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The rise of technology over the past few decades has provided culture and heritage institutions with new ways to reach audiences, both on-site and remote. There has always been some interest in reaching remote audiences, but the majority of digital experiences in the sector to date remain focused on visitors who turn up in person – until now.

The Coronavirus crisis has forced museums, galleries and heritage sites all around the world to close their doors to visitors. These organisations have reacted in the only way they can, by shifting their attention to new, innovative ways of maintaining their audience relationships. Necessity has, yet again, been the mother of invention – in this case accelerating many organisations’ plans to explore the digital space, pushing them up the priority list from ‘nice to have’ all the way to ‘essential’.


Google Trends illustrates the Covid Effect. The search term “Virtual galleries” had a well-established, consistent background level of interest by May 2019, whereas “Coronavirus” was essentially at zero. The surge in interest in the latter during February 2020 can be seen to trigger an equivalent rise in the former, lagging by just 7-10 days.

As you would expect, the absolute volume of searches for Coronavirus dwarf those for virtual galleries, but the trend is unmistakable, and whereas society is clearly becoming more familiar with Coronavirus, with searches dropping to just a quarter of its February peak, interest is being maintained in virtual galleries at 70-80% of its high point, over two months later. Almost identical trends can be seen for ‘virtual museum’ and other associated terms.

Source: Google Trends. Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart.


In the short-term, we are seeing lots of new experiences that create, maintain or even enhance the relationships of culture and heritage institutions with their audiences. Organisations that until now have been reluctant to step into the remotely-accessible digital space are reaching out to the creative tech industry for help.

In response, the tech industry – with Arcade as a good example – is also innovating, finding new ways to create virtual experiences more quickly, easily and affordably than ever before.


In addition to working with individual clients to develop proprietary web, VR or AR experiences, we have created and launched our own virtual gallery space – The Arcade – and made it available to culture and heritage organisations. Exhibitions in The Arcade can be accessed by a wide variety of technologies; whether people are using computers, tablets, mobiles or even VR headsets, they can enter the space and enjoy the exhibitions on offer.

The Arcade in Mozilla Hubs - a shared social space for cultural engagement


In a time of social distancing, we are all finding new ways of maintaining our social relationships, most of them tech-driven. Video calls have become the new norm but are quickly leading to fatigue. We have fast become Zoomed-out and are looking for alternatives – how else to explain social interaction game Animal Crossing becoming the world’s most popular computer game?

Spaces such as The Arcade can also offer a way to recapture the shared social experiences that are so important for our sense of humanity and emotional wellbeing. Three-dimensional spaces that multiple users can enter at the same time, move around in much the same way as they would a physical space, and chat with each other as they go, are a powerful way to experience some of that precious togetherness that so many of us are missing.

(To see what we mean, use this link to create a scene and invite a friend to have a wander around National Historic Ships’ beautiful photography exhibition)

Alexandra Palace - Google Poly
National Historic Ships - Mozilla Hubs
The Landmark Trust - Google Poly


Although virtual galleries such as The Arcade have sprung up in direct response to the extraordinary situation we are faced with today, there is little doubt that their impact will be a lasting one. Mindsets have shifted, technologies have evolved, and audience engagement models have changed for good. We are all looking forward to physically returning to these special places and coming face to face with art, culture and heritage, but when that time comes we will all have discovered that remote experiences can, and should, sit comfortably alongside physical visits.

There is an irony that it may have taken one of the most disruptive, damaging and chaotic experiences in human history to have triggered an avalanche of worldwide cultural engagement, the like of which has never been seen before. Some may fall by the wayside as some semblance of normality returns but the best will not, because they do all the things good cultural experiences do: they are fascinating, beautiful, enlightening and emotionally rewarding, and they will have changed the way we engage with art, culture and heritage forever.

To learn more about virtual galleries and museums, get in touch

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