Online museum exhibits will be more prominent

image: Caption: Compton Verney homepage for the Cranach exhibition which opened in March 2020
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Credit: Credit: Compton Verney

When museums closed in March 2020 for the UK’s first COVID-19 lockdown, a majority moved their activities online to maintain the interest of their audiences. Researchers from WMG, University of Warwick worked with OUMNH, to analyze the success of exhibitions, and say that the way museums operate will change forever. Caption: Compton Verney homepage for the Cranach exhibition which opened in March 2020 Credit: Compton Verney

The cultural impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was analyzed by researchers at WMG, University of Warwick in collaboration with OUMNH (Oxford University Museum of Natural History) who, in the article titled “Digital Responses of UK Museum Exhibition to the COVID-19 Crisis March-June 2020 ‘published in the journal Curator: Le Journal du Musée, analyzed the success of online museum exhibitions and explored what the future holds for museums.

The researchers analyzed 21 museums that had temporary exhibitions due to open between March and June 2020, and decided to go ahead with the exhibition virtually. The analysis consisted of noting how COVID was considered, how the content was presented and discussing the themes of access, embodiment and human connection.

The research team found that in May-June, museums had more online content for their exhibits, suggesting that it was time to prepare for the transfer of the exhibit online. All of the exhibits were different, with some hosting podcasts, others doing film tours, and others hosting a virtual room where you click on the exhibits.

Although the digital exhibits have been successful, the researchers concluded that the online exhibits do not provide the same social and embodied experience as the physical museum, as you miss the travel there, from the hospitality of the staff, to the to chat with other visitors and shop for souvenirs or coffee afterwards.

They pointed out, however, that additional material was provided for online content that is traditionally not presented at the Museum, including behind-the-scenes videos for example. Researchers say this suggests museums were trying to give their audiences exclusives they wouldn’t get from a normal visit.

Lead author, PhD student Ellie King of WMG, University of Warwick, comments:

“The COVID-19 lockdowns have created a crucial turning point in the museum sector as they now see themselves working in a physical-digital overlap. It is interesting to note how, forced to close, museums have focused their online arrangements on exhibits.

“Museums and galleries will continue to adapt in light of a post-COVID world where practices, both digital and physical, will undoubtedly change. It is important to see the world of digital exhibition as an opportunity to provide original materials and to attract audiences who cannot visit in person. “

While it’s likely there will now be more online material generated by museums and galleries due to the pandemic, there is the issue of staff with the digital skills to manage a new arena of engagement.

Professor Mark Williams, from WMG, University of Warwick explains:

“One of the main tasks of online conversion is the financial implications, 30% of museums have changed staff tasks to provide online services. Despite this, there are concerns that staff teams may not be fully equipped to handle such monumental changes.

“This highlights the practical challenge of enabling digital content to flourish for museums, which will be difficult for the sector in such a tight resource environment. “

Professor Paul Smith, director of the Oxford Museum of Natural History adds:

“The first lockdown linked to COVID-19 imposed a real-time stress test on museums and their ability to react in an agile manner to events. The paper highlights the creative ways in which some museums have been able to adapt to the unique and unprecedented circumstances faced. “

This research is part of a larger CiMAT team interest in WMG to engage in areas beyond engineering. Based on previous research on user experience, the research group seeks to apply concepts in the arts and humanities. The research flourished thanks to the collaboration between the WMG and the Museum of Natural History at the University of Oxford. This research, which analyzes how visitors experience museums online, is a good place to start. Researchers stress to museums that with this growing atmosphere of change on the horizon, it is important that they take these conceptual issues into account and rigorously assess the public’s needs when developing online offerings to maintain such prominence. cultural.


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