A year ago this week, with the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic gathering pace, museums and galleries across the UK were told to close their doors indefinitely. As we mark the first anniversary of that strange and traumatic time, Museums Journal has asked museum professionals to reflect on what the past 12 months have taught them.
If you could travel back to March 2020, what would you say to your past self?
Remember self-care! I found myself forgetting this too often, and running myself down into the ground. Not knowing back then what the future would hold in months to come, I would've told myself to take time. It's a common mistake done, and so many people can relate. It's a good step to acknowledge this as a learning lesson to apply to my livelihood.
With that said, I hope people in future take the time to remember themselves. Not only because of how difficult this past year will be, but in general. It's not a selfish act to remember you, it's an act of love unto yourself. I'm trying to figure what self-care for me looks like, and even though I may not know, I look forward to the journey of discovering. To all the creatives and staff in the sector, take time and care.
Firstly, you will be amazed at what can be achieved in a year. You will tackle many challenges; the fear of no funding, security of jobs, isolation, supporting wellbeing during a global pandemic, the worry of the health crisis, assessing risk and seeking more financial support. In a year’s time you will realise that society has changed, the sector and your museum will look different and you will have gained a better understanding of yourself as a leader.
The sector’s resilience and determination to survive will be apparent by the support that has been provided to you. Agility will become an important driver; inspiring new partnerships and accelerating your enthusiasm for transformation using digital technology. Despite these future challenges, you will build on them and in 2021, the museum will focus on welcoming its local and global community to safely visit, be inspired and have an educational and enjoyable experience.
Professionally, I think I’d say that working from home will be all well and good, but get a decent office chair, keyboard and mouse early on, you’re going to be doing this for quite some time. Make sure you make time to not be looking at a screen too. Take advantage of listening to local communities and people asking for help, this will help you feel connected with the people your museum represents. Be grateful for still being able to work, be thoughtful and supportive to those who can’t, but also try not to feel too guilty. You can still be doing too much, even if you are working from home.
Personally, adopt the greyhound much sooner, he is the best. Keep up with the running. Stop buying cinnamon buns, they cancel out the running… buy more cinnamon buns, they make you happy.
I’m not sure I would let on that this was going to be such a long haul, as to some extent ignorance was bliss in those early days. Who could have imagined that our museums would close for so long, and the tragedies, both small and large, we would see unfold across our sector as well as wider society? Instead, I would provide encouragement by striking a more positive note, touching on the newfound strengths and ingenuities museums have demonstrated throughout the crisis.
We have proven our role, purpose and relevance like never before, through our engagement and our collections, actively participating in events, debates and challenges rather than observing from the sidelines. And we have drawn strength from our togetherness. At the touch of a button, we now regularly engage with colleagues and partners here and across the world – sharing knowledge, learning from one another, and offering invaluable support through even the darkest times.
Aside from buying shares in Zoom? Put down Twitter and stop doom-scrolling, and check in with those people you’re going to be separated from for a long time. Post someone your favourite book, share a recipe for anything other than banana bread, send regular little happy notes to people.
I’d tell myself to check in more with people who have ended up isolated and separated from things that gave them joy and satisfaction in life – volunteers who have been cut off from vital social connections, colleagues used to outdoor work who have become deskbound, family who have been distant for over a year now. In a time of such change, and being forced into new ways of living, working and being in the world, a little touch of normality, a constant reminder of things that were and will be again, a source of happiness is just what we all need.