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Arts and Cultural Institutions Embrace Virtual Experiences for Creation and Conversation

Arts and cultural institutions are offering virtual tours, digital experiences, and other creative ways of engaging with customers on Zoom.
4 min read

Updated on March 15, 2021

Published on March 15, 2021

image of Zoom webinar with four people in gallery view with virtual backgrounds of museums

Arts and cultural institutions had to reinvent themselves during the pandemic, finding ways to bring experiences to life in the digital space with new offerings like virtual art classes and tours over Zoom.

Now that these institutions are reopening, many are upgrading their virtual offerings from pandemic programming to ongoing opportunities for engagement.

“Virtual has arrived,” said Brendan Ciecko, founder of Cuseum, a digital engagement platform for museums. “People are enjoying the creativity and inspiration, resonating with the content, and it’s opening up new channels for organizations of all types.”

Below, Ciecko shared how museums, art centers, cultural institutions, and zoos are embracing the digital space to increase revenue, improve engagement, and bring greater awareness to their missions. 

Virtual tours & experiences

“For museums, in-person experiences will change forever. It's a new dawn for all of us. I'm very inspired by how well we're working with each other across the museum community. And I think we'll get there, faster than most people are predicting.”

Karen Wong, deputy director at the New Museum 
From Cuseum’s webinar, “Exploring the Future of Museums in the Era of Coronavirus” 

The pandemic made virtual tours a standard for museums of all sizes and types — from the famed Guggenheim to the eclectic New England Carousel Museum. Unlike pre-recorded videos, live online tours allow guides to interact with guests, answer their questions, and tailor their experiences. 

Some tours are free, increasing access to knowledge; others are included with membership, providing value to members who can’t visit the museum in person; and some are paid, enabling organizations to bring in revenue despite visitor limitations and geographical barriers.

The New Museum in New York hosts monthly virtual tours and brought its Screens Series exhibition online to showcase video art. The museum also hosts virtual conversations with artists from its latest exhibitions, including the one shown below.

Photo of art installation featuring live plants in a museum gallery
“Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America,” 2021. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni.

Interactive, immersive activities

“Digital programming has worked well for us. We’re reaching more people than when we do the events inside the museum. We’re also finding that we’re getting a bigger audience nationally and internationally.” 

John Echeveste, CEO at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes
From Cuseum’s webinar, “Small but Mighty: Navigating the New Normal as a Small or Mid-Sized Museum” 

Moving workshops and classes online has allowed institutions to expand their reach to audiences well beyond their physical location and create new ways of sharing art and culture with a broader community. A few examples include:

Image of man holding banner of decorative, colorful paper cutouts
Photo credit: La Plaza de Cultura y Artes
  • The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts introducing “Cocktails with a Curator” and other exclusive members-only events
  • Museums offering virtual art classes and field trips as popular formats for supporting educators with distance learning

“It opened up an untapped global audience that a lot of museums didn’t think could have existed,” Ciecko said.

Creative ways to build awareness & engagement

“Never underestimate the creative potential of people working together to accomplish something. In so many communities in this crisis, people are truly coming together and working together to come up with innovative solutions.”

Lath Carlson, executive director at Museum of the Future
From Cuseum’s webinar, “Exploring the Future of Museums in the Era of Coronavirus” 

Playing off the new reality of Zoom meetings, attractions used the platform as an opportunity to build awareness of their brand and develop unique experiences. Zoos like Elmwood Park Zoo began offering animal cameos, providing private animal encounters for virtual corporate meetings, birthdays, and other events.

Beyond the real-time interactions that come with video communications, institutions have created other digital resources, like discussion guides and virtual backgrounds, to interact with their customers in new ways. 

Eye-catching Zoom backgrounds showing the Museum of the African Diaspora's beautiful art exhibitions, The Met's iconic interiors and gardens, and impressive architectural views at Perez Art Museum Miami had art aficionados yearning to return to their favorite museums. Access to learning opportunities and other forms of digital content made art part of the daily conversation for students, families, and museum members.

“We’re now seeing full acknowledgment and value placed upon digital engagement and virtual tools,” Ciecko said. “We’ll continue to see these types of resources and programs, even as visitors physically return to the museum.”

Check out more customer stories to see how organizations in different industries are using Zoom to improve engagement and support digital transformation.

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