In an effort to remain in business while providing content for those under stay-at-home orders, museums and galleries around the world have expanded their online presence with offerings including high-resolution imagery, archival videos, and experimental programming. Hastings Contemporary, a small gallery on the southern coast of England, has gone one step further than its peers by offering videoconferencing robots in the space that allow up to five “visitors” at a time to roam its halls, participate in live exhibition tours, and take in views of the English Channel just beyond the gallery walls.
The typical museum experience, Hastings Contemporary contends, can be nearly replaced by a camera sitting atop four small wheels. “The gallery is delighted that through its adoption of this technology it will be able to continue to support families, children and older visitors alike, offering opportunities to enter the gallery space from the comfort of a sofa, bed or kitchen table,” the gallery’s website reads. The program also has the potential to become a more interactive and immersive alternative to the virtual museum experiences offered by Google Arts & Culture, which are limited to the photographs taken by 360-degree cameras.
The ‘telepresence’ offered by the robots, developed by Double Robotics, allows Hastings Contemporary to not only provide a service to those currently self-isolation to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus but also members of the disabled community that are physically unable to visit the space. “Barriers to accessing art are huge in many places in the cultural sector, and far precede this health crisis, and I’m proud to say that Hastings Contemporary has very worked hard, since its inception, to be disability-friendly and accessible to all,” Liz Gilmore, Director of Hastings Gallery, expressed in a press statement. The gallery developed the concept in collaboration with Disability and Community (D4D) and Accentuate UK, two local research programs investigating novel methods by which disabled people can engage in public settings.
Members of Hastings Contemporary are now able to request reservations for robot-assisted tours of its two current exhibitions: Anne Ryan: Earthly Delites, and The Age of Turmoil: Burra, Spencer, Sutherland.