Metro Weekly

Spotlight: A Night at the (Virtual) Museum

Google Arts & Culture offers virtual tours of D.C.'s celebrated institutional collections

A collection of HIV Activism material, on loan from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Activism, Awareness, Prevention, and Treatment campaigns have changed the conversation about high-risk behaviors.

A decade ago, Google launched a project to make many major museums available at our fingertips, ready to explore virtually whenever and wherever we wanted, through its Google Arts & Culture online platform. Over time, other museums and galleries have individually ramped up their virtual offerings, and there’s never been a better time to take the digital museum plunge than now.

While it’s hard to match the real-life museum experience, a virtual wander through a museum’s exhibits comes with its own reward: you can take it all in at your own pace unimpeded and uninterrupted.

The Google platform, best experienced through its free downloadable app, features high-resolution images of some of the museum world’s most treasured works of art, and it is a good way to get to know the most celebrated institutional collections, among them D.C.’s National Gallery of Art, the Phillips Collection, and several of the Smithsonians, including the National Museum of Natural History.

Yet you can get a better handle on what’s in store at the most visited natural history museum in the world by taking a trip to its website, enhanced with Simulated WebVR (or Real WebVR if viewed through a WebVR-capable browser, or if you happen to own a VR headset).

Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World

You can virtually explore all of the museum’s current and permanent exhibitions, including one that in recent months has become timelier than ever. Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World is set up with displays about how “to prevent animal viruses from spilling over into humans” as well as how to properly respond to disease outbreaks — always in “quick, effective, and cooperative” fashion — all supplemented with case studies of historical epidemics, including smallpox, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and SARS. Visit www.naturalhistory.si.edu.

For a deeper dive into a deadly virus from a century ago that has echoes in today’s COVID-19, there’s the National Archives’ online exhibit The Deadly Virus: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918, telling the story of that plague’s spread through assembled documents and artifacts including letters, telegrams, and photos, many featuring face mask-wearing officials and public citizens.

That epidemic directly affected one-fifth of the world’s population and is responsible for an estimated 50 million deaths, killing “more people than any other illness in recorded history.” Visit www.archives.gov.


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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @ruleonwriting.

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