Since the current national lockdown was announced on 4 January, museums have been resilient in adapting to the challenges that the restrictions bring. Museums Journal speaks to organisations across the UK to find out how they are using digital innovation and creative strategies to engage audiences while the doors are shut.
The Science Museum, London, has planned a wide range of educational activities for exploring the wonders of science and technology at home – from using kitchen cupboard ingredients to turn your dining room table into a science lab, to making your own periscope.
This week it rounded up a week of hands-on learning sessions with BBC Bitesize Daily. The museum will kick off the first of the Climate Talks series on 28 January, with a line-up of international speakers planned throughout the year.
The Science Museum has put 100,000 photographs of objects online to encourage audiences to interact with the collection. The Random Object Generator and Museum in a Tab Chrome extension is a quick way to discover fascinating artefacts. The recently launched Never Been Seen webpage allows online audiences to examine new objects with incredible detail.
V&A Dundee has welcomed in the new year with a package of online content, including free topical panel discussions. These include Design Emergency, where design critic and author Alice Rawsthorn will discuss how design innovation has helped to protect the world from Covid-19, and a session in which Paola Antonelli, senior curator of architecture and design at New York's Museum of Modern Art, will chat to members of the museum’s Young People’s Collective about how the pandemic could be the catalyst to redesign a better future.
To celebrate the closing weekend of the fashion-focused Mary Quant show on 17 January, the museum has also released a newly filmed Curator Insights tour of the exhibition. Narrated by curator Kirsty Hassard, the digital offering will share the stories of the iconic 1960s design pioneer for those who couldn’t make it to the exhibition in person.
With the Quant exhibition nearly closed, the team has been busy preparing for the launch of its first show of 2021, Night Fever: Designing Club Culture. Due to open on 27 March, the exhibition will explore the relationship between club culture and design and has been developed with the Vitra Design Museum in Germany and Brussels Design Museum in Belgium.
Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books
Seven Stories won the Best Lockdown Project award at the Museums Association’s Museums Change Lives Awards 2020. This time around it will be expanding on the success of its digital family and school programmes in direct response to the coronavirus crisis.
As well as continuing Digital Authors into School to support learners in the classroom and at home, the museum is also offering online creative writing workshops and streamed story-inspired craft sessions. Since it first launched in August 2020, Digital Authors into School has engaged nearly 13,000 children and young people across 20 individual events.
Seven Stories is also offering one-to-one tailored support for local families in the Byker and Walker areas to help home-educated children and support parents with low literacy levels. Looking further ahead into 2021, the museum is working on a new podcast series with Newcastle University to explore the histories of children’s books and Black Britain.
Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
For the current lockdown, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales will continue its digital events programme with a curated selection of online offerings throughout the first few months of the year.
Alongside the National Museum Cardiff’s Becoming Richard Burton virtual exhibition and free learning programme for schools, the organisation will launch Footprints on 20 January, a digital festival exploring sustainability and climate action.
In February, AC-NMW will host its third online museum sleepover, inviting families to experience a fun-filled night at the museum from their homes. Forthcoming exhibitions at the National Museum Cardiff include Artes Mundi 9 and The Rules of Art.
As its doors remain shut to the public, the museum building has been transformed into the filming set for a new “heritage thriller” coming to screens in the spring on S4C. The drama explores the world of art crime and features actors Nia Roberts and Steffan Rhodri, among others.
People’s History Museum
The People’s History Museum in Manchester is focusing on offering flexible learning activities. “We're putting less content on social media and doing more work behind the scenes, reaching out to the most isolated groups and offering free sessions,” said a spokesperson from the museum.
Rather than delivering virtual schools’ sessions directly to classrooms, they will be promoted as bookable sessions for teachers to facilitate remote learning.
The museum has also introduced a new range of learning activities including guided tours of its collection, facilitated discussions using museum objects as stimuli, and a continuation of the Fabric of Protest sessions for adults that have been moved onto Zoom.
The museum recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to address the financial challenges it faces due to Covid-19.
“What’s stood out to us is a really strong sense of how much the work of the People’s History Museum and its unique role in exploring democracy in the way that it does is valued by people,” said the museum spokesperson.
“The difficulties created by Covid-19 aren’t over yet for us, or other cultural organisations, but we are thankful to everyone for the support they have given when we have most needed it.”
London’s National Gallery has seen a 1,125% increase in visitors to the Stories page of its website since March 2020, as well as an increase of 71% for the average time spent on individual painting pages. For the third lockdown, the gallery will continue its programme of online art talks to connect art lovers while they are confined to their homes.
In a free event on 21 January, Theresa Lola, former Young People’s Laureate for London, will discuss how Gossaert’s altarpiece in the collection inspired her poem Look at the Revival, commissioned as part of the gallery’s immersive digital exhibition, Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert’s 'Adoration'.
The National Gallery is offering its members exclusive previews and priority booking for all events, as well as free access to the museum’s curator-led exhibition films, Titian: Love, Desire, Death; and Artemisia.
National Justice Museum
The National Justice Museum in Nottingham has adapted its education sessions so that they can easily be integrated into blended or remote learning circumstances -– including courtroom workshops for primary and secondary schools, human rights workshops and introductory sessions for students looking to pursue a career in law.
With a focus on creativity and audience interaction, the organisation will continue to pursue its successful Workshops in an Envelope initiative, a non-digital response to the museum which has so far been shared with over 400 people.
The museum will be expanding its Letters of Constraint project, shortlisted for 'Best Lockdown Project' at the Museums Association’s Museums Change Lives Awards 2020, this time as a sequence of monologues using lines from submitted letters.
National Museums Scotland
National Museums Scotland has changed the format for its Digital Schools Sessions, which reached more than 7,000 pupils between October and December last year. “We know that regular access to devices for pupils learning at home can be an issue, so we're now pre-recording our sessions,” said a spokesperson from the museum.
In addition to its growing video library of online activities, the organisation will now deliver its monthly Museum Social for carers and people living with dementia over Zoom, with guest curator speakers, live music and a chance for much-needed social interaction.
It will also continue the Friday Friends @Museum scheme for family groups with visually impaired and D/deaf children, sending participants craft materials in advance for accessible and interactive museum-themed activities.
Looking to the future, the museum has developed an 18-month interim National Strategy, focusing on targeting its National Programme towards sector and community Covid-19 recovery needs. It has also set up an advice line to provide specific one-to-one advice for colleagues navigating the challenges brought on by the pandemic.