On 7 May 2020, eleven experts presented their research on visits in virtual museums and different ways of conveying content digitally, and engaged in discussions with colleagues and students in the course of the first online symposium organized by the Department for Arts and Cultural Studies. Prof Anja Grebe initiated the symposium, which is continued on 18 June 2020, due to the enormous international interest.
The measures to contain the corona virus also brought cultural life to a standstill. Since the last few weeks, the imposed closures affected massively museums, archives and libraries, exhibitions, and cultural education programs were cancelled and projects postponed. "The current situation is changing the perspective on museums and collections in the long term, even without acutely threatening the existence of individual institutions," said Prof Anja Grebe, Professor of Cultural History and Museum Collection Management, in her introduction speech at the symposium. At the same time, she observed that museums developed an enormous creative potential, especially during the fall-out of visitors, and that the crisis was taken as an opportunity to shed an innovative light on collections and objects in many places.
During the online symposium, experts from science and research, curators and cultural mediators discussed the extent to which museums and exhibition companies can attract new visitors, especially in times when physical access is not permitted. How do museums react to COVID-19 measures, which offers and projects are developed? What does the technical implementation look like and how do visitors and users accept them? All together determinations aimed at finding out how museums react to COVID-19 measures.
Museums in Quarantine - New Opportunities?
Under the project title "Ingolstadt: Covid-19 & History", the medical doctor Prof Marion Maria Ruisinger, Director of the German Medical Historical Museum in Ingolstadt, opened the series with a cross-epochal investigation of society's handling of epidemics and displayed epidemic historical objects in a collection blog. Currently, the museum is calling on the public to participate in the collection campaign and send in corona facemasks in order to preserve everyday life of the Corona crisis for posterity. The significantly high media presence and more visits to the museum's website as well as the "encouraging feedback from users, who are always looking forward to find new objects presented", as Ruisinger reported, show that medical objects raise particular interest in these days.
The role of social media
Sebastian Baden and Antonella B. Meloni from Kunsthalle Baden talked about the widely accepted online campaigns like #KuMaCHALLENGE and the enormous importance of social media channels to contact directly the followers. The two curators pointed out the advantages an already existing online and media structure has to offer, which can be quickly built upon if the museum operations switch from physical to digital. In Mannheim, for example, the studio exhibition #ONTHEQUIET was completely transferred to digital at short notice and is expected as a touring exhibition at other locations.
"CollectCastNÖ", is a service conveying content digitally and was developed in the form of a video podcast via the YouTube channel "Kultur Niederösterreich FREI HAUS". Here, short videos give insights into the collections, raising visibility, as initiator Alexandra Schantl from State Collections of Lower Austria illustrated the motivation this initiative drove. These services not only respond to the crisis, but also offer longer-term possibilities for dealing with the objects.
Hanna Sauer, from the "Junge Kulturfreunde Freiburg", a circle of friends of the Augustinermuseum, demonstrated in what ways it is possible to support local museums through participatory education projects. The audience is called to nominate a favorite piece from the collection via social media channels, which is also intended to address groups farther away from the museum. Within the team, these ongoing digital offers act as a motivating "icebreaker" to thrive the creative process, and work together with the Augustinermuseum's PR and mediation departments.
Online collection vs. "real" visit
Isabella Frick, researcher at Danube University Krems, presented the digital display of different types of objects. For a few weeks now, the State Collections of Lower Austria have made an online database accessible, which currently contains 30,000 digitized objects from the holdings of all collection areas. "We were also able to realize this project so quickly because of the corona-related closures. The project was brought forward as early as April and the entire team was highly motivated to get correct data and images online within a short time," says Frick.
Cultural mediator Julia Moebus-Puck, Vienna and Bonn, examined apps and websites of various exhibition companies and outlined the possibilities, advantages and disadvantages of virtual platforms. Her analysis clearly shows that many offerings do not adequately convey the content in a visitor-oriented manner. Hence, she concluded that although current forms could complement real guided tours, digital media could not replace a visit to a museum.
Uta Birkemeyer and Florian Pauls of the Allied Museum Berlin certainly saw the lockdown as a stimulating factor. Even before Corona, they gave a video-based insight into the collections, but are now drawing the attention on the content of many more people by emphasizing the importance of proceeding strategically, and of opening up and communicating topics that are both relevant to the content and emotionally appealing. In doing so, the two curators work closely with the museum's cultural mediators, who, for example, reveal their personal view of individual pieces in the videos.
Christoph Hatschek, Vice Director of the Museum of Military History Vienna, demonstrated a significant increase in the number of visitors to the museum's website by means of recent studies and evaluations of websites. At the same time, he observed the museum scene fearfully stated that digitization might "cannibalize" the physical visit to a museum. Hatschek's approach is that the real object's aura can be converted into digital; therefore, he does not see the digital world an enemy.
How sustainable digital "ad hoc" activities undertaken by museums during lockdown can be was the question that Matthias Henkel of the Embassy of Culture agency, Berlin and president of ICOM-MPR (International Committee for Marketing and Public Relations of the International Council of Museums), investigated. For lasting success - even beyond the period of current restrictions - Henkel recommends, in addition to a comprehensive digital strategy, the active involvement of visitors and constant communication with the audience for the creation of new contexts and approaches. Despite all the complexity, he advised to keep accesses low-threshold.
Finally, Anja Grebe, initiator and moderator of the symposium, emphasized that especially in challenging situations, the individual institutions should strengthen their cooperation among each other. She calls this a "sharing attitude" and said "This would the ultimate legacy Corona left".
"Museums in Quarantine - New Opportunities for Collections II"
Date: 18 June 2020
Time: 14:00 to 17:00 GMT
Registration: until 18 June 2020, 13:00 GMT via the Xing online form on www.donau-uni.ac.at/museen-in-quarantaene - after successful registration you will receive the zoom link
Participation in the online symposium is free of charge.
The Master's program "Collection Studies and Management" in cooperation with the Department for Arts and Cultural Studies organized the symposia.