Museums across the UK are busy getting ready to welcome visitors back after several long months of lockdown.
Scotland’s cultural institutions will be the first to throw open their doors next Monday, followed by those in England and Wales on 17 May, and in Northern Ireland on 24 May (and there are of course a few places in the British Isles where museums are lucky enough to be open already).
As we count down the days to reopening, we asked our Twitter followers to share what they are most looking forward to about going #BackToMuseums.
Museums would be nothing without their audiences, and there is particular excitement at the thought of hearing empty spaces ringing out with the sound of visitors again.
“I'm looking forward to seeing blobs of people partake in shared delight, discovery and discussion, and, by being present in a space with other blobs doing the same thing, become part of something larger,” says @LisaPerfidious. “Enthusiasm and engagement crossing over: ‘Oh, I had no idea that was here!’.”
“Being sat in my office listening to the buzz of visitors outside,” says @La_Croute. “It's far too quiet with no one in the building.”
“Welcoming visitors in person again, sharing our stories and hearing theirs,” says historian Tom Hughes. “Not long now.”
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Collections, emotions – and shopping
Museums and galleries can be powerful, emotional spaces, and many of us are longing to be moved once again by the art, objects and stories they hold – followed, as is tradition, by a spot of retail therapy and museum cake.
“I cannot wait to be inspired, moved, surprised, shaken and challenged by art, by the time, pain and thought that went in conceptualising and making it,” says Laura van Broekhoven, director of the Pitt Rivers Museum. “I feel a real bodily yearning to be with art, with music, preferably also with dance, theatre and poetry performed. Then, a shop.”
“Really simply, being back in gallery spaces and feeling that beautiful energy,” says Rachel Coman, volunteer coordinator at Salisbury Museum. “Plus cake in the cafe.”
Museum professional Gum Kenth says: “The buildings themselves, favourites from the collections, a new exhibition, outdoor green space and cafes that can cater for all dietary requirements with a solid cup of tea available!”
“Learning new things and seeing cool stuff!,” says Rachel Etherington, archive assistant at West Yorkshire Archive Service. “Also trips to the gift shop at the end.”
The real world
Although digital engagement has been a lifesaver through lockdown, many of us are simply excited to be back in the physical realm.
“I am so looking forward to seeing real things close up in museums,” says artist and lecturer Lynn Setterington. “It cannot be replicated.”
Nothing beats a family day out at a museum – the shared moments of discovery, the joy of seeing their little faces light up at an exhibit, the desperate race to find a loo before there’s an accident on the parquet floor. After months of homeschooling and endless daily walks, parents are likely to be first in the queue when museums reopen their doors.
“Taking my children #BackToMuseums and having wonderful and treasured family time. We all miss this so much,” says Morrigan Mason of Carmarthenshire Museums. “They ask, ‘Can't we go to your museum, mummy?’. They don't understand why it's not possible.”
From questionable tea-making skills to sneaky pints after work, we’ve all missed our office family this past year – even if we are now more familiar with their dodgy taste in home décor. Seeing colleagues in real life will be another big highlight of going #BackToMuseums.
For US museum worker Cindy Ortiz, “getting to see my co-workers in person, being able to walk through our galleries, and sitting at my cubicle” is the thing she’s most looking forward to.
Although some of us can’t wait for the day when we don’t have to jump back in horror when a stranger gets too close, the new social norms of Covid have brought benefits for many museum visitors.
“Sounds strange but actually being able to enjoy a socially distanced viewing of an exhibition that would normally be quite crowded,” says @Hura_UK. “[Museums] can lend themselves well to social distancing and may give a more thoughtful, provocative and more peaceful visitor experience currently.”