Museum education is developing fast during the time of pandemic
The tragedy of Covid-19 is changing the way of being of most organizations, museums included. Especially for cultural organizations – which are obliged to close to the public – are forced to reinvent their role in society using all opportunities offered by the web and the digital materials they have at hand. This means also to change radically and quickly their way of working with and for a variety of audiences. The European Museum Academy and the University of Padua have since March 2020 collaborated in a project which aims at carrying out an overview of new initiatives and emerging trends in the museum sector - especially in the use of the web as online tools are already changing the way museums orient themselves to society and the perception by the users of these initiatives, with a special attention to what we think it will be lasting museological innovations also after the emergency period. The impact on learning offers and opportunities in the museums is through the digital distance development enormous.
The results from the project are to be collected in a database, reviewed, and published for referential purposes. What are interesting ideas to be picked up by others? How are we to judge what will happen 10 years from now? What are some of reactions from the users that could be helpful to orientate future planning? We are especially interested to build a structure, a base, to monitor the “reinvention” of the museum in contemporary society and in this unexpected and never experienced before kind of stress. The “new” museums with greater digital competences and potential should be at least as attractive and useful as before the pandemic, but hopefully aiming for developing qualitative and quantitative impact in lifelong and life wide learning.
So far, the traditional attitude of museums online has been articulated in two aspects:
- to use the web as a showroom specially to share collections digitized
- the promotional side (to attract “real” visitors) both enriched by tools for a multilingual approach to communication, an element that in museums have always been rather critical.
There are of course museums which have already experimented a lot with new approaches. However, these initiatives never could fully give a general framework and a set of tools leading to specific methodology, also due to the rapid and never ending technological changes and the necessary process of adaptation as far as the traditional curatorial side were concerned. They were there though, as many museums were slowly adopting a changing view of their role in society. and they might act as a steppingstone which under the current circumstances could be a starting point and, sometimes, a source of inspiration. Thus, the speediness in which the virus ‘closed down the world’ is determining a special effort to put in action rapid changes with the aim to reposition museums – and most noticeable on the web. The impact of the virus which all of a sudden has deprived museums of their core business (i.e. the permanent exhibition) is determining, as it happens frequently in emergency situations, a rapid impulse towards the use of the web by all kind of museums and it is pouring on the web an enormous amount of materials and a great energy in terms of creative use of digital resources.
The theme can be summarized in these terms: museums are obliged by circumstances to move forcibly toward a redefinition of their role as a multichannel communicative organization (which is some sense has always been partially true) in a rapidly changing global communicative universe. Curatorial skills are under pressure as never before. The necessary evolution is something which will remain as a crucial passage of the history of museums.
The movement towards an intensive and well-structured use of the web has been seriously limited – so far - by several factors:
- the inequality in the level of digitization of the collections,
- the lack of professional skills, management complexities (for instance for small local museums when their websites are integrated into the local institutions websites and consequently have less flexibility, autonomy, and quickness in response).
- Also, the use of the social media is strongly influenced by the limits in adequate skills…….in small and middle-sized museums, for instance, a social media manager is a profile frequently hired at exceptionally low cost and without a transfer of knowledge to the whole of the organization. It is not exaggerated to talk in terms of digital divide existing also in the museums world and this cannot be ignored.
Nevertheless, a lot of experience have been done in the last few years and this is part of the strategic shift from the notion of “visitors” to the concept of “users” which has been the substantial part of the general movement from museums “collection oriented” to “visitors oriented” ones. Especially big museums have managed great improvements offering online audience great chances to be involved in the cultural and social programs of individual museums in addition to the opportunity to discover collections in general and also parts of them that otherwise would have never been accessible (typically drawings, textile materials, photographs, movies, scientific specimen, archaeological small items etc.…).
The study is based on an exploratory inductive approach. The research strategy consists of a multiple case study and is divided into two stages. The first is through the use of primary source from European museums websites and/or social media pages that have invested web communication under the pressure of the Covid-19 crisis. The second presents some first reflections through analytical texts or a storytelling approach. Definition of the research framework: the output will be a simple digital record card as a tool for identifying practices which can be considered useful for the purposes of the project.
All people involved will be asked to investigate on the web cases and store them on a shared database. The active participation of students from University of Padua provide materials based on the point of view of a group of young users from all over the world. It is a specific feature of this project to represent the perception of the audience and not only of curators and directors.
Experts from the European Museum Academy will analyse materials compiled and write an interpretive report of emerging trends, together with a selection of cases relevant for creativity, good use of digital resources, online audience development, usability.
This material will be used for training activities and sharing of good practices by all partners involved, this guarantees a transnational impact on the European museum scene.
The initiative can be followed at www.europeanmuseumacademy.eu