With the onset of COVID-19 and the closures of many spaces, virtual tours have taken off. The IU3D team, part of the Research Technologies division of University Information Technology Services, has been capturing cultural heritage spaces to provide virtual access and also to preserve those that have changing exhibits.
The team, led by Tassie Gniady and Jeff Rogers, uses a tool called Matterport to “capture” these spaces. The process begins with a visit to the space and a careful recording of it with a camera equipped to take in its many dimensions. The fun really begins, though, when it comes time to annotate the space. The captures all contain lots of annotations, which generally offer additional information about particular artifacts. These annotations can also hold other archived objects, like images, 3D images, and even other Matterport captures, making for a fun, interactive, and customizable experience.
Gniady and her team have been collaborating with cultural heritage spaces in the state of Indiana to grant potential patrons access while the spaces themselves are closed or restricted by the number of visitors they allow. They have travelled to and through a variety of art and cultural history museums throughout Indiana, such as the Monroe County History Center in Bloomington and the Civil Rights Heritage Center (CRHC) at IU South Bend, the latter of which occupies the same building that was once the Engman Public Natatorium, a segregated swimming pool. The CRHC houses a public exhibition about the struggle to transform it into an inclusive space.
While these captures of physical spaces are certainly important in the midst of a global pandemic, their utility extends beyond this particular moment.
The Purdue University Black Cultural Center (BCC) boasts innovative and significant architecture, depicting historically salient aspects of the struggles and triumphs of Black people in America within its very design. Matterport captures allow visitors, even virtual visitors, to explore these elements, as well as the artifacts housed there.
Renee Thomas, director of the Purdue BCC says, “The Purdue Black Cultural Center is honored to be included in the Matterport project. The team created a meaningful and exceptional experience for patrons who visit the BCC virtually. The tour offers an intriguing glimpse into the cultural landscape of Purdue. This is an innovative way for the exploration of African American history and exposure to the BCC library and art exhibitions. A unique feature includes the ability to access the recordings from a cascade of prominent guest speakers who graced the Purdue campus. The tour provides an opportunity to engage a community of prospective students, faculty and staff. Audience members experience artistic expression and intellectual engagement.”
The tour offers an intriguing glimpse into the cultural landscape of Purdue. This is an innovative way for the exploration of African American history and exposure to the BCC library and art exhibitions.
The Herron School of Art and Design also offers virtual tours of its many exhibitions, again allowing those who might have wished to visit in person the ability to move through the space as if they were there.
“While these captures of physical spaces are certainly important in the midst of a global pandemic, their utility extends beyond this particular moment. Through their annotations and their accuracy in preserving the layout of a space, the captures can offer more content to museum and exhibit patrons both before and after the visit. Similarly, by capturing the layout of an exhibit’s physical space, scholars of art, architecture, history, and many other disciplines will be able to recreate how a crowd moved through a space, offering greater context to their studies. Further, while catalogs, both paper and electronic, have long offered access to inaccessible spaces for people with disabilities, Matterport captures go further, by recreating the physical space and the flow through that space.” says Gniady.