The Erie Art Gallery is recording its shows in three dimensions and virtual reality.

The artwork was removed from the walls and left some time ago, but you can still tour through every show that’s been held at the Erie Art Gallery.

The nonprofit gallery appears to be alone in the region in recording its shows in three dimensions and virtual reality, where they live on forever in cyberspace, accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

One of the goals gallery founder, artist and software project manager Brad Ford has for his new venture is to show the world what Erie has to offer while bringing influences from that wider world to the city. Adopting the technology was a natural extension of that mission, he explained.

“With this, people everywhere can see the quality of arts in Erie,” Ford explained, “and when we put out a national call for submissions, artists are more comfortable because they can see what we’ve been doing here.” It’s a virtuous circle that can help burnish Erie’s reputation as a cultural hub.

Already, with three shows held at the gallery’s West Eighth Street space in the Masonic Temple since it opened early this year, Ford said he has hosted visitors who first encountered the space in 3-D or VR. He expects he’ll also reap benefits when it comes to funding, as he can literally immerse potential donors in the gallery’s past work. Artists also benefit, he pointed out, through the ability to share links to 3-D and VR images of their work in the context of full shows.

To create the interactive images, Ford has partnered with ErieMultimedia owner/partner Greg Windle, who relocated to Erie from Australia in 2002 and has 15 years of experience in advertising and marketing. For about the past year, ErieMultimedia and Windle have been offering scans with a Matterport 3D Camera. The briefcase-sized device houses several sensors that scan a space, create images and then stitches them together into an interactive, immersive format.

The camera can scan about 2,000 square feet of space in about an hour and a half, Windle said, and it can also collect still images as it does its work.

The technology also allows the user to add a great deal of content by adding tags to the images. A tagged painting, for example, could display links to the artist’s other works, reviews of his or her past shows and other multimedia content that puts them and their work in a broader context. Ford has yet to go this route, but sees it as a possible next step.

So far, Windle has worked primarily with real estate agents and retailers, but he is excited by Ford’s use of the technology to champion the arts in Erie and sees similar potential in other areas, such as economic development.

Available industrial and commercial space could be scanned and tagged with information such as nearby amenities, allowing potential developers to experience what’s available in Erie from wherever they happen to be, he pointed out. The technology can play a role in any situation where interacting with a space remotely “creates efficiencies for the consumer.”

Exploring the many ways in which those efficiencies can be leveraged to advance Erie has just begun. “Changing the culture of how people see things is one of the speed bumps,” said Ford, but he and Windle are set to drive right over that bump and beyond.

Pat Bywater is an Erie-based writer, editor and photographer who can be reached at patbywater@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Pat_Bywater.

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