Taking over tomorrow’s museum: Virtual reality and the rise of experience

Technology and the digital world are forever changing the way in which humans experience entertainment, education, work, and day-to-day life. Usually, it can take a while for the public to warm up to experimental innovations, but often they can become unanimous or even necessary.

Virtual reality, or VR, is one of these innovations, and it has the potential to take over every industry we can think of; The culture sector, and Te Papa included.

A lady wearing a VR headset

Priscilla wearing VR, 2016. Photograph by Felicity Jane Powell. Mahuki, Te Papa.

Imagine it’s Saturday.

You’ve finally managed to squeeze in a couple of hours to take the family to an exhibition. You receive your tickets and head into the space. You begin to look at the art around you, it’s beautiful, sure, but is that it?

The host hands you a funny looking pair of blacked-out goggles and assists you with putting them on. You’re fumbling around with your jackets and scarves, dumping them onto your youngest. It’s dark and you’re a bit disoriented. After a few seconds of quietly squealing with your hands out in front of you, the lights come on and the floor turns from polished wood to gravel and the white walls to elaborate gardens. You find yourself walking down a dusty road in Giverny, France, and gosh it’s a beautiful day. It doesn’t take you long before you make it to the end of the road and see the man himself, your old friend, Claude Monet. He’s painting up a storm in his notorious impressionist stylings and you’re so close you can almost smell the oil from his brushes.

Even Claude himself couldn’t walk past an experience like that, so when can we have it?

The truth is, we already do. Only they’re hand-sized (arguably), really expensive, and our mum’s still can’t figure them out. The smartphone. Accessible and now a necessary extension of ourselves, most of us use them to escape the day-to-day and zonk out while incessantly giving ourselves carpal-tunnel. Virtual reality on the other hand, is uninterrupted and singular in purpose. VR, if anything, is an indicator of the future and how we choose to experience, well, anything.

Okay, so who wants it?

Having been around since the 60’s, you could say VR as a concept is pretty ripe. But as a technology, people are kind of freaking out, and with just cause. I mean, what really happens once that helmet is on? Will my handbag get stolen? Do I need a jacket? Am I going to get stuck in the Matrix? In reality, no, your bag is safe, but some might still find it unsettling being blindfolded and thrown into another world.

On a more promising note, companies like Samsung and Oculus are lapping it up, having recorded over a million people experiencing VR through their Samsung Gear. And not only are there a number of users who are absolutely loving it, they’re also creating a demand for more affordable, accessible VR such as Google Cardboard; a cheap cardboard fitting for around your smart device which facilitates the experience of a traditional VR headpiece.

So, although the general public seem to be hesitant, influential figures are seeing the potential, and so should the cultural sector.

VR, say hello to Te Papa

The cultural sector. The sector of culture. The sector of which includes galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. It is the sector that provides art, design, history, knowledge, and richness to communities. The GLAM sector. Whatever it’s called, the idea is that it could benefit greatly from this kind of technology.

Many museums struggle with finding enough physical space to display everything they want to. And although Te Papa already succeeds in connecting their audiences to collections online, the potential for physical engagement to be had by incorporating virtual reality is undeniable.

By using virtual reality to change the way visitors use the museum space, not only is your experience richened, but your favourite museum now has the ability to show you more.

Te Papa knows this better than most, and are actually in the motions of exploring ways in which to revolutionise visitor engagement.

Welcome, Mahuki – Innovation powered by Te Papa

NZ famous, Tui Te Hau and Tim von Dadelszen. Newspaper clipping of a story about Mahuki, 2016. Photograph by Priscilla Loong. Mahuki, Te Papa.

NZ famous, Tui Te Hau and Tim von Dadelszen.
Newspaper clipping of a story about Mahuki, 2016. Photograph by Priscilla Loong. Mahuki, Te Papa.

As mentioned above, VR has a bit of work to do in terms of finding open-minded and willing members of the public to test and adopt. But that isn’t the only problem. What are techies, entrepreneurs, and graduates supposed to do with their passion for virtual reality when the market is so new? They get selected to participate in Te Papa’s very first innovation hub.

Mahuki (the Maori term for changing perceptions and providing clarity), gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to use their problem-solving and technical skills to provide sustainable solutions for the cultural sector. Not only does each team of entrepreneurs have four months to accelerate and innovate their way towards a minimum viable product, but they get professional support and industry connections to help them do so.

The advantage of being in-residence at Te Papa? All the visitor access they can handle. Their audiences are literally walking around just outside their office, waiting to test their VR experiences. This makes for a fast-tracked version of what we’d normally call a startup, and the hype is rapidly spreading throughout other industries.

The take-away? The future is already here, sitting right in back-of-house, Te Papa. Virtual solutions are already being experimented with, and all of the fear being imbedded into us by films like The Matrix can be put to rest.

Let’s see what Mahuki comes up with!
Follow their antics on social media, @mahuki_tepapa
Or find out more about the programme and the application process on their website

The Paranormal Activity VR Game
Google and VR
Google Cardboard

One Response

  1. Jordan

    Really well-written piece! Very informative, look forward to seeing what Te Papa will be able to bring out with VR


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