How did we get from having Zero museums to the First museum. How a couple of undergrad students can convince an organization like a museum to implement their first buggy prototype of a virtual reality app.
The main challenge we had at first was to convince at least one museum to test our project. We knew the idea behind Skybox was going to be beneficial for museums and visitors. However, none of us (museums, Ludovic and Luis) knew how can such a project be implemented in a way that visitors could actually try it in the most effective way. Would they download an app? Would they be willing to put a headset on? Would visitors or museums pay for it? There were so many unknowns that we could not create a simple model for Skybox. The only way to do it was to find a museum willing to learn with us along the way. Therefore, our next question was: How a couple of undergrad students can convince an organization like a museum to implement their first buggy prototype of a virtual reality app.
“YES” without interest is an implicit NO
It turns out that the best way to convince someone is simply to find something in return. Museum visits in the UK have been going down in the past couple of years. Therefore, museums are looking for ways to captivate new eyes. Consequently, we started searching people online. We looked for museum's staff who we thought might be interested and help us out. After we had a couple of people in our list, we started shooting emails until we get a response. A couple of people answered. However, they were not really sure about what Virtual Reality was or how is that being implemented in galleries. Some people would even say “that's cool, but we are faaar away from that technology”. Soon we realize that we could not really convey our project and emotions by email. It was just too hard for people to picture VR if they never tried it before. So we had to stop, look around, and find the next most effective step.
Get Inside, Learn, and Make a Change
We decided that instead of asking many museums we should focus on just one. Therefore, the next step was to find “The Museum”. When I look back, I realize how useful was to be studying in Manchester and having a museum within the University. One day, I signed up to the next museum tour to learn more about their galleries. Once I finished, I knew this museum was "the one" that we should start with. I do not know really know what it was, but I had the feeling this museum had the potential to implement Skybox and help us grow. After the tour ended I walked directly to the main desk and asked: “I would like to volunteer at the museum, who should I talk to?” At the end of the day why would they say no to a volunteer right? After a couple of months waiting I got accepted and I started my volunteering role at the Fossils Gallery (coincidentally the one I wanted to be at, and the one the other volunteers were avoiding). Now, I was inside. I just had to learn how people behaved, what they would do and see at the gallery. Once inside I just had to wait to find the right person and the right time to propose Skybox.
Push, Push and … Push
I have a very vivid memory that was very important to me during my volunteering days. I was sitting in the Fossils Gallery in front of the incredible Stan, the T.rex. This little kid comes to the table with his mom and he tells me he was very upset because he thought he would see real dinosaurs moving and making noises. It seems like he was really hurt about it. Inside my head I said: “What am I waiting for? The demand is asking for it”. Here is when I realized that the new generations want an experience more than just seeing an exhibition. They want to be impressed. Therefore, I went to talk to the Volunteer’s Manager at the museum and proposed her the project. I was tired of sending emails and getting a “yes, that's cool. But I don't know...” as an answer. So I decided to speak to a person who I can share my passion with. The Volunteer's Manager was the perfect person to contact, because somehow she knew a bit of every department of the museum. She was just amazing. She referred me to the Collection Manager who also referred me to the Senior Curator at the museum. This whole process took a couple of months while I was waiting to be referred to the next person, and then the next one, and so on. Honestly, I was getting tired of it but I always told myself that maybe the next person I speak to might be the right one. Luckily, this was the case, the Senior Curator was as excited as I was about implementing Skybox in the museum. He was "the right one". During that meeting in early March we agreed to develop three different exhibits: Stan the T.rex, Sperm Whale and something related to the Space (which afterwards became Mars).
Long Story Short
We were in, we were learning and we were pushing. We were going from Zero to One. Now, the next challenge was: how a future mechanical engineer and a businessman will build a virtual reality experience. But I will leave that for another time.
Luigi D'Introno on behalf of The Skybox Team