May 18 Is Virtual Museum Day

Is AGO’s ‘Collection X’ Experiment Past Expiry Date?
Virtual Museum of Canada's Collection X

This Virtual Museum of Canada (VMC) exhibit, produced by the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and published in 2006 is an interesting work for many reasons. First of all, it utilizes the rarely-seen top level domain ‘dot museum’ in its address, [www.collectionx.museum] and secondly its design allows people to contribute, as well as merely browse and study the collection of artifacts within.

Although at first glance, it seems very ‘media centered’ (predominately images, video and audio) and lacking contextual information that would truly connect the visitor to each collection’s full story, it does attempt to link the exhibits together into common themes, such as these 11 exhibitions showcasing student work from the Toronto District School Board.

“Online exhibitions provide an opportunity for museums to counter the claims of elitism that are often made to them. New media can create new audiences for the museum, including people who may not ever attend an exhibition…”
—Laura Berazadi

The ping-pong (gallery style) interface can make it difficult to navigate without relying on the browser’s Back button, and the visitor really doesn’t know what they’re going to see next, until after clicking on the link labelled Next.

It is slow to load, even on a high bandwidth connection, and relies on the Quicktime plugin for viewing videos and listening to audio content.

Image enlargements are limited in detail, likely due to the maximum size restrictions still in place a mere five years ago. Many new users seem to be individual artists using the site to promote their own personal work.

These drawbacks should not detract from the visitor’s enjoyment of the content presented in many of the exhibitions. In fact, one of this exhibits most charming features will be found in listening to audio clips of oral history found throughout the collection.

Perhaps one of the best entry points would be Thoughts on Online Exhibitions, followed by a trip to the Connect section, where search results reveal the following statistics:

  • 765 Users, 30 of whom have signed on within the last year, and only a handful of these have created a profile, let alone contributed any media files or created an exhibition
  • 182 Exhibitions, with 8 either created or updated within the last year
  • 25 Connections, none of which were created or updated within the last year
  • Interest and activity in this exhibit ‘created by the public for the public’ seems to have run out of steam about two years ago, or three years after its introduction

The questions remaining, after reviewing this ambitious, experimental open-source virtual museum are simple:

  1. How can the energy to sustain and promote a community-based website that is ‘open and accessible to anyone’ be renewed annually as the years go by?
  2. Is it better to spend the limited funding on permanent exhibits with higher production values that will remain static for several years after publication?
  3. Can we create a special annual VMC funding formula to sustain the on-going promotion and redesign requirements of a single national repository based on this remarkable model?

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