February 12-14, 2021, opening weekend for the 2021 ART.HAPPENS Virtual Art Show in our new custom-designed gather.town art gallery was a success! 10 rooms, 50 artists, 16 talks – all of which will still be there for you to visit until the tires go out. You can see everything at the links below!
From the beginning, I wanted a virtual show that pushed the limits of a virtual show. We’ve all seen plenty of examples in the last year of organizations trying to bring the experience of a live event to an ill-equipped medium, so we gathered a group to brainstorm the most valuable aspects of a live show and how we might recreate the concept. Showing the artwork is the most central element (it is called an art show, after all), but being able to stand next to someone, discuss, and experience it together is perhaps just as important to a gallery opening. Casual conversation that can be joined or left as desired is another aspect, discussing whatever comes up. Letting people explore a well-designed space, as an artwork itself. And, critically, a platform that is nearly as easy to use as the act of walking into a building.
After some exploration, we came across and experimented with Gather, who generously offered us a deep discount. The interface for visitors was as simple as an old video game, requiring neither VR equipment nor awkward management of a faux VR webpage. It allowed for video conversations based on proximity. It let us embed images, video, external websites. Multiple editors to the space meant that people who wanted to could design their own rooms. And the visual design was entirely customizable, so I followed the example of D&D battle map designers and made tileable backgrounds, architectural elements, items that made the gallery space both clear and appealing to interact with (hello light-up dance floor).
We made a Google group for all of the artists to communicate while they worked on their projects, and regular video work circles so that people could discuss in real time, inspiring each other with what they were making. I kept the artists up to date on the gallery progress, so they could understand how their work would fit into the whole, and worked with several to make stand alone graphic elements to draw people in. We made an eventbrite so that people could donate to help support this otherwise free event (with CRASH Space footing the bill for whatever we couldn’t raise). We recruited people to schedule talks and live stream them, prepare preview images for “framing,” organize the actual artworks within the space, arrange a virtual DJ for music on the dance floor, set up a user-friendly website for those who were unable or otherwise didn’t want to enter the virtual gallery, even gathered some drink recipes accessible from the “bottender” for those who wanted to create their own cocktails at home.
Was it perfect? Of course not, but it was a great success, most things went off without too many hitches, and we now have a gallery that we can expand and use for other events. One presumes that our next art show will be in person, but the ability to have people interacting from all over the world (and we did have artists from all over) makes the challenge of incorporating both a virtual and in-person art show a fascinating one that I look forward to tackling.
Thank you to everyone who was part of this great event, and we’ll see you at the next one!