At the end of every summer, people from around the world create a temporary city in the Nevada desert—to make things, to burn things, to dress with elaborate costumes and to live for a week with a spirit of radical self-reliance and generosity.
The gathering, Burning Man, will happen yet again this weekend and next week. And while only about 70,000 people will be there in real life, the Smithsonian wants to bring at least part of the counter-cultural movement to viewers around the world with augmented reality.
This month, Snapchat users will be able to experience at least part of the magic of the Smithsonian’s No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man exhibit, which is at the institution’s Renwick Gallery, using an AR lens on the platform that allows anyone to virtually walk through one of the Renwick’s rooms. The feature, which will run through Sept. 8, is meant to stand on its own, while also helping to promote an even more immersive experience in virtual reality.
“It looks a little funny when you see people holding up their phone and staring at their screen,” said Ilana Rosin, OMD’s associate director of paid social media. “But what they’re actually doing is viewing the art, reading about the artists that created them, and moving around the room.”
The project is part of an ongoing partnership between Intel and the Smithsonian, which began as a way to help the museum digitize its millions of artifacts and then expanded into creating a number of VR and AR experiences that capture parts of the collection. The goal is to expand the system’s art beyond the 30 million that visit each year to more than 1 billion worldwide through the use of emerging technology.
Last month, Intel announced a partnership with Sansar, a social VR platform created by the founders of the social network Second Life. And, just like in real life, VR visitors this fall will be able to put on a headset and follow VR museum guides—just like they would if they were in Washington, D.C.
According to Alyson Griffin, vp of global brand and thought leadership marketing for Intel, the Smithsonian wanted to start with the Renwick since it would be a challenge that allowed Intel to test its own VR capabilities while also bringing a relevant exhibit to life.
“I looked at a headdress that’s part of the exhibit, and the feathers looked like feathers—feathery,” she said. “I don’t know how to say the words, but it wasn’t static. It wasn’t drawing lines to make it look like a feather. It moved.”
When a viewer opens up the Snapchat Portal Lens, they’ll at first see an AR headset placed on their head before the camera flips around to show a room full of three items. However, the real-life and VR exhibits are more expansive, including around a dozen artists and collectives. But the Snapchat experience provides at least a glimpse—although the digital version doesn’t capture the stark juxtaposition of colors and shapes when they’re set on the sandy surroundings in their natural state.
For the campaign, Intel and its agency OMD put together a paid social media plan across both Snapchat and other digital channels that targets audiences including tech enthusiasts, museum-goers and others that are seen as fans of art and culture. Snapchat users unlock the experience using a snap code, which OMD and Intel hope to reach millions of users.
“I see this as really starting to blur the lines between entertainment, content discovery and content creation,” Rosin said. “Even more so than standard social media content amplification, if you will. This is a more intricate ad type with a complex creative message that we’re putting in front of Snapchat users when they’re on a discovery mindset or when they want to create and share.”
Agencies and brands including Intel agree that Snapchat’s AR is something that still sets it apart in terms of creativity and engagement. (According to Snap, 70 million users access an AR lens every day, spending on average about 3 minutes at a time within an experience while creating their own AR-enabled snaps.)
This story has been updated.