One website, dozens of Canadian galleries: New project lets you take a 'Field Trip' from home
COVID-19's inspired a ton of virtual arts content. This website aims to bring you the country's best
Content isn't the problem. Feel like watching a five-hour video tour of the Hermitage? An exclusive performance, straight from the Tate Modern? Maybe you want to be so close to a Van Gogh you can practically smell the sunflowers?
It's all out there, and more is coming. And as Canada's own arts institutions have shut down due to COVID-19, there's been a rush to produce endless digital extensions of the IRL gallery experience — so much so that by day one of "working from home," the team at Contemporary Calgary was overwhelmed by the options already out there.
"We were seeing such a dizzying array of programming online from galleries and museums and institutions across the country," says David Leinster, the gallery's CEO. And when they closed up March 13, the staff researched their peers and sprang into problem-solving mode. How were they going to continue their programming? What does a housebound audience want? And what's the best way of reaching them?
"We're all trying to figure it out," says Leinster. "How is it that we can take an experience that's really meant to be physical and create meaning in any way?"
"There's so much amazing content, but it's hard to navigate because there's so much of it," adds Ryan Doherty, Contemporary Calgary's chief curator.
To him and the rest of the staff, that looked like an opportunity. Says Leinster: "We just saw it as a moment for all of the galleries to come together."
And in less than a month, they'd made it happen.
Field Trip: Art Across Canada is an online platform that gathers digital programming from the country's various museums and galleries. Launched last week, it's still taking its first baby steps, but upcoming content will focus on a few specific areas. Doherty says audiences can expect art tutorials, speaker series and workshops, with fresh items published daily.
Everything featured on the site will be produced, and promoted, by a network of partners: major institutions from every region of the country. As of writing, 19 are listed on the website, including The Rooms, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Canada.
"Every single gallery I talked to was having the same meetings, thinking about different ways that they could get online content out," says Doherty. "It just took someone to say: 'Hey, let's do this together!"
Gaëtane Verna, director of the Power Plant, was the first person he called.
"For me, [Field Trip] is a great initiative because it enables us to tie the country together," says Verna. The Toronto contemporary art gallery was already developing their own COVID-19 content plans when she got the word about Field Trip. A remote version of their Power Kids program is in the works, and they're also pursuing a new series of art projects: original commissions from local artists. Field Trip, she says, could be an opportunity to get those works in front of a broader audience.
"I think that we need to promote the importance of arts and culture from coast to coast," she says. "I think it's the reason I was interested in this initiative. It was enabling our public, the Power Plant larger public, to also get to know these other institutions that they might never have visited, never have heard of."
There's so much amazing content, but it's hard to navigate because there's so much of it.- Ryan Doherty, chief curator, Contemporary Calgary
Leadership of the project will be shared between the partners, says Doherty. "We were the first people to start making phone calls, but truly, the idea is to make this a collaborative effort."
Each partner has different resources, however, and COVID-19 closures are already threatening the institutions dependent on visitors for revenue. (Last month, the Canadian Museums Association appealed to Ottawa for a special relief fund. Dollars for digital projects was another one of their requests.)
When COVID's over, this isn't over.- Ryan Doherty, chief curator, Contemporary Calgary
So far, Field Trip's partners have shared resources where they can. The Vancouver Art Gallery, for instance, is helping with marketing and communications. But beyond building a network for the institutions themselves, the Field Trip mandate involves supporting Canadian artists. Calgary artist duo DaveandJenn were paid to produce Field Trip's first video, for example — an instructional video for making paper puppets.
"This is obviously a very critical moment. How are we going to ensure that artists are going to continue to be supported by us in this environment?" says Doherty. "I suspect as this gains momentum, artists will start coming up with ideas for museums."
It's a vision that extends beyond the current state of emergency. "When COVID's over, this isn't over," says Doherty. "There's no reason this has to be related only to this pandemic."
"Over time, there could be hundred of things that you could experience here with our most celebrated artists."
"I would hope that once we're on the other side of the pandemic that we keep a similar spirit," says Verna. "I think this shows how we are tied together and how we can rapidly work together to support our communities."
"I hope we keep Field Trip alive so that we can continue to collaborate together. Because I think we can reach so many more people in this way."
Find the project at www.fieldtrip.art.
CBC Arts understands that this is an incredibly difficult time for artists and arts organizations across this country. We will do our best to provide valuable information, share inspiring stories of communities rising up and make us all feel as (virtually) connected as possible as we get through this together. If there's something you think we should be talking about, let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. See more of our COVID-related coverage here.