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Virtual museum tours: from Mia to the Uffizi and beyond

According to Hyperallergic, 2,500 museums and galleries now offer virtual tours and online collections on Google’s Arts & Culture pages.

Something humans didn’t have during the Black Plague or the 1918 flu pandemic: the internet. We have it, and while our public life is full-stopped and we’re sheltering in place, isolating, self-quarantining and social distancing, it’s a 24/7 open door to interesting places and live events. (Btw, the 1918 flu was no more “Spanish” than COVID-19 is “Chinese.” Our government officials should stop using that language.)

According to Hyperallergic, 2,500 museums and galleries now offer virtual tours and online collections on Google’s Arts & Culture pages. With the Google Arts & Culture app (for IOS and Android), you can take virtual reality tours.

We briefly dropped into the Uffizi, whose director, Eike Schmidt, was the curator for decorative arts at Mia before he took that job. Our next stop might be the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where Kaywin Feldman, formerly head of Mia, is its first woman director. Or we could visit a Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Venice or New York City. Hyperallergic made a list of 12 great museums you can visit virtually right now.

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Closer to home, Mia has compiled a list of online offerings.

Explore the Art. Search for your favorite artist or artwork, or browse recent accessions, collection highlights from each curatorial department, and more.

Lucretia, 1666, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, oil on canvas
Lucretia, 1666, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, oil on canvas
Zoom In. What’s the story behind the “Doryphorus”? Rembrandt’s “Lucretia”? The “Jade Mountain”? Learn more about Mia’s highlights and hidden gems before the next time you see them in person.

In the Round. Here’s something you can’t do in the museum. “Pick up” valuable objects, turn them around and upside down, examine them from all angles and get close enough to see small details. (Before now, we didn’t know this existed.)

Listen Up. Hosted by Tim Gihring, Mia’s podcast explores the strange and wonderful true stories behind museum objects. Season 1 has 12 episodes; Season 2 has just begun.

From the Archives. Mia’s blog on Medium.com is a wealth of stories, essays, and interviews about the museum’s exhibitions, issues and artists. You’ll need to sign in to read them.

Inspired by Mia. Download a high-res image, start creating, and share your own masterpieces. The link on this page can lead you down rabbit holes. But it’s also surprising – very pleasantly surprising – to learn how much of its collections Mia makes available to the public.

In Times Like These. A look into the Center for Empathy and the Visual Arts, a collaboration with other museums, social scientists, artists, educators and others aimed at using the power of art to build empathy.

Plus Mia is very active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. There’s no need to feel distant or cut off.

The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., has canceled all performances and closed its buildings to the public until May 10. (Like many arts organizations, it is extending its closure past a date announced earlier.) But its Education Artist-in-Residence, children’s book author and illustrator Mo Willems, is still hard at work. Every weekday at 1 p.m. ET (noon for us), Williams invites viewers into his studio for “Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems!” and shows how to draw his characters and other critters. It’s not just for kids – who wouldn’t want to know how to draw Pigeon? – but it’s something newly working-at-home parents can offer their children. Each episode includes an activity page to download.

“Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems!”

After enjoying (in a bittersweet way) the Minnesota Orchestra’s live broadcast over Classical MPR on Friday night, we were about to start a massive search of classical concerts to hear and watch online. We rolled up our sleeves and made a big cup of coffee. Then, joy of joys, we discovered that Classical MPR had already done that! Sorry the Wednesday concerts have passed. But there’s still much available – plus a list of online concert libraries including the extensive and excellent one offered by our own Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Note that videos from both the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna State Opera are free for the next month.

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If you subscribe to Netflix or HBO Now or any of the other streaming services but you don’t support our own TPT PBS (um, why not?), now is a good time to think about doing that. TPT Passport, a benny available to members who contribute $60 and up annually (yes, $5 a month), gets you access to many shows on demand including “Great Performances,” the longest-running performing arts anthology on television, with an abundance of concerts, musicals, plays and operas.

Expect some glitches and please be patient. Some of these websites are getting more traffic than anyone imagined.

And something to keep in mind as you tour museums and stream concerts and watch plays and learn to draw Mo Willems’ Piggy, this Facebook post: “As you binge watch your thirteenth entire series on Netflix in two days, remember that in the darkest days, when everything else stopped, you turned to artists.”

We mentioned the Minnesota Orchestra above. On March 12, as the cascade of cancellations and postponements was just beginning, the orchestra announced it would cancel all concerts through March 23. On Monday, it added another month of cancellations, through April 27. Increasingly, we’re hearing that Friday, March 27, a little over a week away, is too soon to start returning to normal, or whatever normal will be.