Digital reviews - Museums Association

Digital reviews

Our pick of the latest digital content from museums and galleries
Emily Nelson from Leeds Discovery Centre makes simple but engaging videos from home

Video | Museums from Home, Leeds Museums

Creating a bit of magic from home

While galleries have been closed during the pandemic, we have often looked almost desperately to technology to make good the damage of distance. But what we have often overlooked is the power of our staff, even when working from home, to use meagre means to create the kind of engagement that happens in a museum.

This isn’t the case with Leeds Museums though. Since March, the venues have produced more than 70 short videos in which Leeds Discovery Centre’s Emily Nelson delivers bite-sized chunks of storytelling and object-based education covering world history, natural history and local Leeds history, from the Romans to the Luddites.

The production values are basic: a single shot, a static frame, objects held up to the camera against a sheet of A4 printer paper. But it works, because Nelson’s on-screen presence is simple, direct and engaging.

As I was watching (working from home, naturally), my nine-year-old son peered over my shoulder and was instantly rapt in Nelson’s description of how the world’s deadliest sea snails use an internal harpoon to sting their victims before swallowing them whole.


It’s the kind of magic moment that you sometimes unexpectedly get in a museum, and it’s doubly delightful to find it online. As museums tentatively reopen their doors, they would do well to remember that it’s not just their collections and galleries that audiences come for online
or offline, it’s the people too.

A still from Naoko Wowsugi’s guided meditation in the Smithsonian's care package

Online care package | Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Guided meditations, recipes and drawing are all part of an initiative that aims to nurture public health and wellbeing

The word “curator” derives from the Latin word for “care”. Whether we are better at caring for objects or for people might be a moot point, but how can a museum care for its audiences when they are suddenly out of physical reach?


Not long after the coronavirus pandemic began shuttering galleries and museums, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, like many organisations keen to reach audiences online, published this care package, bringing together recent works by artists and writers made in collaboration with the venue.

It’s a simple initiative: a single page full of text, video and sound. But it’s more than just a list of yet more museum content to consume. As well as poetry and film, it includes engaging activities such as Jack Gray’s Whakarongo, which requires space to move around and draw on surfaces; Naoko Wowsugi’s guided meditation with a cup of tea; and restorative recipes by the People’s Kitchen Collective.

By centring the artists involved and by consciously choosing a set of works with peaceful and healthful properties, the Smithsonian has created a small oasis of calm among the otherwise endless stream of newsletters and calls for attention from the sector that marked the onset of the pandemic.

Rapid response collecting on display in Ordinary People, Extraordinary Times

Online exhibition | Ordinary People, Extraordinary Times

Lockdown brought something different for everyone. For some, it was loneliness, for others an inability to escape the company of their housemates. For many of us, the enforced time at home meant an overdue reckoning with overcrowded cupboards, closets and garages.


What we didn’t throw away was what was important to us, and Home Treasures, which explores what the people of Northern Ireland chose to keep from their clearouts, is the starting point for Ordinary People, Extraordinary Times – an online experiment in rapid-response collecting led by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland during lockdown.

More than 50 people gathered together online, swapping and sharing memories and objects, and the results have been compiled into this exhibition.

Along with childhood teddies and letters to the tooth fairy, there are also letters, cards and diaries written during lockdown, as well as recipes new and old. It’s an unusual and poignant combination of life memories and contemporary moments.

As is often the way, the strength of the content is let down by a clunky interface – oh, for a better understanding of good digital design in the sector – but persist and you’ll find some wonderful stories, and perhaps even find out how to make a lockdown emergency cake in a mug.

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