Inviting visitors into virtual worlds for exhibitions and events
Founded by the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation, the Pera Museum opened in June 2005, housed in a refurbished 19th century hotel in one of Istanbul’s historic districts. Exhibitions, publications, events, and learning activities highlight Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation’s three permanent collections: “Orientalist Paintings,” “Anatolian Weights and Measures,” and “Kütahya Tiles and Ceramics.” The museum also organizes temporary exhibitions and film programs, introducing the Turkish audience to internationally acclaimed artists as well as young and emerging artists.
The Pera Museum was already developing its digital capabilities prior to the pandemic. Initiatives ranged from holograms to mapping, games, virtual reality, digital publications, and Google Arts & Culture exhibits. During the pandemic, museum staff deepened digital efforts and turned their attention more fully to virtual audiences. 3D virtual exhibitions became an ongoing component of exhibition planning and budgeting, with the museum developing virtual exhibitions accessible online and compatible with VR headsets. Educational programming expanded to reach children across Turkey through online classes and workshops as well as virtual tours and educational presentations.
Alongside regular programming including online films, artist talks, conferences, and curator talks, the museum began experimenting with event formats. Recognizing digital platforms as a way to reach younger audiences, the Pera Museum organized Stage of Plastic Dreams using Mozilla hubs in collaboration with HYPERCORTEX and with the support of the British Council. The event provided an opportunity to directly support artists by commissioning new work, pairing 16 artists with 16 musicians/DJs to create projects for an interactive virtual event space. Additionally, the project helped the museum expand its network by connecting with featured artists’ audiences and offering a distinctive experience in a saturated virtual arts and culture environment.
In launching such initiatives, the museum takes an iterative approach. Büşra Mutlu, communication and public programming coordinator, explains that staff strive to give new initiatives “space to breathe.” This embrace of trial and adjustment enables staff to gather observations, audience feedback, and new learning, taking risks and giving initiatives time to develop. For example, in addition to offering something new for audiences, Stage of Plastic Dreams provided staff with insights into challenges at the intersection of audiences and infrastructure. Beyond the difficulty of unreliable high-speed internet, staff noticed different ages accessing content on different devices—smartphones for younger audiences, laptops for working adults, tablets for older audiences. Mutlu notes, “You may be presenting something really groundbreaking but if the people who are going to experience it don’t have the necessary equipment or computer literacy, you will have a hard time.” Underscoring the need to plan for such contingencies to make encounters as easy as possible for audiences, Mutlu emphasizes, “When it comes to digital projects and events, what is important is how the audience will experience it.”
Throughout the pandemic, museum leadership and staff have remained open to testing new approaches, adapting, and learning. Already, in a May 2020 think piece, Özalp Birol, Pera Museum general manager, proclaimed, “The chaos created by the pandemic dissolves everything we know and ushers in a new period.” While the course of the pandemic remains uncertain, the flexibility and willingness to take on new challenges while centering audience experiences and needs positions the Pera Museum to continue to be a museum to watch.