Pandemic made NI museums reassess purpose, research finds
Ulster University has unveiled new research into the recent challenges faced by the museum sector in Northern Ireland.
Researchers have spent the past two years investigating the sector's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, focusing on how museums can contribute to community resilience and wellbeing. The Museums, Crisis and Covid19 initiative was funded by UK Research and Innovation as a coronavirus rapid response project.
The project was a partnership with the Museums Association, Northern Ireland Museums Council, National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Tower Museum (Derry City and Strabane District Council).
The recommendations from the research will help support museums, funders and policymakers respond to an uncertain future by building on the experiences learned through the pandemic, including addressing the purpose of museums, digital media, and new ways to engage audiences.
Elizabeth Crooke, professor of museum and heritage studies at Ulster University, said: “This research project found evidence of an innovative and engaged museum sector, committed to new and established audience. The pandemic was a time to reassess museum purpose and find new ways of keeping relevant. The Northern Ireland museum sector has proved itself agile, able to adapt its services at the most challenging times.
“The findings from the Museums, Crisis, and Covid-19 project is informing future directions of the museum sector. Priorities lie in reaching new audiences; addressing museum purposes for changed social, economic and political landscapes; and deepening museum links with communities and the issues that matter to them.”
The research focused on three key areas: museums and the pandemic (revisiting purposes and priorities); museums and community wellbeing; and museums, Covid and digital media (innovation, engagement and practice). Reports have been published on each area.
Stella Byrne, head of investment at the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Northern Ireland said: “The Museums, Crisis and Covid-19 project has been central to helping us understand the impact of the pandemic on the museum sector and how creatively it has responded to that challenge.
“The project has helped the National Lottery Heritage Fund to better understand the infrastructure needs of the sector and tailor our emergency funding responses. It will also guide our future support for the sector.”
The next stage for the research is a stakeholder workshop on Museum Futures taking place in September.