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Museum in Dresden Breaks New Ground with Presence in Second Life

DRESDEN.- The premiere was an international success: In May 2007, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (Dresden State Art Collections) became the first to open a virtual museum in Second Life. Since then the faithful reproduction of the renowned Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) has fascinated visitors from all over the world. Its success prompted Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden to launch a new, extended version of its Dresden Gallery, which was developed in cooperation with the Berlin-based company Second Interest AG – Virtual Business Solutions.

Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden first initiated the virtual museum as an experiment in order to explore the communications potential of the 3D Internet for an internationally renowned cultural institution. Prof. Dr. Martin Roth, Director General of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, emphasizes the necessity of establishing a virtual presence within Web 3.0 to attract younger visitors, in particular, and arouse their curiosity about the museum in real life. “We were surprised by the level of interest in art we found in the online community. The feedback we received indicates a great interest both in the works in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister and in experiencing and exchanging views on art in general.” In Roth’s words: “In view of the potential that can be unlocked by expanding the Dresden Gallery, we had no doubts about continuing the project.” Thus the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden are especially grateful to Prof. Dr. Lutz Hagen, Managing Director of the Institute of Communications Science at Technische Universität Dresden, and his students for their evaluation of the Dresden Gallery’s pilot phase. “In SECOND INTEREST AG – Virtual Business Solutions we have found an extremely capable partner for extending the Dresden Gallery over the next two years.” Roth asserted that the establishment of a social network known as “Friends of Dresden Gallery” will lie at the heart of these efforts.

When the Dresden Gallery experiment was launched in May 2007, the team at Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden commissioned Prof. Hagen and his students with its academic evaluation. The results of their assessment will be presented at the press conference. A so-called landscanner automatically registers the number of avatars visiting the virtual gallery. Approximately 60,000 visits have been registered since the gallery opened in 2007. The daily average of approx. 100 visits is roughly equivalent to half a percent of the total number of users who log into Second Life every day. In view of the approx. 1.5 million active participants and the dazzling diversity of offers vying for the attention of Second Life users, this can be taken as quite a high result. It should also be noted that Second Life users log in from all over the world, and that therefore only very few have had the opportunity to visit the gallery in real life or had contact with it via any other channel of communication. As Professor Lutz Hagen emphasises, the fact that there is almost no overlap between the traditional audience of the Dresden Old Masters Picture Gallery and the Second Life target group makes the response all the more astonishing.

As the entries in the virtual visitors’ book (a further evaluation tool) show, users are mainly impressed by the superb graphic presentation. Research also shows that the virtual gallery has also been used as a follow-up to real-life visits to the gallery proper.

A range of surveys conducted as part of the accompanying research give more precise information on how exactly the virtual gallery is used. Students of the institute entered Second Life as virtual identities in order to ask other avatars why they visit the virtual gallery, how it came to their attention and their opinion of it. The behaviour and activities of the avatars who visited the virtual gallery was ob-served and analysed. Finally, the visitors to the real Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden were asked if they had heard of the virtual gallery or would like to find out more about it.

The research provided the following results: 1) The virtual gallery has a steady fan base 2) A significant proportion of heavy Second Life users are interested in the arts 3) The visitors of the virtual gallery are mainly recruited from this base 4) The visitors all rate the gallery very positively and spend a comparatively long time there 5) Some real-life visitors to the gallery could be persuaded to try the virtual equivalent through appropriate communication measures 6) The number of visitors to the virtual gallery sinks or swims with advertising (in other media).

Michael Schumann, CEO at SECOND INTEREST Virtual Business Solutions, explains the innovative concept that will be incorporated into the Dresden Gallery, particularly as a result of building up a social network. According to him, the newly-founded “Friends of Dresden Gallery” community will create new perspectives in communicating with visitors and holding their interest because it will take the vital step of transforming a virtual representation into a vibrant community. Even if users continue to draw attention to the extremely realistic character of the representation, it is not this aspect that determines whether the project is a success or not. What really makes a virtual online world attractive is its immersion, interaction and collaboration features. These are the reason why users get so deeply involved and spend so many hours in these worlds. Schumann points out another advantage that the virtual museum will create for Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden - it will allow them to try out new business models. In just a couple of years, virtual fundraising and virtual item sales could have a permanent place in the SKD marketing mix.

Dr. Andreas Henning, Curator of Italian Paintings and initiator of the Dresden Gallery, believes the decision for Web 3.0 was the right one, especially in view of purely informative internet projects such as the new collaboration between the Museo Nacional del Prado and Google Earth. Sustainable types of communication and evaluation are crucial so museums can reach new segments of the public and win them over. Take, for instance, the length of time that visitors spend at Dresden Gallery - each of the 100 users visiting each day spends more than 30 minutes there on average (since many of them are repeat visitors, the figure is actually twice that). More than a third of all users log in from the United States; other important sources of members are Germany, France, Great Britain and Spain, followed by Japan, Canada, India, Australia and Poland. Among the virtual community’s most innovative elements is its potential as an outlet for members to influence the real-world activities of the museum, says Henning. In 2012, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna”, the star of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister. The angels lounging at the bottom of the painting have been featured countless times in various degrees of kitsch around the world for the past 200 years. “To help us get ready for the Raphael exhibition, we will be calling on the virtual community from fall 2009 to find examples of the Sistine angels’ world-wide presence and send us their own design ideas. Their contributions will then be presented and discussed in a virtual exhibition space.”

Clare Rees, European Marketing Director at Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, says: “The value of museums such as the Dresden Gallery in Second Life is especially important to the rapidly growing research and education sector. There are over 90 libraries, upwards of 20 technology museums and many more art and cultural institutions that are reaching new, global audiences with their Second Life presence. The ability to run events and attract geographically spread audiences is one of the key reasons institutions such as this one are embracing the opportunity that Second Life offers. The Art and Culture community in Second Life has never been more healthy. We continue to see growth in activity in Second Life with the number of hours users are spending in-world increasing to over 400 million by the end of 2008 a growth of over 67%. Residents are spending over US $100m every quarter on virtual goods and services. The focus now at Linden Lab is to make sure that the experience of using and engaging with Second Life is a good as possible. Our priorities are to ensure a stable and high performance grid for the Second Life world and to make it easier for people to start to find relevant and interesting opportunities when they first find Second Life. We are also working hard to improve the experience for our large audience of non-English speakers by improving the amount of languages we support and the service we offer.”

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