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Virtual tours


One of the big, impactful precautions a lot of people are taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is social distancing, which has manifested in folks voluntarily staying in, state and local mandates for institutions and organizations to temporarily shut down, and in some cases, organizations voluntarily closing up shop. Last week, many of the area galleries and museums collectively decided to close for at least a couple of weeks, which means that while they're protecting their patrons, we're missing out on some current and upcoming programming and exhibits.

But there are ways to interact with arts and cultural intuitions and organizations while their doors are closed. As long as this epidemic continues, CITY will be reporting on the creative ways the public can still participate in — and support — Rochester's arts scene without leaving home. This week, I'm writing about some of the big galleries and museums, and how you can explore into their collections from the comfort of your home.

The ironic thing is that this is a great opportunity to get to know the real scope of the collections of our local institutions — beyond what's on the floor and walls when you visit the physical spaces. Spots including the Memorial Art Gallery, George Eastman Museum, and Rochester Museum & Science Center all have vast collections of art and cultural objects that far outnumber what each place could possibly display. Some objects are periodically rotated into the limelight, but many languish in storage for various reasons (including that some are too delicate for display).

The Memorial Art Gallery's permanent collection of more than 12,000 works of art spans 5,000 years of history. If you're familiar with the MAG, you know there are dozens of rooms dedicated to different time periods and locations in the world, with contemporary connections dispersed throughout to put different culture's diasporas and influence in context. By visiting and clicking one of the options under "art" in the drop-down menu, you can virtually explore the whole collection, including familiar favorites and works you've never seen displayed, or learn more about the monumental works in the outdoor Centennial Sculpture Garden.

You can freely search the collection for specific works you'd like to view and learn about, but if you're at a loss, select the "explore the collection" option. You'll be offered some organized categories to get you started: favorites, current exhibitions, currently on view (but not part of a featured exhibition), art with Rochester connections, favorite tours, lesson plans for teachers (heads up, new-to-homeschooling parents!), new acquisitions, subjects (such as history and politics, the natural world, or people), time periods, and types of art.

The MAG also has its own YouTube channel (search "MAG Rochester") featuring past artist interviews and guest lectures, providing hours of educational arts material you may have missed.

George Eastman Museum also has a drop down menu option for its collections on its main page (, which will allow you to freely search for the work of specific artists, subjects, or time periods, or check out the holdings (more than 400,000 images from 1839 onward) under the category of photography, which allows you to view the images, or others categories such as moving image, technology, and library, which allow you to learn details about those specific collections. Also available on the site are a series of videos by the team at Eastman's Photographic Processes department, which explain, in fascinating art-meets-chemistry nuance, different historic photographic technologies and techniques.

The Rochester Museum & Science Center has an extensive online inventory of its collections ( that includes 1.2 million objects, including the titles and descriptions of its media archives, access to 60,000 documents and 40,000 photographs, and ability to view and learn about more than 800,000 archaeological objects, 26,000 natural specimens, and nearly 30,000 ethnological objects. You could spend weeks poring over the materials and learning about the deep history of our region.

RMSC is also offering remote programming while its doors — and schools — are closed. Its homepage currently offers a link to its "Explore at Home" initiative, which includes sciences activities to do at home and virtual science demos, with more to come.

The Strong ( also has a collections tab on its site, which is your portal to learn about its holdings in toys and games, video games and electronics, archival collections, and library. If you choose the "online collections" option, you can explore more than 72,000 objects of historic objects for and about play, organized by staff-curated stories, by type of object, by popularity, or by time period. You can also take virtual tours of the museum's first and second floors, in case you want to visit its kid-sized, un-crowded Wegmans store that's always fully stocked.

Though Rochester Contemporary Art Center ( doesn't have the vast collections that the aforementioned spots have, its website is an excellent playground for exploring past exhibitions (under exhibitions > archive), artists' talks on video, and past years' "6x6" submissions that went unsold — which you can still purchase online.

Artists and cultural orgs: How are you pivoting to online, streaming, or otherwise remote offerings during the epidemic shut-down? Send pitches and tips to the email below.

Rebecca Rafferty is CITY's arts & entertainment editor. She can be reached at [email protected].