How Maryland is 'virtually' reimagining the art museum experience: BTN LiveBIG

How Maryland is 'virtually' reimagining the art museum experience: BTN LiveBIG

When we last checked on the University of Maryland and The Phillips Collection, the country’s first museum of modern art, the two institutions partnered up to collaborate on new exhibitions, a music series, the digitization of the museum’s archives and welcome two postdoctoral fellows who would expand on the possibilities of virtual reality.

Now, the collaboration has expanded to include a bridge between the work UMD does in the classroom and the experience visitors will have at The Phillips Collection.

Freshmen at UMD have the opportunity to enroll in the First-Year Innovation and Research Experience (FIRE) program, which offers “how virtual reality (VR) and other new technologies can enhance visitors’ experience at the museum and their appreciation of the artwork on display.”

The Phillips Virtual Culture program within FIRE will encourage students to put design into action:

In addition to VR research, the 35 computer science majors and one art history major are also learning web development and mobile technology, perhaps leading to an app that could help visitors navigate the Phillips. The museum, known as the nation’s first museum of modern art, houses works by masters including Georgia O’Keeffe, Mark Rothko and Vincent van Gogh.

Virtual museum tours – whether through offsite exploration or in apps that enhance the brick-and-mortar experience – are increasingly used to expand the offerings of a museum to an audience that’s more connected than ever. Rather than sit back as a spectator, most members of the public expect a participatory or even contributory element to a museum.

Maryland and the Phillips Collection sound as if they’re well aware of this.

“You want to have a good balance between engaging the visitors with tech and also allowing them to still appreciate the art how they normally would,” says Mark Keller ’20. His prototype is of an app that would allow visitors to scan QR codes of artwork and then rate whether they liked the work; this information would be used to create a personalized path through the collection highlighting works the visitor is likely to enjoy. (Example: No Pollocks for Degas-lovers.)

If you’re interested in exploring The Phillips Collection from the comfort of your phone, the museum already has iPhone and Android apps available.

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