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The Barnes Foundation Expands Virtual Reality Program

Barnes virtual reality program expanding from five to 60+ sites, including parks and recreation centers, senior centers, and K–12 schools throughout Philadelphia

Philadelphia, PA, August 26, 2019—The Barnes Foundation has announced an expansion of its virtual reality (VR) program following a successful pilot phase, which kicked off last year in collaboration with the Free Library of Philadelphia. To serve a wider and more diverse audience, the program is expanding from five to 62 sites, including senior centers, parks and recreation centers, and select K–12 schools throughout Philadelphia, as well as Barnes community partners the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC), People’s Emergency Center, and SpArc Philadelphia, among others.

With early stage support from the Barra Foundation in 2017 to test the approach, the Barnes developed virtual reality headsets, which re-create the Barnes’s art galleries and allow individuals to virtually explore the collection. The headsets are part of an educational program designed to engage Philadelphians in areas where access to the Barnes may pose geographic hurdles, or where there are fewer opportunities to participate in the city’s cultural offerings.

“We are excited to expand the reach and impact of our virtual reality program throughout Philadelphia. Our collaboration with the Free Library of Philadelphia, and now with an expanded list of community partners, is a natural extension of Dr. Albert C. Barnes’s commitment to education and providing access to art for the enrichment of society,” says Val Gay, deputy director for audience engagement & chief experience officer. “We look forward to introducing new audiences to the Barnes collection and deepening our relationships with Philadelphia’s many diverse communities.”

In the program’s pilot phase, educators brought VR headsets to five local libraries each week for participants to see and learn about the Barnes collection through a guided virtual experience in their own neighborhood. After their virtual experience, each participant and a guest were invited to join a field trip to the Barnes. These fully escorted visits began at the neighborhood libraries, with transportation to and from the Barnes provided, and concluded with lunch and a group discussion about the experience.

Each program participant receives an Art for All Community Pass, offering free admission for one year to foster long-term engagement with the Barnes. In 2018, 80% of field trip participants were first-time visitors and 14% had not been to the Barnes in more than two years.

“Our VR program is one example of the exciting ways museums can use technology to reach, educate, and inspire new audiences. The program allows us to go beyond our walls and directly into the communities we serve, and the headsets are an effective way to stimulate curiosity, social engagement, and personal connections with art,” says Barbara Wong, director of community engagement. “The educators who guide participants through the virtual experience of the collection, and subsequently through the collection in person, provide the essential human element necessary for a more complete and meaningful experience.”

The virtual reality program and headsets were developed with support from the Barra Foundation.

Ongoing work continues through the Knight Center for Digital Innovation in Audience Engagement at the Barnes.

The Barnes Foundation is a nonprofit cultural and educational institution that shares its unparalleled art collection with the public, organizes special exhibitions, and presents programming that fosters new ways of thinking about human creativity. The Barnes collection is displayed in ensembles that integrate art and objects from across cultures and time periods, overturning traditional hierarchies and revealing universal elements of human expression. Home to one of the world’s finest collections of impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modernist paintings—including the largest groups of paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne in existence—the Barnes brings together renowned masterworks by such artists as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, and Vincent van Gogh, alongside ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and non-Western art as well as metalwork, furniture, and decorative art.

The Barnes Foundation was established by Dr. Albert C. Barnes in 1922 to “promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture.” Since moving to Philadelphia in 2012, the Barnes has expanded its commitment to teaching visual literacy in groundbreaking ways, investing in original scholarship relating to its collection, and enhancing accessibility throughout every facet of its program.

The Barnes is open Wednesday–Monday, and tickets can be purchased on-site, online, or by calling 215.278.7200. Ticket prices and current hours are listed on our website.

Deirdre Maher, Director of Communications
Online press office