West Highland Museum centenary online events draw global audience

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The 100 Objects project was conceived in 2019 and was originally intended to showcase 100 of the West Highland Museum’s most popular objects in a book to celebrate the organisation’s centenary.

The museum asked visitors, volunteers, and members to identify their favourite objects in the museum.

As the result of the Covid-19 pandemic, plans changed and over the summer of 2020, the then museum manager Colleen Barker and Curator Vanessa Martin attended a series of webinars, delivered by the University of Andrew’s Open Virtual Worlds’ team, focusing on digital engagement with audiences during the pandemic.

During one webinar, Colleen mentioned the 100 objects project to Dr Alan Miller from the Open Virtual Worlds team and he expressed an interest in creating an online digital gallery to showcase museum objects to wider audiences beyond the boundaries of the museum walls.

The University of St Andrews’ Catherine Cassidy photographing museum objects in August 2021. NO F02 Catherine Cassidy
The University of St Andrews’ Catherine Cassidy photographing museum objects in August 2021.

The immediate benefits to the museum of a partnership with the university were to utilise its expertise to digitise objects and create an openly accessible archive.

There was an immediate need to engage with visitors online while the museum was closed for the Covid-19 pandemic, but it is also a long-term goal to make the collections more accessible to the public.

The Open Virtual Worlds team was responsible for sourcing finance for the project, creating the website, uploading core content to the gallery, and developing interactive digital systems to support the display of exhibits.

The West Highland Museum team was tasked with identifying objects for inclusion in the gallery, providing information and narratives for the objects and Vanessa worked with photographers Neil MacLeod and Alex Gillespie to deliver the first phase of the project.

The museum and University of St Andrews hosted a successful gallery launch event on at the start of February last year.

This event was followed up in July with another focusing on Jacobite objects associated with the ‘Strange Plate’ to promote the sale in August/September of prints from the Strange Plate.

Again, this event attracted a worldwide audience and speakers joined the event from New Zealand and England.

The gallery is being developed further, and in August, the St Andrews team was finally able to travel to Fort William to work on 3D reconstructions of some of the 100 objects.

The 100 Objects gallery can be accessed directly through www.whm100.org or via the museum’s website www.westhighlandmuseum.org.uk (using the ‘Education/Research’ tab).