Artistic connections

Testing the benefits of virtual art tours.



Julie Averbach ’22 View full image

Like many of us, Julie Averbach ’22 was spending plenty of time on Zoom in early 2020. At a time when the physical and microbial day-to-day of early COVID was carving deep distance among people, Averbach—a double major in psychology and art history—saw an opportunity to use her skills to build connection.

In an effort to replicate in-person engagement with the arts, Averbach developed immersive virtual museum tours for her grandparents and their friends. Word-of-mouth praise led to the creation of smARTee (, a nonprofit that conducts these tours on a broader scale. Averbach walks participants through the Metropolitan Museum of Art or MoMA via slideshow, showing works that range from Ghanian kente cloth to Impressionist sculpture, while mixing art history with storytelling and connection to social issues in the broader world.  

Curious about how the virtual experience of fine art might affect well-being for older adults, for whom equity of access can be a challenge even in non-pandemic times, Averbach connected with Joan Monin, an associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health, to develop an evaluative structure. Her senior thesis, advised by Monin, involved conducting a dozen virtual tours for nearly 600 adults across the US and Canada, and providing questionnaires before and after to assess key measures of well-being. The study found that art tours were about more than pretty pictures: participants reported feeling more positive afterwards, and experienced an increased sense of awe and satisfaction.

Averbach hopes smARTee will continue and expand post-pandemic (including among the Yale alumni community). “Even as opportunities open for in-person museum programming,” she observes, “an in-person modality may not always be the best option.”

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