For museums the need has long been clear to rethink their cultural and social role and how their contents reach the public. The Covid-19 lockdown, apart from its immediate impact, has caused this reinvention process to accelerate. According to figures from a report of UNESCO published in May on the consequences of the pandemic on museums, of the 95,000 museums currently in the world, 90 per cent have been forced to close their doors during lockdown and it is estimated that more than 10 per cent will not reopen, at least not immediately. The report also notes that in general the museum sector reacted very quickly to the development and expansion of their digital presence, with the intention of not losing ties with users. In the case of the Museum, the activities were grouped under the tag #MuseuPicassoVirtual.
This explosion of virtual activities by museums has prompted a lot of media coverage around the world. The presence of museums in the cultural information has been remarkable these months, it can even be said that it is wider than before the pandemic. The media has given voice to museum professionals in interviews and opinion articles, disseminated virtual content more than ever, and reported on the challenges and problems facing museum centres from now on. And finally, the good news of the staggered reopening of museums is also notable news these days.
La sala on està l’obra Ciència i caritat, poc després de la reobertura del Museu Picasso de Barcelona. Foto: Miquel Coll
But what are the museum challenges covered by the media these past few months?
The relationship of museums with tourism and overcrowding
These photographs of the Musée du Louvre with the room of La Gioconda full to the brim or the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museums due to mass tourism, will they be repeated? Overcrowding and the relationship of museums with tourism, especially those that until now depended for the most part on the foreign public, is one of the central issues in redefining museums during the Covid-19 that will have to build new forms of relationships with local audiences.
Museums will be social or they won’t exist
The museum needs to be strengthened as a meeting place, for social participation, as a health space, as a public agora. It has been reported, for example, that in some French cities, museum rooms are being used as school classrooms during the lockdown.
Financing and governance
The closure of the museums has meant millions in losses due to the sudden cessation of their own income with serious consequences for future activities and for the employment situation of their workers (lay-offs, furloughing – in Spain ERTES). The ways of financing and the relationship between the public and the private sector will have to be redefined, with a fundamental issue that is now urgent in Spain, such as the implementation of a good Patronage Law.
Una parella de visitants contemplen una de les obres de la sèrie Las Meninas el dia de la reobertura del Museu Picasso de Barcelona, el 12 de juny. Foto: Miquel Coll
The relationship between what is onsite, or face to face, and what is virtual, or online
The prominence of the virtual museum during the weeks of lockdown has accelerated and highlighted how the virtual contents of museums should be related to face-to-face ones. The same face-to-face visit -altered by the health measures in the rooms- demands new ways of relationship between the visitor and the works. In this sense, the re-interpretations and updating of the permanent collections are crucial. And another important issue: does the virtual museum end up bringing more visitors to the museum? How do virtual and face-to-face audiences intersect?
Changes in the temporary exhibitions
The lockdown has forced many museums to re-programme, postpone or cancel temporary exhibitions. In the medium and long term, what will happen to many of the temporary exhibitions that are being organized? The uncertainty caused by the coronavirus is hampering lending and insurance contracts. Temporary exhibitions should probably be reinvented and the richness of our own collections enhanced.
La dona de la còfia, al fons, rep els primers visitants després del tancament del Museu Picasso de Barcelona. Foto: Miquel Coll