Photo courtesy of Telus Spark

Calgary Attractions Go Virtual: A New Take on YYC’s Online Exhibits

Calgary’s Art Exhibits During COVID-19

As early as March 2020 Calgary museums and learning centres decided to implement virtual tours and online exhibits in hopes of staying engaged with the community and remaining relevant during closures due to COVID19.


When non-essential businesses were asked to close for health reasons, local art and science centre’s implemented online visits. Hoping they would be a great tool to remain connected with their audiences while the facilities remained closed to the public.


Jenny Conway Fisher, the marketing and communications manager for the Glenbow Museum, explained how important it was for people to continue to experience joy, positivity, and art outside the walls of Glenbow.


“We know art can provide inspiration, beauty and, most importantly, a sense of connection to the people and world around us. We also know that having access to art and culture is an important part of our daily lives. While we couldn’t do it in person, #GlenbowFromHome was the way to bring the best of Glenbow online — through virtual tours, online collections stories, educational videos, activity ideas, webinars and more,” said Fisher.


Online Exhibits and Tours According to Curators and Directors

These online tours give individuals the opportunity to view exhibits and collections that haven’t been seen before, as well as continue to create great engagement within the current community. They also have the potential to bring in new audiences that may not be been able to view what these museums have to offer. 


“Those who are immunocompromised or unable to travel to the museum still have access to virtual/online content. Populations that have previously been unable to visit TELUS Spark can get a taste of what it is like and still have exposure to scientific learning… This type of content had already been part of a long-term plan at TELUS Spark, however, the COVID-19 pandemic made these plans more urgent as people needed science more than ever before,” Said Kayley Evans, manager of business development at the TELUS Spark Science Centre.


Calgary is not the only city to provide virtual attractions, though. Since the spread of COVID19 and mandatory quarantines, a substantial number of museums across the world have participated in online tours. The Guggenheim, Musée d’Orsay, The Van Gogh Museum, and Harvard University are just some examples of places that are implementing this initiative. Typically, these tours include images, articles, and controlled virtual maps. However, people can expect Calgary museums to add a more in-depth look into their online exhibits. 


Jesse Moffatt, the National Music Centre’s (NMC) director of collections and exhibitions, said their online exhibit Speak Up! is powerful in and of itself because it focuses on Indigenous voices that have made significant impacts within Canada. However, by showcasing more than just photos they have been able to bring in over a thousand views onto the NMC website.


Speak Up! features music, photos, storytelling, and personal insight and comments from the exhibition’s curator, David McLeod,” Explained Moffatt.


The Glenbow Museum similarly has brought in high volumes of audience members. This is due in part to the many options available for online exhibit tours. 


“Our online programming has included short 5 – 10 minute virtual video tours (led by curators, exhibition technicians, and education staff) of current exhibitions as well as behind-the-scenes art and artifact storage areas. We have also created art workshop videos, Zoom backgrounds as well as colouring pages from artworks and objects in the collection, and artist-talk webinar videos,” Said Fisher. 


Despite the popularity of these virtual museum tours have increased since their debut, the TELUS Spark Centre, the National Music Centre, and the Glenbow Museum are all in agreement that nothing beats a physical trip to these exhibits. 


Why Online Exhibits are Important and How to View Them

“Currently, the COVID19 pandemic does not allow for everyone to visit the science centre, and we have this type of content available in order to help them keep their connection to Spark and continue to learn about science. Science should be accessible to all! … [However] Physical visits are always preferable as TELUS Spark is a place for reflection, discovery and conversations around science,” Said Evans. 


Now, as each organization carefully reopens, in-person visits are being encouraged. This is because audiences are able to take in, and experience more in the museum than they would be able to with an online tour. 


“During a physical visit, you have the ability to interact with an interpreter, ask questions, and engage in a dialogue about music and connect with a group of other like-minded music lovers. Certainly, there are ways to do this online, but the visceral nature of experiencing an artifact firsthand—activating your sense of touch (in some cases), the way an instrument sounds and even its woody smell—can be lost with an online exhibit,” Said Moffett.


Fisher said that if people feel safe, healthy, and ready to engage, then a visit to the Glenbow is recommended. She explained that these physical trips should be complemented by virtual tours in order to enhance the audience’s experience. 


“The benefit of digital content is that it can be accessible to more people, or shared more widely and reach people beyond physical borders or boundaries. But our hope is that virtual experiences provide an entry point that ultimately leads to an in-person connection.”


Fisher added that these online exhibits will not only affect people’s experiences, but also the way museums, their staff, and audiences will move forward in the future. 


“This has proven that we need to make our content as accessible as possible, and that is the job of every person in the museum. I think one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that we have been pushed out of our comfort zones… Now is the time to reinvent what a museum is for and what it can do for the people and communities it serves, ” says Fisher. 


Online Exhibits and Virtual Tours are Still Available.

However, if you decide to visit in person remember that business hours have changed. Since this is the case,  it is important to call ahead and reserve your tickets in advance. Keep health and safety measures in mind, and if you love what these museums are doing, please consider making a donation.


Stay up-to-date by following them online. @glenbowmuseum @telus_spark @nmc_canada