An Edinburgh art gallery is helping to pioneer a new form of hyper-real virtual tours as a way of engaging visitors during the coronavirus pandemic.
Morningside Gallery, which earlier in the pandemic allowed passers-by to curate its window displays, has gone one step further using tech developed by Edinburgh-based firm, 360 Virtual Studios.
Originally used for showcasing properties, the tech is now being used to provide experimental virtual tours which curators say could be transformative for a range of venues, including museums and galleries.
360 Virtual Studios uses hi-tech cameras and software from Matterport to create detailed, virtual tours of any setting, allowing visitors to take self-guided, hyper-realistic 3D tours.
Visitors can zoom in on specific exhibits and also pull up a host of additional information via embedded “Mattertags”.
Eileadh Swan, Director of the popular city gallery, described the collaboration as “eye opening”.
“It’s as close as possible to the experience of being in the gallery. Both visitors and artists love it,” she said.
“We’re delighted to be among the first venues in Scotland to use this technology, as I suspect it is going to be very big indeed. We’re seeing around 1,000 website impressions of individuals taking the tour on average per week,” Swan added.
Morningside Gallery hit headlines in 2020 when it introduced daily changes to its window displays based on online requests from passers-by. Swan said the gallery was inspired to start the changes after finding fingerprints on their windows.
The gallery then followed up by turning a popular annual exhibition by Scottish abstract painter, Scott Naismith, into a virtual event, along with a Zoom-based launch party and online recordings from Naismith to accompany web-based versions of his artworks.
Swan said the virtual tours are enabling the gallery to still engage with visitors and have been a vital lifeline during what has been a challenging period.
“It showcases artwork in a way that you can’t capture by using photography alone, and the tags are perfect for directing customers to the artwork and information about the artist,” Swan explained.
“Normally, customers would be contacting us asking for more images or videos but people are using the tours combined with other images and information on the website to buy artwork, with many saying it feels like they’ve been able to visit the gallery in person thanks to the tour.”
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Long-term, Swan believes the technology will still be used by galleries and venues as the country eases out of lockdown restrictions.
“There’s something exciting about the untapped potential here,” she said. “It’s definitely opened our minds to how we’ll conduct our business going forward.”
Following the success of the initial tour virtual tour, she has already commissioned a second featuring paintings with a three-dimensional aspect to them.
Called ‘Sculptural Surfaces’, the tour will allow visitors to see each work hung in the gallery – and in context – alongside neighbouring exhibits.