Changing Times—A Time for Change

Museums in the COVID-19 Era

in Museum Worlds
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Noga RavedCurator, Israel

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Havatzelet YahelBen-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

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Abstract

The current research analyzes worldwide trends in which museums acted in response to a new global social health order. It is based on information from a survey we conducted among members of the International Committee of Regional Museums in addition to other surveys conducted by international museums and cultural bodies. We tried to understand how museums can remain relevant to their audiences, how they might evolve in this changing environment, and how they operate to reflect the new situation. Our main findings show that various methods were used, including shifting to digital platforms, changing physical operations, refocusing on local audiences, collecting materials relating to the COVID-19 crisis, and curating special exhibitions dedicated to the pandemic and its impact on daily lives.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest in a chain of global epidemics that have significantly affected humankind. It is the severest one since the Spanish flu, which spread around the world from 1918 to 1920. As in the days of that outbreak, civilization today has had to take precautionary measures to maintain sanitation, isolate, prevent gatherings, and even close public entertainment establishments (NMA 2022; Stanley 2020). The severe effect of the pandemic on museums worldwide was confirmed by a UNSECO (2020) report, showing that nearly 90 percent of institutions (more than 85,000) were forced to close their doors for varying lengths of time.

Studies from the past decade indicate that leisure activity and the consumption of culture have become significant means of therapy for many people in the twenty-first century (AAM 2021; Chatterjee and Noble 2013; Dodd and Jones 2014). They also touch on the importance of cultural activities, including visits to museums, for physical and mental health. In some countries, physicians recommend visits to museums as part of their official treatment (Chatterjee and Noble 2013; Dodd and Jones 2014; AAM 2018, Livni 2018). Hence, there is a broad consensus that the COVID-19 pandemic affects not only physical health but also mental health and well-being (Fiorillo and Gorwood 2020; Shigemura et al. 2020). A study conducted in Italy at the end of the first lockdown revealed that among its main effects on mental health were frustration and boredom (Gualano et al. 2020). Further studies showed the importance and benefits of engaging in leisure activities for psychological well-being (Morse et al. 2021).

In view of the pandemic and the centrality of museums to humanity, we pose the following questions: How did museums address the challenging reality of the pandemic? Which methods did they develop to stay relevant, primarily since people could no longer visit them? To answer these questions, we used a combination of methods and sources of information. First, we consider how the pandemic changed the atmosphere in which museums operate; second, we provide information on the gathering of data and the surveys; third, we present six main methods that museums developed to cope with their changing reality; and, finally, we present conclusions and suggestions for further research.

Background: Museums in a Changing Reality

Traditionally, the central roles of museums included being repositories of knowledge and places of informative entertainment, and providing sources and spaces for transmitting information, (ICOM 2002: 26). Until the pandemic, these roles were implemented almost entirely in the physical space of museums. When COVID-19 broke out, and people were suddenly denied physical access to museums, the relevancy of museums became questionable. This forced museums to seek new ways of operating that were not confined to their locations or specific sites.

Since the beginning of the crisis, numerous studies have been published to showcase how museums around the world have been coping with the situation. Among the first was a survey of responses on the crisis edited by Joanna Cobley at the end of March 2020 (Cobley et al. 2020). Deborah Agostinoa, Michela Arnaboldia, and Antonio Lampis (2020) studied the growth in social media activities of museums in Italy during March and April 2020. Soon afterward, special issues were published by journals such as the Oral History Review in September 2020, titled “Oral History and COVID-19” (Caruso et al. 2020), the Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies in October 2020, titled “COVID-19 and the Museum,” (O'Grady et al. 2020) and Museum & Society in November 2020, titled “Isolation as a Collective Experience: Museums’ First Responses to COVID-19” (Levin 2020). However, most of these publications presented limited angles on museum activity from firsthand experience or a specific country. Hence, the purpose of our article is to provide a broader picture while analyzing various sources of information and identifying worldwide trends emerging from them.

Methodology

The research combines quantitative and qualitative methods. The quantitative aspect derives from the analysis of four surveys that were conducted during the crisis. Surveys are commonly used by museums for various purposes and are part of some of their routine operations. In normal times they are used mainly to gauge public interests and monitor trends, but also for the sake of staff well-being. In a time of crisis this culture of surveys became useful to gather information on the response to the pandemic.

Chronologically, the first survey was created by the Network of European Museum Organizations (NEMO 2020) and distributed from 24 March to 30 April 2020 among museums in 48 European countries. It focused on analyzing the economic impact on museums while also demonstrating digital opportunities museums have seized on and continue to use. The data included nearly a thousand responses.

Shortly after, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) launched a global survey that aimed to give a snapshot of the situation in the field and included two subsequent rounds. The first round of questionnaires was distributed from 7 April to May 2020 and received almost 1,600 responses (ICOM 2020b). The second ICOM (2020c) survey was distributed from 7 September to 18 October 2020 and received approximately 900 responses, and the third, distributed from 15 April to 29 May 2021, gathered 840 responses (ICOM 2021).

In May 2020, UNESCO (2020) launched its survey, aiming to assess the impact of COVID-19 on museums and museum institutions, seeking to understand how the sector has adapted to the constraints imposed by the pandemic, and exploring ways of supporting affected institutions in the aftermath of the crisis. This survey was carried out in conjunction with 51 UNESCO Field Offices.

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) followed with two surveys of its own, focusing primarily on the financial aspect of the crisis. One was distributed from 15 to 28 October 2020 with 850 respondents from museums across the US (AAM 2020b), and a second survey was carried out from 6 to 30 April 2021 with 1,004 respondents (AAM 2021).

The International Committee for Regional Museums (ICR 2021) distributed an international survey among its members from mid-April to mid-May 2021, to which 24 members from 19 countries responded, accounting for about 10 percent of the committee's members. However important it was to get a snapshot of this unique global situation, and to draw conclusions from it that led to museum proactive responses and sometimes gaining external support, it is important to note that online surveys have limitations. These are connected mainly to the limitation of the population sample (Andrade 2020; Evans and Anil 2005; Wright 2005). Therefore, we based our findings on an accumulation of several sources and restricted our analysis to trends that were prominent. The qualitative information was gathered from the internet and online publications, programs, and data shared by 30 museums worldwide, as well as an exchange of information by email with our museum colleagues over the past two years.

Main Findings of the Methods Developed by Museums

The data analysis reveals the development of six main trends that museums used to cope with the challenging reality caused by the pandemic and lockdowns.

Trend 1: Museums on Digital Platforms and Social Media

The first and most significant trend is the increase in the use of digital platforms in museums worldwide (ICOM 2021; NEMO 2020; UNESCO 2020). To fully acknowledge the change, we need to note the digital framework that existed before the pandemic. To the detriment of museums, on the eve of the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis, most institutions were still focusing on physical-space-dependent activity, with relatively little or limited online activity in terms of content, and there were museums with no internet connection at all in countries where internet infrastructure is poor. A survey conducted in the fall of 2019 by the Knight Foundation (2020), in collaboration with the AAM, provides information on the digital situation in US museums before the outbreak of COVID-19. Based on answers from 480 museums in 50 states, less than half (44 percent) reported they had strong leadership knowledge or support for digital projects. Among the rest, 41 percent of the museums did not have any defined goals, key performance indicators, or outcome measures for digital projects, while only 37 percent used digital platforms on an ad hoc basis. It also indicated that small institutions consistently lacked the staff needed to build institutional knowledge and collaboration on digital platforms. Moreover, large museums were still a long way from realizing their digital innovation capacity. Thirty-one percent of museums declared they had no digital strategy, while another 29 percent were currently discussing or developing such a strategy.

Three weeks after the beginning of public closures in Europe—around April 2020—80 percent of European museums reported an increase in their online activity. Most indicated they were using digital platforms more than ever before. Their main digital activity was on social media, working with hashtags and engaging audiences with featured individual objects from collections. Also, consumption of virtual tours and online exhibitions increased. Many museums said they were considering becoming more active in podcasts, live content, and game creation (NEMO 2020).

All digital activities increased or were initiated after the first lockdowns for at least 15 percent of the museums taking part in the first ICOM (2020b) survey. The percentage rose to 20 percent by the time of the third ICOM (2021) survey, and an even more dramatic change was in digital social media activities, which were developed or increased for almost 50 percent of the respondents. Museums in Italy indicated that the use of social media evolved from mere channels of communication into a tool for spreading cultural material (Agostino et al. 2020: 362).

The data from North America in June 2020 were not less remarkable, with 75 percent of US museums stepping into their pivotal role as educators, providing virtual educational programs and experiences: educational resources for children, parents, and teachers; educational resources for college students and adults, 54 percent; video lectures (live reordered), 60 percent (AAM 2020b). Also, museums developed a significant number of special digital activities, initiated to lift the low mood of those stuck at home and help them cope with quarantine, such as games, coloring activities, quizzes, educational activities, and a variety of “challenges.”1 Ellie King and colleagues (2021) said the museums providing online exhibition content positioned themselves as a place of escapism, comfort, and hope in an uncertain time. In response to the pandemic, museums have emphasized their role as comforting cultural institutions, this time in a virtual space.

Similarly, all respondents to the ICR (2021) survey reported shifting to virtual platforms. The majority indicated an increase in the use of their existing digital platforms, especially on social media applications such as Facebook and Instagram. A few developed new platforms such as creating online or virtual exhibitions, holding online lectures, or starting a YouTube channel. These important developments raise new questions about the creation of online content and the benefits it can bring to museums in the long term, a huge change that needs to be monitored and analyzed further in follow-up studies. According to the UNESCO (2020) survey, digital activities on social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, were developed and increased rapidly. Likewise, there was an increase in the use of Weibo, a popular Chinese social media network (Yang 2021).

At the professional level, there were a substantial number of webinars organized mainly by professional museum associations (UNESCO 2020). The centrality of the shift to digital platforms among US museums was also stressed in the study by Paul Marty and Vivian Buchanan (2022), who found that the most valuable contributions of museum technology professionals to a museum's core mission during times of crisis, such as COVID-19, were providing remote access to information about the museum's collections and resources; expanding the museum's ability to reach new audiences through new technologies; connecting museum staff and museum visitors through communication technologies; and engaging the museum's audiences through relevant online activities.

The study raises the question of whether the traditional division of roles in museums is changing. From the data analysis we learn that the status of IT professionals in museums became stronger. This conclusion is derived from two surveys. The first is the AAM (2020c) from October 2020, which shows that the professional staff who were most affected by the layoff/furloughs were from the roles of guest service and sales (68 percent), education (40 percent), maintenance and security (29 percent), and curators/exhibitions and advertising (26 percent). No layoffs of IT or social media personnel were indicated.

The second NEMO (2021) survey (30 October to 30 November 2020) said 7 percent of the responding museums reported that they had hired new staff to manage the increased online activity of the museums, and more than 40 percent of the museums claimed they had changed existing staff tasks to cope with online activities of their museum.

The simplest action, which many museums began to perform long before the COVID-19 crisis, and which intensified in its wake, was to upload their collections to their websites. This was the first suggestion made by ICOM to museums in order to connect with their audiences from afar (ICOM 2020a). Over the years, museums have displayed and made accessible to the public only small parts of the cultural assets in their possession, focusing more on bringing the public to them in order to observe their objects in a specific building or a unique display. Now, work has been done on existing collections to showcase them more effectively (see, e.g., Israel Museum 2020a). Forty-three percent of US museums enhanced visitor access to digital collection resources (AAM 2020b). Digital tools allowed museums to expand their “display” options significantly. Many people who now had free time at home “visited” the museums. Thanks to the digital tools they were able to see objects that the public usually does not have access to, and to participate in “behind the scenes” activities such as restoration work. Furthermore, they attended lectures and tours, both recorded and online, that until then were limited in both time and the number of participants.

Unfortunately, the situation is not the same in all parts of the world. While activities on social networks can be found on all continents, the immediate digital responses formulated in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis seem almost absent in the African states and small island developing states (SIDS). Only 5 percent of museums in Africa and SIDS have provided online content. Nearly half the world's population currently has no internet access, resulting in unequal access to cultural resources (UNESCO 2020). The crisis has shown the importance of investment in communications infrastructure in remote and less technologically advanced regions across the globe, in order to reduce gaps and engage communities everywhere.

Trend 2: Spectators from the Armchair

Another trend accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis was the creation of virtual online tours in museums. In the past, tours were intended for visitors who physically came to meet a guide at the museum's galleries. In 2011, 17 museums began to offer virtual 360-degree tours, collaborating with the Google Art Project.2 However, this technology was very costly, and only the more popular and well-funded museums could afford it (Hoffman 2020: 211). As technology advanced and became cheaper, the pandemic lockdowns boosted this phenomenon. Museums were now offering virtual tours not only as cultural and educational activities but also as means of relieving the stress and boredom imposed by house detention (e.g., Daily Sabah 2020; Romano 2022). As the lockdowns continued, many museums began offering the opportunity to join an online tour.3 It became possible to digitally connect with guides who walked around the museum with cameras. The armchair tourist could enjoy a guided tour broadcast straight to their screen. In December 2020, for example, the Museum of Modern Art (New York) distributed a survey to its members asking if they would be interested in a new “Digital Membership” category.

Without the physical limitations, museums and art galleries were creating new exhibitions entirely as virtual ones, without a parallel “real” physical display, such as the Islands in the Net exhibition by the Liebling Haus in Israel (Zalmanson and Levy-Benyemini 2022) or the Perfect Spaces exhibition by the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A 2021) in the UK. King and colleagues (2021) suggested that when online manifestations are not simply a second form of a physical exhibition but also an exhibition in their own right, they are offering something unique yet equally valuable to museum visitors.

Furthermore, this trend of armchair visitors contributed to a museum's ability to become “international.” Once an activity had been moved to the digital sphere and online networks, any museum with a good internet connection and a foreign-language-speaking staff could reach beyond its local surroundings and physical limitations and become “international.” As online visits are taking less time than physical on-site ones, a further study should be conducted on how this difference will affect audience engagement by museums upon their reopening (Agostino et al. 2020: 369–370).

Trend 3: Refocusing on a Local Audience

While the second trend enabled museums to become international, the third trend offered the opposite: going local. Before the pandemic, many museums targeted a large section of activities at audiences from abroad or outside the region. The pandemic restricted the ability to move between regions and countries, thus motivating those museums to turn their attention to their immediate and close surroundings and reach out to their local audiences (see Kinsella & Schneider 2020).

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, less than 25 percent of US museums reported having projects targeting audiences from the local community, such as community feedback or co-creation and impact evaluations. Indeed, most small- to medium-sized institutions collected basic demographic data and involved community-based audience work, but medium- to large-sized museums were reluctant to do so. The overall field was missing local audience work (Knight Foundation 2020). COVID-19 changed the situation. In October 2020, 38 percent of respondents to the first AAM (2020c: 8) survey reported shifts toward local residents and younger visitors. Six months later, 24 percent of the US museums created and installed art or exhibitions in local public places, 19 percent provided space for students to engage in in-person or remote learning, and 18 percent hosted health and wellness activities (AAM 2021).

During the first year of the COVID-19 crisis, 24.7 percent of museum respondents to the third ICOM (2021) survey said they had already increased their focus on local audiences or intended to do so after the crisis, and another 21 percent said they were considering it. Some of the many examples of this trend were seen in Israel and China.4 During the lockdown from March to May 2020, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art organized screenings of video artwork on buildings in various city neighborhoods. Thus, the museum allowed residents who were locked down in their homes the opportunity to watch art from their windows and balconies (TMA 2020). In addition, instead of awarding the annual Rappaport Prize for Art,5 the prize money for 2021 was increased and dedicated to purchasing works from 58 Israeli artists for the museum's collection. Consequently, the museum created another channel of support for the local art community while also expanding its Israeli art collection, which is its local artistic heritage.

Another example from Israel is the initiative of the Kfar-Saba Museum (2022), which developed several displays and activities in public spaces, such as a hybrid trivia game: the questions were posted on the museum's social media, and answers were scattered on billboards across the city. Hence, an educational occupation was provided for the time spent at home and the limited time spent walking in public spaces. It was an activity that drew the residents’ attention to both their local history and their physical environment.

The China Science and Technology Museum (People's Republic of China) organized some 1,600 science wagons to travel to vast rural and least-developed areas, where many people lack a fast internet connection, with not only conventional exhibits but also coronavirus awareness materials in order to encourage these people to take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus (Ou 2021: 229).

In April 2021, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA 2021) in New York asked its subscribers to participate in a national research project to learn how arts, culture, and creativity fit into people's lives “during this difficult period” and how cultural organizations could help them and their community. This finding is also indicative of the growing focus of museums on local communities and their attempts to be a part of their community life.

Trend 4: Heritage in the Making—Museums Documenting the Crisis

In ordinary times most museums collect characteristic examples of daily objects rather than ephemera. They typically do not collect everyday popular culture or document a period on a microscale at the level of day-to-day activity, as this is primarily the work of archives. However, a severe crisis—a social, economic, and cultural disruptor that affects all of society in a given country or globally—motivates out-of-the-ordinary and periodic collecting activities. Such collecting occurred following the 9/11 terrorist attack in the US and during and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (Laurenson et al. 2020: 335; Spennemann 2021: 30).

The COVID-19 pandemic itself also became a driver for this kind of contemporary collecting. Museums created new collections dedicated to various aspects of the era (Laurenson et al. 2020; Saotome 2020; Spennemann 2021). As part of this activity, people were asked to share their daily lives, under lockdown, with the museums. This initiative to participate in collecting objects was implemented in small museums such as the Community Memory Program made by the Wanneroo Regional Museum (2020) in Australia, or the activity to collect daily objects at the Suita City Museum in Japan (Saotome 2021), and, on a larger scale such as the State Administration of Cultural Relics in China, which issued a notice about the collection and preservation of material evidence of the measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on 18 March 2020 (Yang 2021).

The Heinz History Center Pennsylvania asked members of the public for objects that represented the epidemic's effects on the medical and economic status of the area, such as changes in delivery menus, business announcements, grocery lists, home learning programs, and the like. In addition, they requested digital materials such as recordings of personal stories, home movies, posts on social media about COVID-19, documentation of blogs, and digital photos.

The Museums & Galleries of Edinburgh (2020) in Scotland asked the public for personal materials related to the impact of COVID-19 on their daily lives. Items such as specific equipment used to keep safe, special clothes, documents like notes from a neighbor offering help, a rainbow made for the window, or any particular objects that helped people cope with the uncertainty and stress of the time.

Three museums in the Smithsonian in Washington, DC,6 began collecting objects related to the COVID-19 pandemic in May and June 2020. The collection protocol tried to predict what would interest viewers and those interested in this period in the future and to collect objects and information accordingly. Due to the lockdowns at the beginning of the pandemic, only digital “oral history” materials were collected initially, such as audio, video, and sound recordings. Members of the public were asked to send materials to an online collection called “Moments of Resilience.” The collection paid particular attention to the pandemic's impact on the Washington region's restaurant industry and on Black and Latino residents (Lefrak 2020). Subsequently, and following protests from the Black Lives Matter movement, dozens of categories of information and objects were developed on the designated website (ACM 2022). Likewise, in April 2020, the Museum of London (2022) launched a rapid response collecting program to document the COVID-19 pandemic in the city.

Trend 5: Exhibiting COVID-19

Soon after the lockdowns, in places where museums were allowed to reopen to the public, several museums created exhibitions to depict the situation in real time. Among them was the Suita City Museum, which opened its exhibition to the public in July 2020 to serve as a place for public discussion about dealing with the epidemic, raise awareness among residents about the crisis and desired behaviors, and encourage inhabitants to bring more objects to the museum to document the period. The goal was not only to stockpile objects but also to document and collect stories and perspectives on the situation for future city residents (Saotome 2020).

Another type of exhibition that developed due to and following the crisis and lockdowns was one in which artists presented their expressions of distress about the plague and isolation, or alternatively, artistic products that this same “free time” at home allowed them to create. These actions no doubt contributed to the mental well-being of the artists, as noted earlier. Some of these exhibitors presented online during the lockdowns, while some presented physically between outbreaks and continue to present their art today (Negev Museum of Art 2020; TMA 2020a, 2020b).

From 27 February to 17 October 2021, the National Museum of Singapore (2021) showed the exhibition Picturing the Pandemic: A Visual Record of COVID-19 in Singapore, which displayed commissioned works from five photographers, documenting how the crisis was experienced in Singapore along with a selection of objects collected from the museum's Documenting COVID-19 in Singapore open call. Thus, the museum depicted a contemporary portrait of a nation responding to and coping with a tremendous local and global crisis.

The Royal Ontario Museum (2021) in Canada opened two new exhibitions at the end of October 2021 regarding the COVID-19 crisis. The first exhibition was dedicated to objects collected in the past year, and the second, called #MyPandemicStor, documented the past year's experiences of the children from the city. Presumably, we can expect to see many more such diverse exhibitions dealing with the COVID-19 crisis in the future.

Trend 6: Reopening—New Preparations

Since the pandemic restrictions were reduced, museums have gradually begun reopening to the public on a full or limited scale. Now the question remains about the roles and relevancy of museums under new health regulations, the fear of being around other people, and an overall sense of depression, economic stress, and so forth.

It is clear to many museums that their physical operations must change as museums adjust themselves to rigorous health regulations, the updated needs of their audience, and their new public responsibilities. New courses of action adopted by museums can be identified by the following technical and physical changes: launching new visiting hours that are more convenient to the public (more afternoon hours); switching to preopening hour booking systems to avoid overcrowding; posting social distancing markers of two meters (six feet) on the museums’ floors; marking out walking directions to avoid collisions; frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces throughout the day; stationing hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the museums; adding partitions into audience's reception points; closing cafés and restaurants; offering special reopening rates; clever use of exhibits from the museum's collections to encourage mask-wearing and social distancing; transferring activities from the museum halls to its open spaces; and initiating new activities throughout the museum, especially those conducive to open spaces, such as an invitation to tour the outdoor spaces of museums with pet dogs, or outdoor scavenger hunts.

These actions were carried out based on health regulations, surveys conducted by museums among their audiences, and local staff initiatives in various museums. For example, the V&A (2022) distributed a survey among its subscribers in June 2020 asking what opening hours were considered convenient, what information would be preferable to receive in advance, if social distance markers on the floors would help them feel safe, and so on. A similar survey was also distributed by its branch in Dundee (Scotland). Likewise, The South West Heritage Trust (2020) of the UK distributed a “Museum Reopening Survey” in the summer of 2020.

Later, due to updates in health regulations again, many museums changed their physical operations back to “normal” to reduce expenses, such as returning to more conventional opening hours and removing restrictions on the number of visitors. However, some changes remained, such as providing information through applications for mobile phones, and organizing online lectures and tours.7

Conclusion

As this study shows, upon the eruption of the pandemic, museums responded in various ways to their changing reality, while many developed new strategies to fulfill their mission and provide cultural and educational services. Several museums saw the pandemic as an opportunity to better address the public's fluctuating needs. There is a process of strengthening the status of IT and social media staff members, which has come to compensate for the growing need for such activities in museums, a need that began before the COVID-19 crisis but has accelerated greatly in its wake. Further research is needed to examine the extent to which this field has evolved in museums, as opposed to the recruitment of “traditional” functionaries. Many museums worldwide responded similarly and tried to be in the service of society in a time of great need, becoming centers for community support and resilience. The crisis also accelerated the process of creating and displaying exhibits and collections on new platforms, making museums’ operations more democratic and participatory. Some museums were able to successfully evolve and manage their relationship with the public in better ways than when they relied solely on physical visits.

For many museums, the pandemic served as a catalyst for change, forcing them to reexamine what is most important. Notably, this study revealed that during a crisis of such magnitude, no part of the world is left untouched. We found that many museums across the world responded in like fashion by considering similar things as top priorities: addressing society's immediate social and emotional needs, banding together for the good of the community, using local artists’ creativity and supporting local residents, seizing the opportunity to collect items in real time to document for current and future generations, and tapping into their resources to find innovative ways to function in the uncertainty and to remain a beacon of hope. Once again, they have demonstrated the importance of cultural activities for physical and mental health. Living in a digital age enables museums to connect people across continents and facilitate a sense of camaraderie that we are not alone, we are all in this together, and we will endure. It was shown that museums with appropriate resources benefited from the technological boost and will continue to develop remote activity capabilities for visitors who have difficulty physically reaching the site, as was done at ANU – Museum of the Jewish People (2021) in Israel. When people are back to their regular lives with only a little free time for leisure activities, they will probably choose to come in person to exhibitions, but also to enjoy remotely the newly available platform of lectures and other activities that do not necessarily require exposure to actual exhibits.

However, while the current research focuses on evolution, emphasizing digital reform, unfortunately for millions of people, digital means remain out of reach, especially in the global south, as almost half the world's population does not have internet access. There is also a critical gender gap regarding access to digital technologies since fewer women than men have smartphones and mobile internet access (UNESCO 2020).

As the existing studies are only preliminary and partial, many topics have not yet been discussed. Future studies are needed to show whether these six trends have continued or been extended, so museums can provide a better service to the public and remain relevant to society even in uncertain times. At this point, when the world has not yet returned to regular functioning, and new uncertainties have begun, other factors may affect the plans of museums and their audiences in various ways. Hence, it is difficult to predict whether the trends we have presented here on museum activity will continue, which of the trends will be extended further, and which will be shelved. Rising fuel prices, damage to supply chains, the widening state of war in Europe, and other factors can affect the plans of museums and their audiences in various ways. In our estimation, the worse the physical conditions, the greater the tendency to maintain online activity and vice versa. As the physical conditions improve there will be an incentive to collect objects related to the COVID-19 before they disappear, to plan future exhibitions about this period, and most of the physical changes made on museum sites will disappear because they will no longer be needed.

As the Heritage in Motion (2021) Awards Competitions stated: “Modern technology plays an essential role in making it possible. Cultural institutions like museums, archives, libraries and so on play a crucial role in the distribution and the sharing of common values, and the sense of belonging to the community of mankind.” It is important to embrace these ideas and shift from old paradigms as the world adopts a new routine.

Notes

1

Information gathered by the authors from San Diego's museums, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum, and the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.

2

Including the Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin; the Frick Collection, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid; the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; and 12 others.

3

Like at Ben-Gurion's Desert Home (Israel), the Museum of Jewish Heritage (New York), the Haifa museums (Israel), or ANU – Museum of the Jewish People (Tel Aviv).

4

However, each museum in Israel operated independently and separately, hence different models of activity could be seen during the lockdown. In China there was a directive from above—from the government—on the activity that museums were expected to carry out.

5

The Rappaport Prize is an annual prize awarded to two Israeli artists, including holding an exhibition for each of them.

6

The National Museum of American History, the Anacostia Community Museum, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

7

Based on AAM (2020a); CDM (2020); Haifa Museums, personal communication, 26 May 2020; ICR (2021); Israel Museum (2020b); MMA (2022); MIA 2020; NMDC (2021); Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, email correspondence, 2 June 2020; V&A (2020b); Yang (2021).

References

Contributor Notes

NOGA RAVED is a professional curator and Post-Doctoral Student whose research focuses on the field of museums and culture in Israel.

HAVATZELET YAHEL is Lecturer at the Ben-Gurion Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

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