If you feel you're no good at appreciating art, it might be because you don't know how you're supposed to look at it. For example, the more you hear about the story of the painter's life, trivia concerning the painter's greatness and techniques, or the piece of art's reputation or the history that is woven into it, then you understand more and it arouses your interest. However, when you do step into an art museum, even if you see famous paintings or sculptures, you still may not find them moving. This leaves you feeling unhappy. What you really want to feel is that moment of inspiration when the light bulb turns on in your head because when you look at the painting, it provides a hint like a fertilizer for your life, and you feel like painting something yourself. A painting teacher once said, “I step away from the painting to take it all in, and then I get a little closer to enjoy the brushwork. You only need to really examine the works that make you feel something, so you don't have to try and find something in all of them.” We should be thankful for these words. And if what this teacher said is true, then we can do the same thing. But even with this thought, you may still be unable to embrace the sensation of the “encounter.” Be that as it may, most people like art museums, and many will go to see the same exhibit time and time again. Eventually, the coronavirus pandemic will subside, and the museums of art, natural history, and so on will reopen their doors. Many people believe that art is best appreciated in the real world and are very much looking forward to the museums reopening. However, in many countries outside of Japan, the openings of places where people gather have in many cases been postponed. Under these circumstances, new ways of appreciating art are appearing.

Just as it has done to the tourism industry, the coronavirus pandemic has obviously struck a heavy blow for art museums, art appreciation tours, and the like. With stay-at-home orders and social distancing widespread, the number of visitors to art museums continues to fall. When you appreciate art, you cannot touch the painting or the sculpture anyway. But what has everybody scared is places where people gather. Therefore, Hastings Contemporary, a museum of modern art in England, has taken up the challenge. Introducing Hastings Contemporary Robot Tours.

Image : HASTINGS CONTEMPORARY

In the tour, participants operate a highly mobile “telepresence robot” equipped with a high-resolution camera on a Segway – a two-wheeled electric vehicle a person normally rides while standing – to provide a perspective that is like actually being inside the museum. With this setup, participants follow a tour guide through the art museum. Accenture Plc, an Irish company, and the University of the West of England's Bristol Robotics Lab, collaborated to develop and launch the robot. Originally, the museum had planned for an experience where visitors could just take a look inside this gallery, but they ended up turning it into a full-fledged tour. Under the original idea, the quality of the experience would have been better the more visitors know about the museum in general, but trials of the robot tours found that it worked well enough for visitors to examine the paintings closely and enjoy the details.

Each tour can accommodate up to five people. Five minutes before it starts, they are sent a URL to click so they can join. This lets them enjoy the tour without having to configure anything in advance or install software. There are two robots per group. One is the tour guide, while the other one is for the participants to control. The robot's controls are simple. Using a web browser connected to the cameras of the robot and the users, guests can move the robot with the arrow keys on their keyboard. The high-resolution camera comes with a zoom function which creates new ways of having fun at the museum, for example by being able to take an even closer look at the paintings than would be possible in person. The wheels are self-balancing to keep the robot steady while moving. It also has an adjustable height ranging from about 120 to 150 cm, allowing the robot to move easily in any part of museum. In a normal gallery tour, guests are expected to listen quietly and attentively to the guide, and they tend to be shy about asking questions. This usually makes it a passive experience. It is worth taking note that this is different with the robot tours, where participants can feel more open, with more lively communication between the guide and guests as they chat and ask questions. It seems to have been a much more exciting experience than previous museum tours. To make the robot tours even more appealing, the museum is offering personal guides, remote curation, guides using prerecorded video, and other experiments in augmenting the virtual space. At present, Hastings Contemporary is providing the tours four times a week for 30 minutes a day. The creators are satisfied that there has been so much interest in the robot tours. They also say they want to find a way so that in the near future, anybody can take advantage of the tours. In addition, the museum says it will use robots to start up an interactive art class for local children.

The museum, run as a nonprofit institution, receives a state subsidy, but this only accounts for no more than 20% of its operating expenses. Other expenses are covered through ticket sales, renting out the museum, and other means. If the exhibits are closed, then this quickly puts the museum's finances into peril. Other small art museums are in a similar predicament. They are experimenting with last-resort measures such as the robot tour and improving upon them, as they must explore ways to continue operating. One silver lining of the robot tours is that it has unearthed opportunities for the disabled, seniors, and people living in faraway countries to appreciate this museum's works. Furthermore, the increase in virtual visitors will hopefully help boost the museum's meager proceeds and lead to new opportunities after the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

The tourism industry is also trying new things. The Faroe Islands, where 60,000 tourists and 50,000 cruise ship passengers visit each year, consists of 18 small islands in the North Atlantic Ocean between the Shetland Islands of Scotland, the western coast of Norway, and Ireland. An autonomous territory of Denmark, the islands, along with the Danish mainland and Greenland, form the Kingdom of Denmark. The Faroe Islands have an area of 1,400 square kilometers and a population of just under 50,000. The Faroes are known for sheep ranching, with 80,000 sheep on the islands. The main industry is fishing, but the Faroe Islands are also a treasure trove of music and lore, and tourism demand is high. This is because the islands retain the old culture of Scandinavia in ways that Norway and Iceland do not. The main tourist attraction on the Faroes is a “chain dance,” an essential part of seasonal events such as festivals and Christmas. In this dance, one person is the leader, with a chorus following along to tell Faroese folktales as the dancers step and sing. Apparently, this was a widespread practice in Scandinavia during the time of the Vikings, but today, for some reason, it only remains on the Faroe Islands. St. Olaf's Day, in July, is the most important event on the calendar in the Faroe Islands. People from around the country gather in a square outside of Parliament to perform a giant chain dance that continues from sunset to about three in the morning. The leader of the dance is none other than the prime minister! The event is reminiscent of public gatherings dating back to the age of the Vikings.

Image : HASTINGS CONTEMPORARY

Not unexpectedly, the Faroe Islands have banned all outside visitors during the coronavirus pandemic. Visit Faroe Islands, the local tourism bureau, started up a virtual tourism project dubbed The Faroe Islands Virtual Tourism so that people can experience the allure of the islands online. When a tour begins, an islander with a camera strapped to the head acts in place of the guest to tour various locations around the islands. Guests can explore the rugged mountains, view waterfalls and the spaces between them up close, enjoy conversing with locals, or check out a traditional thatched roof house. They can even join activities such as kayaking, horse riding, and hiking. In fact, guests can use a game controller to give directions to the guide they see online. You can tell the guide to move forward. There is even a jump button to make them hop. These kinds of actions make for an experience that feels like it is happening more in real time. The controller makes for an interactive experience that seeks to achieve a very impressive level of realness. For example, a guest can have the guide ride a horse. The one-hour tours are held twice a day at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. local time. Each guest can control a guide as they like for two minutes.

Due to the tour's popularity, while the islands normally receive 60,000 tourists a year, in the two weeks after the remote tour's launch on April 15, 2020, 160,000 people had already joined. The remote tours are also free of charge. However, to build excitement for the people who were forced to cancel their trips due to the coronavirus and who want to travel somewhere after the pandemic subsides, these remote tours may make them want to visit the Faroe Islands someday. The tours were thus organized to make the islands tourists' first destination of choice when they do travel somewhere. Will this plan be a success?

At present, with so many countries not allowing people to leave their borders, this sort of remote tourism is helping to relieve many people's wanderlust. Beyond the Faroe Islands, the government of Egypt, a country that also relies heavily on tourism income, is also sponsoring a new remote tourism program. It involves a virtual tour where guests are in control as they peruse history by entering the 5,000-year-old tombs of the likes of Meresankh III and Menna. This is how the current stay-at-home orders may instigate a change in the nature of travel. After the coronavirus pandemic, remote tourism will allow busy modern people to travel to faraway places at their leisure. This form of travel, if its quality is raised, has the potential to become entrenched as a new type of tour.

The fact is that before this website was launched, we had coincidentally considered offering the actual Cannes Lions exhibition in the style of the Faroe Islands tours. In the coronavirus pandemic, we are among those who have abandoned plans to hold a real-life exhibition. If we could, at some time we would like to host the exhibition in the real world and hire influencers to act as guides offering explanations to encourage people to participate online as well. What do you think? Are you interested? Of course, it will come with a jump, and even a dash, button on the controller.

Speaking of before the pandemic, when times were normal, the tourism bureau in Melbourne, Australia had organized virtual tours to promote sightseeing. Tour guests requested people there to act on their behalf and do the things they want to do when they visit Melbourne: eat certain food, go shopping, visit sightseeing spots, and go on rides that they themselves wanted to. Information on the restaurants, stores, and other places they visited were recorded on a virtual map to create a guidebook in real time. In addition to this personalized guidebook, participants could view other guests' guidebooks. This allowed them to get the most reliable information for when they actually visit the city. Recently, paper guidebooks have come into disuse, but the creation of up-to-date trend guides based on information aggregated in the virtual world could still be put to quite good use.

This, in fact, is exactly the result the Melbourne promotions had intended. Compared to other Australian cities, Melbourne does not have any eye-catching major tourism resources. Instead, the city has several hundred unique stores. The city wanted to promote their variety, but if this information were put into a typical guidebook, then it would just look like a catalog-like listing of small shops. The concern was that even people who have visited Melbourne may find it difficult to clearly convey what makes the city great. Therefore, the tourism bureau decided to arouse in potential visitors an empathetic connection by showing them the emotional experience at each individual store, even though this would happen online. This produced emotional engagement while also generating loyalty. The footage and other materials were then viewed by 150 million people during the promotion. The virtual tour acted as a practice run, to be followed by a real-world tour to satisfy the traveler's desire. The campaign was appropriately named “Go Before You Go.” It gives the sense that in the future, advance travel planning and arrangements will undergo significant change.

In this situation when the chips are down, it seems like just the right time when perhaps we will create something new by thinking outside the box like this and trying a lot of different things, causing the way we amuse ourselves to change or be changed. There is also a case here at Cannes Lions that developed a new way to enjoy art galleries: the Van Gogh BNB.

The Art Institute of Chicago had concerns during its Van Gogh exhibition. The museum frequently hosts exhibits of such famous art, and it was worried that people's interest would wane and they would not bother coming. Furthermore, unless the museum started doing something different, people might gradually become satisfied just looking at exhibits of works by famous painters in catalogs or the like. The museum therefore contemplated whether there was something they could do with a new angle that would arouse people's interest in Van Gogh. The idea they came up with was for people to learn about the painting as well as to gain deeper knowledge of the painter's life. The approach came from the insight mentioned here at the beginning that while people may not be interested in a painting, they are drawn to stories about a painter's life. The museum took one of the works scheduled for exhibit, “The Bedroom” (a painting of a bedroom where Van Gogh actually slept), and made a three-dimensional reproduction so that people could actually experience being in that room. The museum describes it as an augmentation of how we enjoy viewing painting by entering the picture. It is the creation of an immersive experience of an art show that goes beyond the conventional wisdom.

In the making of an exact three-dimensional reproduction of a two-dimensional world, the room was hailed for faithfully representing the perspective, colors, and the details of the bedroom, as well as for the quality. Along with the bedroom, the accommodations for guests staying here also come complete with necessities such as a kitchen, bathroom, and living room. By producing more than just the bedroom in the painting, the museum offers guests a comfortable overnight stay. Furthermore, care was even taken to make sure guests have access to TV and Wi-Fi. The room is available to book on Airbnb for $10 (around 1,100 yen). Two replicas of Van Gogh's bedroom have been produced, with one installed at the museum and one in a nearby apartment. The reproduction of the bedroom in the museum offers a more immersive experience with a large screen projecting images of Van Gogh's letters and sketches. There are also sound effects to complement the digital experience.

This combination of art and the hospitality business has been commended as a novel idea for a new means of marketing that approaches both art connoisseurs and those who want to try out Airbnb's services. Of course, the people who stay here will share it on social media and speak emphatically about the moving experience. What would it be like to have a real experience of a famous painting in 3D? When you think about it that way, appreciating painting sounds pretty chic. The $10 for the booking, by the way, also includes a solo exhibit ticket. Through this sort of experience, people who have no interest in paintings may gradually get sucked into that world.

VAN GOGH BNB

This is how, when we are forced to give up the way things have always been, being open to taking a chance to innovate in a big way and trying out a different approach can open up unexpected paths. Doing away with stereotypes and preconceptions can be a major challenge. It is even more uncommon to encounter something that urges us to do so. In this coronavirus pandemic, we have been forced into that moment. And as we face the pandemic, various knowledge and contrivances are being created, along with a new standard and a new normal, which are likely to become entrenched. However, we still have to produce the trigger for change on our own.

Take, for example, a “support screening” where moviegoers are encouraged to enjoy the film by loudly cheering on the characters on the screen, as opposed to the traditional way of quietly taking in a movie. The audience is allowed to yell during the screening, engage in cosplay, and make their own voiceovers. During the climactic scenes, everybody shouts in glee, makes sarcastic comments, repeats the actors' lines as a chorus... They even have fun bringing in glow sticks, like at a concert. The real thrill from these support screenings is that fans share in the excitement and emotion of the film. The shared fun throughout the theater can cause a sensation on the internet and by word-of-mouth, adding to the number of fans who keep going to take in the movie again and again. It's a phenomenon that boosts demand for repeat business. This is not a response to a negative situation, but rather an idea for further expanding on the fun of a place. We could describe it as a creation that surpasses what others consider to be the conventional wisdom or a matter of course at that time. Incidentally, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the British horror musical film from 1975, is considered the originator of the interactive movie: like at support screenings, shouting out lines, throwing confetti, and indulging in cosplay are all part of the viewing experience. Even if you are discussing an entirely novel idea, the past may still offer relevant lessons. By regularly doubting our assumptions and considering how we could do things better, we break down those customs. And if we can initiate such action on our own, then that is awesome.