The Future of Museums – Getting to Awe

July 12, 2016

I love the creativity now enhancing museums’ physical space. It gives me huge comfort to know that museums are on the forefront of creating experiences designed to inspire awe and wonder. A favorite of mine is the “Levitated Mass” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

You do not have a “Levitated Mass” experience every day, and you certainly do not forget it.

When I speak to museums about their digital presence, I am cheered that their online concerns mirror their physical concerns. They are asking: how do we create an enhanced museum experience in the online world? How do we inspire awe and wonder, online?

An Enhanced Museum Experience, Online

Delivering online access to the collection is clearly job one. This enables the public and scholars alike to access the collection from afar, which is necessary…but is it truly awe inspiring? To achieve awe, museums must move into virtual reality (VR), and the enablement of “Levitated Mass” type experiences than can occur without the need to build a 340 ton exhibit.

Some museums are already experimenting with virtual reality, most starting with VR as a way to augment and enhance visits to the museum itself.

For example, the British Museum is providing VR experiences of Bronze Age artifacts and other exhibits. The Canada Science and Technology Museum has created an interactive virtual reality exhibit for visitors to enjoy while the museum undergoes renovations. They have created a VR simulation of a steam locomotive: visitors to the museum step into a six-foot-long by six-foot-high box and begin “operating” the train in 4-D, complete with surround sound and air cannons that shoot steam into their faces while the floor quakes beneath their feet.

Over the longer term, VR experiences will extend museums’ presence and geographic reach, as they move into our living rooms, our classrooms and our community centers. Now that is a future I can’t wait for. Is your local museum starting to use virtual reality? If so, let us know how.

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