Arts & Entertainment Articles

How Victoria’s Cultural Institutions are Moving into the Digital Age

by Deena Kinarthy

Everyone is doing it now.  Gone are the days where if you wanted to know something about a place or topic of interest, your only option was to visit your local museum or library, scour through piles of papered archives, book titles, periodicals, or card files.  Now, information from anywhere in the world is readily available at your fingertips.  Technology has been rapidly changing how many traditional institutions operate.  Especially cultural institutions such as libraries, museums and galleries.  Often the very institutions we associate with antiquity or preserving history and culture.

So how are our libraries, museums, and galleries adapting to a world where “Google” is now a verb?  Are our local institutions keeping up?  Believe it or not, Victoria is keeping up with the digital trends in more ways than one.   According to Executive Director John Hughes at Craigdarroch Castle, our museums and galleries were one of the early adopters to this changing digital landscape.  In fact, he says, museums like Craigdarroch Castle are pioneers of a new form of digital storytelling, leveraging technology to aid in augmented reality tours, displays of their collections online, and even a fairly fresh partnership with the Greater Victoria Public Library.

At Craigdarroch Castle, when you purchase an entry ticket for a visit, for only $5 extra you can rent a tablet that includes an additional layer of information, in the form of digital storytelling and augmented reality– a mixture of videos, stills, and sound layers that takes you behind the scenes of the castle and deep into lives of those who once lived there.  It includes unique content on top of what you might experience just from walking around the exhibit alone.  There are 3 streams of augmented reality tours available to choose from: architecture and design, ladies and gentleman (or gender roles), and the servants’ life.

John Hughes says that for the architecture and design stream, they opted to decorate Joan’s bedroom virtually, using augmented reality. For the gender roles stream, they hired actors to talk about the dance halls and dance cards, and then the dance hall comes to life with dancers dressed in period costumes.  For the servants’ stream, you journey up and downstairs while hearing all about the servant’s life from behind the scenes.

Our libraries are also moving into the 21st century.  The Greater Victoria Public Library has actually teamed up with various cultural institutions around town, to make local culture affordable and accessible to everyone by offering free downloadable visitor E-Passes.  All you need is a library card number and a smartphone or tablet, to download these passes from the library website.  The whole family can visit places like Craigdarroch Castle at no cost.

John Hughes says the E-Pass project at the library has been extremely popular. “It is working really well, there is a lot of uptake on it… [In fact], the first day that it came out we had 350 holds on it.”  But he says, there is nothing stopping someone from using the pass more than just once, to use it as soon as it becomes available.

Other Cultural Institutions with an E-Pass at the library include: The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Maritime Museum of British Columbia, the Robert Bateman Centre, the Royal BC Museum, and Saanich Recreation.

For more information visit

These days, without ever leaving the comfort of your home, now you can virtually travel to almost any famous museum and gallery around the world (such as the Louvre in Paris, the London Museum, or the Smithsonian), experience interactive online tours of their famous exhibits.  View original Van Gogh paintings in 3D, or peruse classics like Michelangelo’s David, in real time, at the touch of a button.

Locally, our very own Royal BC Museum has joined a global digital project known as the Google Art Project.  According to the Galleries West Blog, Victoria’s Royal BC Museum was the first Western Canadian establishment to join the Google Art Project, making over 80 works from the museum’s collections accessible online to the public.

The Google Art Project is a “unique collaboration with some of the world’s most acclaimed art institutions to enable people to discover and view artworks online in extraordinary detail. Working with over 250 institutions, we have put tens of thousands of works of art from more than 6,000 artists online. This involved taking a selection of super high-resolution images of famous artworks, as well as collating more than thirty thousand other images into one place.  It also included building 360-degree tours of individual galleries using Street View ‘indoor’ technology.”

For more information about the Google Art Project visit