Israel’s museums go online for immersive experience amid pandemic
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Israel’s museums go online for immersive experience amid pandemic

Virtual guided tours of new exhibits and fun activities for visitors of all ages to be available

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Curator Shirly Ben-Dor Evian at Emoglyphs Picture-Writing from Hieroglyphs to the Emoji at the Israel Museum (Courtesy Sophia Kartavtzeva)
Curator Shirly Ben-Dor Evian at Emoglyphs Picture-Writing from Hieroglyphs to the Emoji at the Israel Museum (Courtesy Sophia Kartavtzeva)

Getting tired of Netflix, online learning and doing house chores during the coronavirus quarantine?

Try taking a virtual museum tour from your home.

Israel’s museums are using the web to offer cultural options during the coronavirus lockdown, hosting virtual tours of current exhibits, activities for the young and old, talks from curators and artists, and lectures.

“You can’t work on exhibits if nobody’s coming,” said Ido Bruno, director of the Israel Museum. “We had to see what we could gain from this, offering access from afar.”

The Israel Museum, with its massive collections of archaeology, Jewish ritual objects, fine arts and contemporary works, already offers virtual tours.

The museum’s site features virtual tours of the Jewish costume exhibit and Jewish art and life, as well as one of a 2000 exhibit in the Youth Wing (curated by Bruno, by chance) and another one of the popular 2014 Herod exhibit.

The exhibit includes vessels and vases, all used in Herod's palaces, gathered from other museums as well (photo credit: Elie Posner)
The exhibit includes vessels and vases, all used in Herod’s palaces, gathered from other museums as well (photo credit: Elie Posner)

As it became clear that gatherings of more than 100 people would be soon barred (ahead of Tuesday’s announcement), the museum staff began filming some of the newer exhibits that haven’t been opened yet due to the outbreak.

Staff also put together a mini website dedicated to new materials within the existing museum site, said Bruno.

“People can come visit from afar for right now, and we’ll keep adding things,” he said.

There are plans for live-streamed visits in the galleries with curators and artists and interactive events in which visitors can ask questions.

There are currently 13 arts and crafts workshops for kids and adults on the museum’s YouTube channel, ranging from bag making from CD sleeves to building a shelf out of cereal boxes and a giant pencil. Some are available in Hebrew and English, while others are only available in Hebrew.

“We’ll have more ideas with feedback from the public,” said Bruno, who expects to see a flurry of comments and shares from the museum’s social media.

Down in the Negev desert, the Ben Gurion’s Desert Home, where Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion and his wife Paula Ben-Gurion lived, is offering virtual guided tours (in Hebrew) every day at 10 a.m., 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. Visitors must register for the tours on the site.

It’s a fun way to spend an hour, taking a virtual walk through the couple’s bungalow and learning their history.

Meanwhile, The Tel Aviv Museum of Art is also planning to augment its online presence with more virtual tours, activities and videos.

There are currently several tours and audio guides, as well as a few kids’ activities, on its site.

If you weren’t one of the thousands who thronged the Tel Aviv Museum last weekend to see the highly anticipated Jeff Koons exhibit, it’s worth taking a glance at the museum’s Instagram, which posted fun selfies of visitors. You can also check out  Koons’ own Facebook page to follow posts about his pop art.

View this post on Instagram

#מבקריםמשתפים מהתערוכה החדשה שלנו, "ג'ף קונס: ערך מוחלט / מאוסף מרי וחוזה מוגרבי" . מפגש מיוחד בתערוכה עם אוצרת המשנה, שחר מולכו יתקיים ביום שלישי, 31.3 בשעה 19:00. לינק לרכישת כרטיסים בביו . צולם ע"י: @efratjudovits תייגו #TelAvivMuseumOfArt ואולי גם אתם תזכו להופיע אצלנו בעמוד – Photo taken by: @efratjudovits Tag photos of your visit with #TelAvivMuseumOfArt for a chance to be featured here! . #JeffKoons #OrangeDog #orangedog #orangeballoondog #Infrontofart #girlsinmuseums #artdaily #colourhunters #mytama

A post shared by מוזיאון תל אביב לאמנות (@telavivmuseumofart) on

In the north, Haifa’s cluster of museums will also offer virtual tours and audios of interviews with artists, as well as activities about collage, animation and stop motion. Check the museums’ Facebook page for more information.

Back in Jerusalem, the Tower of David Museum has been working on immersive virtual reality and gaming ahead of the Passover holiday. Now, rather than launching it during the holiday, the museum has teamed up with VR producers to put out an online version.

Working with partners Blimey and Canadian company OccupiedVR, the Tower of David Museum has created an experience that allows online visitors to “travel” to Jerusalem and immerse themselves in the Old City with a 360-degree virtual reality documentary.

The film includes footage of the Holy Fire ceremony in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the priestly blessings at the Western Wall and the Ramadan prayers in Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The museum will be offering it free of charge starting on the first day of Passover, through Easter weekend, and to the first day of Ramadan.

“My office overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem,” said Eilat Lieber, director of the Tower of David Museum. “Virtual reality can enable emotions felt as close to possible as when one is physically present. We hope that for those looking for hope in these uneasy times, and for those that might turn to prayer and to Jerusalem — might find a little bit of hope when becoming immersed in the Holy City.”

The documentary will available for viewing on a flat screen or with a VR headset.

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