GLAMi nomination: Weaving a Better Future Virtual Reality App

nominated by: Scott Gillam, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Canada
institution: Canadian Museum for Human Rights
category: Exhibition Media or Experience

Person sitting in swivel chair with virtual reality headset on.

Background: Empowering Women

From Africa to Asia to the Americas, women artisans are forming cooperatives to reach new markets, claim their rights, raise living standards and transform lives. Whether they are weavers, painters, embroiderers or jewelry makers, women artisans are finding strength and a brighter future in collaborative businesses that they own and manage as a group.

Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives That Transform Communities was a vibrant, inviting exhibition that featured beautiful examples of the cooperatives’ handmade arts, such as beaded necklaces, embroidered quilts, and hand-woven baskets, bags and textiles. It included objects that visitors were encouraged to touch.

Visitors could be transported to Guatemala through the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) first immersive virtual reality experience. The exhibition was located in the CMHR’s Level 6 Expressions gallery.

Empowering Women was organized by the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico and is circulated through GuestCurator Traveling Exhibitions. It was enhanced by Exhibition, Research, and Design staff of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Weaving a Better Future Virtual Reality

Be transported to Guatemala with a virtual reality (VR) experience that was part of the Empowering Women exhibition! You’ll be immersed in the vivid sights and sounds of weavers’ workshops, a fair-trade textile store, ancient Maya ruins, a kitchen where women come together to prepare meals, a bustling outdoor market, and more.

Weaving a Better Future is the first virtual reality experience created by the CMHR. This captivating, 360-degree immersive documentary places you at the centre of every scene, creating a powerful sense of immediacy and involvement. The experience is close-captioned and available in English and French. Sign-language and audio description options are also available.

Enriched by the brilliant colours of Maya textiles and the warmth, strength and resilience of Indigenous Maya women, Weaving a Better Future lets visitors explore how women are improving their lives, and those of their families, by working together in weaving cooperatives. Visitors get to meet women artisans who are healing from the trauma of human rights violations, preserving their culture by hand-weaving on backstrap looms, and asserting their right to earn a livelihood.

The documentary was created by Museum staff who visited the Western Highlands of Guatemala in 2016. It features a weavers’ cooperative in Quetzaltenango called TRAMA Textiles and a shop in Antigua called Textiles Colibrí. Both provide much-needed income for women artisans.

Guatemalan woman in traditional dress holding a virtual reality headset to her face while standing.
While filming in Guatemala the curator and researcher shared Google Cardboard experiences with the co-op members. Describing the 360 experience that was being captured during the filming.

Functional and Physical Design

Visitors first encountered the VR feature following a wall surface that ran the length of the Guatemalan portion of the exhibition, which was treated with a large-scale image that extended approx 7 metres wide by 4 metres tall. An image of one of the markets from the documentary was printed to scale to reinforce the entry and exit of the VR experience, reflecting the immersion that occurs while wearing the headset. This also provided a photo op for visitors that wished to capture their experience while at the museum, and helped to market the experience to other visitors.

A large-scale image of a market that extended approx 7 metres wide by 4 metres tall.
An image of one of the markets from the documentary was printed to scale to reinforce the entry and exit of the VR experience.

Directly across from this feature wall were 2 swivel chairs positioned beside a low table that housed the VR headsets. While seated, guests could spin in 360 degrees, looking in all directions, without the danger of encountering foreign objects, surfaces, or other visitors.

Guatemalan dress on display while 2 people with VR headsets sit in chairs.
VR station in Guatemala portion of exhibition.

Viewing Options:

  • For the best possible VR viewing experience at the Museum, visitors could use one of two Samsung Gear VR headsets while seated in swivel chairs in the Empowering Women exhibition. Staff were on hand to help. You could book reserved timeslots for the headsets at the Ticketing and Information Desk on the Museum’s main floor, or in the gallery itself. The VR experience has a total viewing time of about 12 minutes, and is recommended for ages 13 and up.
  • View of Weaving a Better Future was also available on the two touchscreens in the Empowering Women exhibition, using finger-touch on the screens to control the 360-degree video. This 2D experience was also close-captioned, and available in English and French. As an additional feature for inclusive design, the touchscreens also featured sign-language (ASL and LSQ).
Outdoor scene of women weaving with sign language interpreter in the lower right of the screen.
Screenshot from 2D version of VR experience available on touchscreens featuring sign-language and closed-captions.

Further Viewing Options:

  • Inserting one’s own smartphone into a Google Cardboard viewer, which was available for purchase at the Boutique on the Museum’s main floor. Anyone was able to install the free Weaving a Better Future app for iOS or Android, place their phone into the viewer upon launch of the app. Headphones are recommended. Google Cardboard should not be used by children without adult supervision.
  • The iOS and Android version have an optional 2D view mode similar to the in-gallery touchscreen. With this feature, anyone can experience the content on a mobile device regardless of whether they have Google Cardboard viewer available. In this mode, users can guide the camera with their finger or turn the device and leverage the built-in gyroscope and accelerometer to change the view.
  • If a visitor owns a Samsung Gear VR headset, they can download the Weaving a Better Future app for free from the Oculus store.
Screenshot of interface showing Guatemalan women weaving.
Screenshot from iOS in Google Cardboard mode (stereoscopic) above, and 2D mode (gyroscopic) below with placement of captions.

Regardless of the device, movements control what part of the 360-degree image is seen. In the outdoor market scene, for example, a visitor can gaze up to admire the towering façade of a church, look down at the cobblestoned street where someone has just dropped a watermelon rind, or look all around and behind, taking in shoppers of all ages and colourful market wares. Local people’s voices and evocative Guatemalan music further enhance the virtual journey.

Warning: If you experience nausea, discomfort, eye strain or disorientation while using a VR headset or viewer, stop immediately. If you are prone to seizures, consult a doctor before using a VR headset or viewer.

Extension of VR to Remote Audiences

The Weaving a Better Future VR experience was great success in-gallery and for remote visitors. The use of VR also provides a remote audience digital experience asset that is available long after the show is closed. Visitors can continue to be transported to Guatemala through the VR.

Weaving a Better Future continues to provide an incredible insight into the lives of women artisans who have found strength in shared enterprise – and hope for human rights.

To read more about this exhibition:

The Weaving a Better Future app is available on iOS, Android, and Oculus:

To read more about the UAPs and inclusive design at CMHR:

Inclusive design: From approach to execution