Who is involved

The project team introduces itself

A white woman in a white top with a blue blazer over it. She smiles, has long blonde hair and bangs across her forehead.
Nadine Kleinken, Assistant Researcher, photo: Veit Mette

I myself have always enjoyed going to museums to learn something new in an entertaining way and to have unique experiences. I would like to help others to experience this joy too. That’s why I find it exciting to explore new forms of media-based knowledge transfer that focus on playful learning and user orientation. This project is also very interesting from a technical point of view, as it combines many facets of museum work in a bold new way. I was already particularly interested in interdisciplinary research during my studies. What was usually neglected, however, was the practical connection, the reality check. I think it’s great that we’re taking a different approach in this project. Working directly with users is great fun and shows that the best ideas and experiences are created when we combine our different perspectives and skills.

From a purely technical point of view, it is something special among museum VR projects that the virtual museum replica, as a multi-user VR platform, focuses on bringing not only content, but also the social and communicative interactions of a museum into the digital space. Another special feature is the great flexibility and wide-ranging possibilities for self-direction thanks to the modular system. This is a direct reflection on how a museum can maintain the new technology as sensibly and sustainably as possible and keep it interesting.
Conceptually, it is exciting to see how virtual reality can help the museum to make more of its collection visible. With this technique, the Kunsthalle Bielefeld is also entering new areas for an art museum and can thus be perceived in a new light. It can create new meaning and reflect on itself differently. This makes it a project that has great potential to sustainably overcome the current and complex challenges that lie ahead as part of the upcoming transformation processes in the areas of digitalization and outreach (our mission statement).

I was born and grew up near Osnabrück and then studied history and media cultural studies in Cologne. After completing my Master’s degree in 2022, I was looking for a traineeship at a museum. This idea had solidified during my studies: Through my involvement in two student exhibitions and a media guide app for the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne.
When I came across the advertisements for the research traineeship at the Kunsthalle Bielefeld with a focus on education and communication and, above all, the development of the Virtual Kunsthalle, I applied immediately. Not only is Bielefeld close to my home, but researching and further developing the Virtual Kunsthalle as a tool for museum education and outreach also ties in directly with my master’s thesis. Here I was already interested in digitization as a challenge for museums and analysed the media based interplay between analogue and digital exhibition elements. I am very pleased that it worked out and that I have been part of the Kunsthalle Bielefeld since January 2023.

Outreach with its participative, co-creative approaches has its own dynamic. The content and methods of the museum’s usual educational work cannot simply be transferred to them. This way of working takes time and requires, at least temporarily, a detachment from one’s own demand for perfection. They can only be planned to a limited extent and should be able to react spontaneously to external impulses. In combination with a rather complex technology such as VR, it is not always easy to find the right balance between the institution of the museum, the specifics of the medium and the diverse needs of the users.

Moments and conversations with our users. For example:

A child and an elderly lady talking enthusiastically about their experiences with the Virtual Museum. The girl next to them has completely lost track of time while creating a virtual work of art.

The little boy with the VR headset stands in the middle of the museum and dances with joy, while the lady next to him has just had a successful experience with this unfamiliar technology.

An intensive discussion develops with a critical person about the relationship between digital media and a museum and what constitutes a museum today, the person tests the Virtuelle Kunsthalle and both sides have more understanding for each other afterwards.

White man in a white shirt. He smiles and has short dark gray hair
Matthias Albrecht, digital museum practice, photo: Veit Mette

There are three things that excite me about it: VR technology in general, the possibilities of the platform we use in particular and, thirdly, the co-creative development process.
In my opinion, there are two interesting things about the technology: the particularly good immersion and the possibilities for interaction. VR really immerses you. As much as is possible with any computer screen. That is simply very impressive.
The interaction possibilities are also fascinating for me. On the one hand, for example, the “tactile” interaction possibilities in the virtual world: I can take a pattern from the wall and use it to create a three-dimensional sculpture. On the other hand, the social possibilities: I can create the aforementioned sculpture together with others.
Our platform (Mozilla Hubs) in particular offers more social components than most other platforms we know. Taking a whole school class to a virtual museum is certainly a challenge. However, the platform offers us the opportunity to do so. Everyone can communicate with each other and create something together.
But probably the best thing about this project for me is the co-creative work. I love developing projects together with the people who will use the resulting product. This not only increases the likelihood that a project will be successful, it is also a lot of fun.

I have been working at the Kunsthalle Bielefeld since 2008. After studying literature, philosophy and psychology in Bielefeld, I did a traineeship in the education and mediation department of the Kunsthalle. I was then permanently employed. For many years, I helped design analog education and mediation services for our various users: from the very young to the elderly. It has always been important to me to create access points. Engaging with art can be beneficial for many people, but sometimes art can seem difficult to access. I work to ensure that as many people as possible can relate to art.
I have been interested in digital topics since I was a child. At the Kunsthalle and many other museums, however, they were never high on the to-do list. This changed abruptly in 2020 with the pandemic. Suddenly we had to work digitally, but we couldn’t do it at all. Based on my interest, I designed the first offers with colleagues. Since 2021, I have been responsible for the “Digital Museum Practice” area, in this role I initiated and developed the Virtual Kunsthalle project.

Here we tell the exact story of how the Virtuelle Kunsthalle came to be.

As with all digital projects, we need a certain budget and staff to be able to use and further develop the technology. And as with all digital projects, it can happen that we spend money on solutions or features that are not satisfactory to use or are developed further so quickly that our version seems outdated. These are fundamental challenges when we carry out projects in the digital sector and break new ground for ourselves.
What’s more, the project uses VR, a technology that is not yet very widespread. Will it prevail? We are therefore pleased that our project can also be used with many other devices.
Although Mozilla Hubs offers unique opportunities to use VR, especially in the museum sector, there is still a rather small number of users. It also needs people with expertise who can program extensions or help with errors.

Another challenge is to create an understanding of participatory work through the development of the Virtuelle Kunsthalle in an environment that until recently was traditionally oriented. In the past, users were rarely involved in the planning of any projects. This has been gradually changing in our company since 2020. It is a sensitive process that takes time. Working methods have a lot to do with habits. And ultimately also with the time available. We can only make the transformation we have initiated a success with empathy and patience.

It was and is great to see that people of all ages and with different levels of previous experience enjoy using our Virtuelle Kunsthalle. One boy, perhaps 10 years old, who tried out the Virtuelle Kunsthalle with his mother, particularly stuck in my mind. His mother kept asking him to go and see the exhibition in the physical museum. When my colleague finally asked him whether he had already discovered the artwork he was looking at virtually in the physical Kunsthalle, he immediately set off in search of it with great enthusiasm. It showed me that we don’t have to worry about digital replacing analog at some point. I personally have never worried about this, but it is a common prejudice, and in art museums in particular, analog and digital have long been seen as opposing poles. On the contrary! It’s about additions, it’s about other possibilities, not replacements.

Apart from this specific experience, the project itself is a great success for me. We are testing new working methods for our museum and involving a wide variety of people in the development of our offerings. This allows us to create a product that people will enjoy using. And we are changing our institution: we are becoming more open, more diverse. Listen to people and take their wishes and needs into account more than before. I am convinced that museums must follow this path if they want to remain successful in the long term.

Together with you

Angled view of a large white table. On it lie many printed-out pictures of artworks and notes. Colorful post its with handwritten notes are stuck on the pictures.
Results from the second meeting to design the Virtuelle Kunsthalle together with interested people, 16.4.2024, Photo: Kunsthalle Bielefeld

One goal of the Virtuelle Kunsthalle is to make our collection more easily and widely accessible and to open up new approaches to art via VR technology that are geared towards the needs of users. Since March 2024, we have therefore been meeting monthly with a group of interested people we met at our ‘Let’s get real’ events. We work together to improve what already exists and develop new ideas. We will design the next virtual exhibition together and take our prototype to a new level. For our meetings is no previous knowledge required. We want to be a museum for many and are therefore generally interested in what the pictures in our museum collection have to do with the reality of different people’s lives.

Are you interested in taking part? Then get in touch with us.