Barnes Foundation Expands Virtual Reality Programs

The Barnes Foundation is expanding its virtual reality (VR) program, which kicked off last year in collaboration with the Free Library of Philadelphia. To serve a wider and more diverse audience, the program is expanding from five to 62 sites, including senior centers, parks and recreation centers, and select K–12 schools throughout Philadelphia, as well as Barnes community partners Taller Puertorriqueño, People’s Emergency Center, Project HOME, New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC), and SpArc.

The headsets are part of an educational program designed to engage Philadelphians in areas where access to the Barnes may pose geographic hurdles, or where there are fewer opportunities to participate in the city’s cultural offerings.

In the program’s pilot phase, educators brought VR headsets to five local libraries each week for participants to see and learn about the Barnes collection through a guided virtual experience in their own neighborhood. After their virtual experience, each participant and a guest were invited to join a field trip to the Barnes. These fully escorted visits began at the neighborhood libraries, with transportation to and from the Barnes provided, and concluded with lunch and a group discussion about the experience.

Each program participant receives an Art for All Community Pass, offering free admission for one year to foster long-term engagement with the Barnes. In 2018, 80% of field trip participants were first-time visitors and 14% had not been to the Barnes in more than two years.

The Barnes Foundation is a nonprofit cultural and educational institution that shares its art collection with the public, organizes special exhibitions, and presents programming that fosters new ways of thinking about human creativity.

The Barnes also offers free First Sunday Family Days sponsored by PECO. Hopefully this new VR program will help reach an even broader community in Philadelphia and beyond!