In 2022, 141 million visitors went through the doors of the world’s top 100 museums. Nearly eight million traipsed the marble steps of the Louvre; five million braved the rain at the British Museum, and four million ignored the White House and went to Washington’s Museum of Natural History.
But 141 million is barely 2% of the world’s population. Most people in the world, limited by geography and finance, haven’t been to a museum. Even once. Unless you live in one of the great cities of the world - and in many countries, even if you do - visiting a museum is expensive.
The metaverse will change how museums evolve, eliminate distribution bias and bring culture to everyone, irrespective of their location or financial constraints. Not a replacement for concrete and marble, an addition. An alternative. In this article, we will explore how virtual worlds can alter the museum experience, look at some examples of museums already in virtual worlds and highlight the challenges going forward. But first, a question: do you know how many museums there are in the world? Take a guess before you continue.
Access to the world’s culture and art is really very, very limited. It simply isn’t possible for 95% of humanity to see it. How many museums are there? The answer is a surprisingly small 55,000.
But in a virtual world, if you have an internet connection, you can visit any museum you wish, see any publicly displayed art you care for. Culture to everyone. Accessible anytime, from anywhere. From a village in the French Pyrenees, to Wuhan, Rio, Addis Ababa, or The Mekong Delta. And not just on a blank page, but in an immersive 3D experience. With the launch of Apple’s Vision Pro, the speed in which we’ll get there just went up six gears. Yes there are challenges, but the benefits make it worthwhile. So let’s have a look at some of those.
Why Build Museums in the Metaverse?
In the physical world, museums have finite space, restricting the number of exhibited artworks and artifacts. The Louvre is 72,735 square meters and has approximately 38,000 objects on display at any one time. However, its total collection consists of over 480,000 artifacts from across the ages. That discrepancy is nothing compared to The British Museum - it only has 80,000 from its 8 million artifacts on display!
In contrast, metaverse museums will be able to dynamically display every piece in their vaults, offering visitors a truly interactive and ever-changing and curated experience, in a historical setting. Indistinguishable from real life. Speaking of real life.
Bringing history to life
Metaverse museums could bring history to life. The Titanic XR experience is one example of what this could end up looking like. It allows you to see and feel the last moments of the ship as it sank beneath the waves. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Pyramids, the Cave paintings of Lascaux, Da Vinci’s workshop. Wherever and whenever art was created, a metaverse museum could bring the history to life. Again, I’m not saying these experiences will replace existing museums, but add to them, build on them, offer something different.
By integrating storytelling and art, metaverse museums offer enhanced learning opportunities, allowing individuals to see, feel, and engage with history on a deeper level. It’s well documented that an immersive, hands-on approach to education enhances the retention of knowledge and fosters a more profound connection to the content (cultural heritage, art history, civilisation, evolution etc.)
Showcasing Diverse Art Collections And Monetisation
In addition to expanding access and creating immersive experiences, metaverse museums provide new avenues for museums to monetize. Museums can generate revenue through app access fees, the sale of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), merchandise, and wearables.
In addition to finance, there is curation. Metaverse museums can collaborate and share artwork between institutions, transcending the cultural and political barriers that often impede traditional exhibitions. This collaborative approach opens up possibilities for diverse and inclusive art collections not possible in brick-and–mortar museums.
Examples of Museums in the Metaverse
Virtual museums are not new. Those who remember back to dial-up and CD roms will have fond memories of Encyclopedia Britannica and their first attempts to create immersive content. The Guggenheim, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Louvre, and India's National Museum in New Delhi have all launched and curated virtual exhibitions. Google Arts & Culture has teamed up with more than 1,200 museums and galleries to create virtual tours and online exhibitions.
Museums are also a feature of most web3 virtual worlds. The Musee Dezentral was built so artists and collectors can display their work so visitors can view them in new and immersive ways. The Museum of Crypto Art in Decentralande explores the intersection of art and blockchain and VOMA (Virtual Online Museum of Art) hosts a challenging program of curated group exhibitions, solo shows, events and collaborations. has immersive Virtual Spaces and Multi-Sensory Experiences as well as collaboration with renowned artists and curators
Challenges for Museums in the Metaverse
While the metaverse holds tremendous potential for museums, several challenges must be addressed. Technical expertise, costs, and concerns regarding the storage and security of physical artifacts. Where do you store the originals if you’re using digital replicas?
Cultivating vibrant metaverse communities around museums is essential for engagement and sustainability. Museums need to invest effort and time in fostering these communities, creating spaces for dialogue, education, and collaboration. This isn’t easy to achieve. I would go so far as to say this is the biggest challenge to the success of museums in the metaverse.
Building these museums, is that so much of a challenge? If you partner with RLTY, building well-rendered and engaging 3D environments with our suite of virtual world tools makes experimenting and creating dynamic spaces easier than ever.
Museums are vital for preserving, studying, and displaying art, natural history, and cultural heritage. They have paved the way for culture to evolve and spread. But have we reached the zenith of what is possible in the physical museum? Is the metaverse the antidote to the casual, passive observation of the art. Rather than 141 million, virtual worlds mean 4 billion could stare upon the statue of Milo, Scream and Gurnica or learn about the Aztecs, the dinosaurs or the foundations of the renaissance.
Challenges need to be addressed before we get there - technical hurdles, costs, the preservation and security of physical artifacts, regulatory considerations, community, and safeguarding digital assets - but by embracing virtual worlds as a tool for cultural enrichment and paving the way for an immersive, inclusive, and interconnected future of art and education, museums in the metaverse could become as famous as the Louvre.