the participant to make a character they will use throughout the story, on an easy or hard level. There are various tasks that must be completed, and there are conversations one follows to contribute to the story. The way the exhibition is set up allows for an immersive experience, even though no one is in the Science Centre physically. It’s a way to keep the culture alive and still have people participate in it.

If people like interactive, story-driven attractions, then checking out Morbus Delirium is a good option.

For those who are looking for a variety of exhibitions that don’t require leaving the house, the Virtual Museum of Canada is the place to explore.


Feature image: Screenshot from the the Montreal Science Centre’s Morbus Delirium


The role of virtual museums in a time of isolation

Museums and galleries are being forced to adapt amidst uncertainty

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for everyone. There is a lot of uncertainty regarding jobs, school and just about everything right now. With vernissages being cancelled, and museums and other art spaces being closed indefinitely, many questions are being raised within the art world.

However, amidst all this uncertainty lies a new wave of innovation. Many art institutions have made their collections available digitally, for all. From the Louvre to the Sistine Chapel, viewers can visit these otherwise costly landmarks from the comfort of their own home, for free. Some museums, like the Louvre, are providing virtual tours, while others like the MET, are giving access to their collection databases.

But what does this mean for the museum as a physical space to view, experience and enjoy art? Does the accessibility of digital galleries affect the experience of engaging with art? In reality, this is not a new concept. Many institutions already have digital access to their collections, including the MET and the MOMA, and platforms like Artsy and Artnet already serve as online galleries, where patrons can view and purchase art.

Nonetheless, the current circumstances have provided many museums with the opportunity to expand and grow, as they adapt during these difficult times. The Biennale of Sydney recently announced their decision to close their exhibitions and move online, and Art Basel will host virtual booths for all 231 featured galleries.

In an effort to give viewers the freedom to explore their collection, the Glenbow Museum in Calgary has begun Glenbow From Home. The initiative allows access to virtual tours, online collections and educational videos, as a means of providing “inspiration, beauty, and most importantly, a sense of connection to the people and world around us,” according to the museum’s website.

Viewers can familiarize themselves with Canadian art by strolling through The Royal Ontario Museum and The Vancouver Art Gallery via the Google Arts & Culture platform or expand their knowledge of Indigenous art through the Canadian Museum of History’s Online Exhibition of Inuit Prints and virtual access to Alex Janvier’s Morning StarGambeh Then.’ To learn more about the history of the popular Christmas classic, The Nutcracker, The National Ballet of Canada is offering an online photographic exhibition.

Galleries and museums are not the limit. While travelling is currently off-limits, you can explore sites like Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal and the Uffizi Gallery from the comfort of your home. Google Arts & Culture even allows individuals to search sites by location, via their interactive map.

As we self-isolate and practice social distancing for the next couple of months, viewers can take this opportunity to visit locations they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford, or have time to visit amid their busy schedules. So sit back, get comfortable and use art as a way to de-stress.

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