How one art gallery is producing virtual tours like you’ve never seen

Gone, at least temporarily, are the days of cramming into a typically packed Dark Art Emporium opening reception or any art show, for that matter. But the gallery has found another way to show its exhibitions to the public: a virtual tour of the space.

If you’ve seen a virtual tour before, this one’s really quite astonishing in that you truly do feel like you’re there.

Every painting, nook and cranny of the gallery of the current exhibition, COMMUNION (on view digitally through June 1) is viewable in pristine detail and color with a click of the mouse. The images are so clear that you can almost hear your own footsteps on the concrete floors and imagine yourself leaning in to see more details. And as you take a moment to view each piece, you can also access information about the artist and the artwork, and click a link which takes you directly to DAE’s site to buy.

When DAE had to close due to shut down orders, owner Jeremy Schott and assistant director Jeremy Cross had to figure out just how they would make up for the loss of foot traffic through the gallery which was recently adjoined to Downtown pizzeria, The 4th Horseman.

“The most obvious was to create a way for people to visit without leaving home, this led us to researching virtual exhibition options,” said Schott.

Inspired by viewing virtual tours of properties for sale, and envisioning that the same technology could be transferred to a gallery setting, they bought a Go-Pro 360 MAX and found a program that would enable them to not only let people tour the space virtually but click on links to find out more about and potentially purchase individual works online.

Sam Simmons of Brickworks Infrastructure LLC, creates virtual tours for real estate, but also art galleries, in Long Beach Wednesday, May 27, 2020. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

But following a trial run of putting these tools to use, the two found they wanted to be able to do even more—3D mapping, for example—so they ended up hiring a friend, Sam Simmons, owner, CEO and head draftsman at Brickworks, a design firm in Long Beach specializing in site plan layouts for music festivals, including ones put on by Goldenvoice and Live Nation.

Like hundreds of thousands of others employed by festivals year-round, Simmons’ firm is largely out of work and is having to find new and innovative ways to put his skills to use.

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“It’s an entire industry, a labor force out of work just waiting to be tapped into,” Simmons said. “It’s rough, but we’re making it work.”

With about 15 festivals either canceled or postponed—he typically does about one festival a month—he’s since dipped into a new line of work, creating virtual and interactive environments for local businesses that have had to close, including Dark Art Emporium, as well as real estate companies wanting to give virtual tours of their properties for sale.

Using the same professional-grade survey equipment—a $6,000 Matterport Pro 2 camera takes full 360-degree captures—and CAD software subscriptions he would normally use to design an expansive festival layout, Simmons can achieve the “deep, rich and crisp results” visible in Dark Art Emporium’s virtual gallery, compared to the more DIY method of using Matterport’s free phone app, or even the GoPro Schott and Cross first tried.

Sam Simmons of Brickworks Infrastructure LLC, 360 camera what he creates virtual tours for real estate, but also art galleries, in Long Beach Wednesday, May 27, 2020. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

And it’s not as expensive as most people think. A tour similar to DAE’s would cost between $500 and $1,000, Simmons said.

“If you can, go to a professional,” Schott said. “If that’s not in your budget, try what we did at first. But this is one of those things where you really do get what you pay for.”

Was creating a virtual gallery accessible enough to replace the sales generated from DAE’s now absent foot traffic? Well, it certainly helped, but not without a supplemental engagement strategy.

When COMMUNION, DAE’s latest exhibition and the one depicted in the virtual gallery, first opened earlier this month, Schott and Cross hosted their first ever Facebook Live opening reception. More than 600 people watched as they walked viewers through the exhibition, talking about each piece, with the artists also available online to answer questions.

“It led to the sale of several works,” Schott said.

Communion – Opening Reception Live

Posted by The Dark Art Emporium on Saturday, May 9, 2020

The two also started a podcast, ART PIT, where they talk about the gallery’s history with their favorite mortician, and bring on other gallerists to discuss the future of the field.

Schott said they’re going to continue following the city’s guidelines until it’s safe to open up again, and when that happens, extra sanitation and only allowing visitors inside by appointment or in small groups will likely be the new normal. For now, customers can order online or over the phone, pick up their purchases curbside at DAE’s Downtown location or choose to have them delivered.

Simmons agreed he sees creating these virtual environments as a major step forward for all types of businesses, whether they’ve had to close due to the pandemic or not.

“Businesses large and small should be leveraging this technology,” Simmons said. “These virtual tours allow you to open back up not only locally but to a global audience. You can frame and present your space in great detail and really paint the narrative of what you’re trying to show.”

While implementing these relatively new technologies to keep business afloat seems to be working, with seemingly limitless potential for showing now inaccessible spaces to an even larger audience, “nothing will ever replace having actual people in the gallery and we can’t wait for that to happen again,” Schott said.

COMMUNION is viewable online until June 1 at darkartemporium.com. Starting June 6 viewers can look forward to seeing DAE’s expansive annual group show of miniature works, “Tiny Terrors 3,” complete with a virtual gallery by Brickworks, and a Facebook Live opening. Learn more about Brickworks at brickworksllc.co.

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Asia Morris has been with the Long Beach Post for five years, specializing in coverage of the arts. Her parents gave her the name because they wanted her to be a world traveler and they got their wish. She has obliged by pursuing art, journalism and a second career as a competitive cyclist.
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