The presence of new virtual reality (VR) technology is expanding by the day. From the Google Cardboard to the Oculus Rift, the means by which to transport yourself to a different, computer-generated environment are widespread and diverse.

Yet why, exactly, is VR all the rage? Outside the thrill of being immersed in a three-dimensional simulation, what might the practical benefits of VR technology be?

Virtual Reality as a Key to Cultural Preservation

One area in which VR maintains extraordinary potential is in the field of arts education and appreciation. Imagine, for example, if you were able to walk around Leonardo da Vinci’s studio as he painted the Mona Lisa, or if you were able to see one of Jeff Koons’ balloon dogs being fabricated through the eyes of the artist himself.

With recent advancements in today’s VR technology, such a situation is possible. Namely, we now have the ability to capture 360-degree videos, in which omnidirectional cameras (or a collection of cameras) can record an event in every direction at the same time.

Such is the idea at the core of 360ArtProject, a new, VR-centered arts endeavor that aims to form a nonprofit dedicated to advancing the educational arts benefits of VR. 360ArtProject’s mission is to document the work of all the current master artists, recording with 360-degree video capture the likes of Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, Ed Ruscha, Ai Weiwei, and Damien Hirst at work in their studios.

“We want to create a historical document that people can look back at years from now, to immerse themselves in 2017 when they’re living in 2037.”

360ArtProject will be produced under the guidance of Matt Cimaglia, the Founder and CEO of the award–winning production company, Cimaglia Productions. Matt has crafted a career around his ability to create powerful stories through the use of cutting-edge media technology: while at the helm of Cimaglia Productions, he was contracted to work for NBC Network News’ divisions, garnering a national News Emmy nomination for his work on NBC Nightly News and the Today Show. He has since gone on to found several technologically-driven start-ups, and is now eager to expand his entrepreneurial spirit into the realm of VR.

“So far, VR has been mostly used to immerse people in different worlds,” Matt explained in a recent interview about 360ArtProject. “We’re achieving that, but we also have a bigger goal — we want to create a historical document that people can look back at years from now, to immerse themselves in 2017 when they’re living in 2037.”

In this sense, 360ArtProject promises both to deliver an entirely unique arts experience, and to also serve as a means by which to understand, preserve, and disseminate our cultural and artistic heritage. Documenting these master artists at work will give unprecedented access to some of the world’s greatest artistic brilliance for generations to come.

“We want these videos to be accessible to everyone,” Matt said. “We’re not selling exclusive access; we’re not promoting any one type of artist. We’ll be uploading everything on YouTube and Facebook’s 360° platform, and sending digital files to the national archives for preservation. One day, we hope, they’ll be in museums and galleries, where you can see firsthand an artist’s process, then take off the headset and discover the final piece itself in a whole new way.”

Disrupting the Museum Experience

VR technology also has the potential to be a transformative new way to bring young generations into museums. For younger kids, a visit to a museum can prove to be an obtuse way to interact with art. One must contend with crowds and rely on placards or audio guides for background on a piece. Museums trips can likewise be a logistical difficulty for schools and busy families, as well as an economic burden.

“A museum must always be working to attract, inspire, and educate the public.”

VR technology, however, promises to mitigate these issues. VR presents an entirely new approach to the concept of a museum visit. With 360-video capture of artists at work in their studios, for example, one could project those recordings on a large scale to cover all four walls of an empty room. In this way, you could transform any old classroom into an immersive simulation of Yoko Ono, Robert Indiana, or Gerhard Richter hard at work creating masterpieces.

“When I was on a board at the Art Institute of Chicago,” Matt explained, “I got a firsthand look at the inner workings of a world-class museum that was constantly reinventing itself. In order to survive and thrive, a museum must always be working to attract, inspire, and educate the public. 360ArtProject will be a crucial tool to help that global mission.”

Capturing the Future

In addition to providing insight into the work habits of established masters and reinvigorating the museum experience, 360ArtProject also exists as a way to track the careers of emerging artists.

“We’re currently looking for master artists who would be comfortable letting us into their studios while they work,” Matt shared, “so we can capture the creative process behind these timeless masterpieces.”

Given recent threats to the funding for institutions such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the work of independent companies like 360ArtProject is more crucial than ever in supporting artistic excellence and granting public access to amazing achievements in the arts.

As part of his dedication to cultural preservation and promotion, Matt is working on another arts-related endeavor called Docent. Docent is an app that brings an interactive experience to museums across the world, harnessing the power of a scan feature (similar to a QR code) to instantaneously provide historical and artistic context on a given piece. Working in the user’s native language, Docent promises to provide an engaging workaround to crowded museum signage, language barriers, and clunky guidebooks.

Like 360ArtProject, Docent aims to make it easier to enjoy art.

A Shoutout to Master Artists

If you’re interested in having your own work recorded and preserved, you can reach out to 360ArtProject online here.

“If you’re an artist and you’re interested, please get in touch!” says Matt. “We can’t do this without you, and you’ll help play a crucial role in transforming how generations of arts lovers appreciate and interact with the pinnacle of human creativity.”

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