The COVID-19 pandemic has forced museums to reevaluate their strategies and seek new, digital ways of attracting audiences. This year’s International Museum Day focuses on new forms of cultural expression and dissemination, as the industry and the whole world emerge from the pandemic.
More than a year ago, the pandemic forced museums around the world to shut their gates to the public. According to the International Council of Museum (ICOM), the cultural sector is among the most affected by this crisis.
Surveys conducted by ICOM and other international organisations present a dire situation for museums and their professionals, with serious economic, social and psychological repercussions in the short and long term alike.
Museums severely affected by the crisis
According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the entire cultural sector has been severely affected by the pandemic, with museums hit particularly hard.
A newly published report by UNESCO estimates that in 2020, nearly 90% of museums had been closed for an average of 155 days, and since the beginning of 2021, many have had to shut their doors again, due to surging infection rates.
This has resulted in a 70% drop in attendance on average, and a 40% to 60% decline in revenue compared to 2019, the agency reports.
“In the midst of the crisis, we must not lose sight of the fundamental importance of ensuring access to culture and conserving our shared heritage in all its diversity,” said UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay.
But the pandemic has opened new doors
At the same time though, “the pandemic has served as a catalyst for crucial innovations that were already underway” – notably an increased focus on digitisation and the creation of new forms of cultural experience and dissemination, ICOM notes on the occasion of celebrating today the International Museum Day.
Despite the limitations imposed by the lockdowns, the ICOM reports that more than 83,000,000 people in about 158 countries and territories visited over 37,000 museums through digital platforms.
The pandemic forced museums to find new ways to reach audiences, remain relevant, and make their collections accessible to everywhere in the world. In the COVID-19 era, museums have been pushed to expand their horizons and tried to find their place in the digital space.
Many museums around the world are now presenting virtual tours and field trips, digital outreach and online exhibitions, making their collections available everywhere in the world. Even sites with limited budgets are finding ways to deepen the experience of remote visitors, offering video-casts, podcasts and live Zoom presentations and webinars.
Moreover, Google Arts & Culture has teamed up with over 2500 museums and galleries around the world to bring anyone and everyone virtual tours and online exhibits of some of the most famous museums.
As a result, we can now visit more museums, art galleries and historic sites than ever before. We can take a virtual tour to some of the world’s best online exhibitions in places that perhaps we would not be able to visit even after the pandemic is over. With no masks and no customs lineups or screening.
The example of the Acropolis museum
A great example of this technology embracement is the Acropolis museum in Athens, which has completed a major digitization program, with all of its exhibits now accessible from anywhere in the world.
The museum may have opened its doors to the public on May 14 – after six months of being closed – but its exhibitions are fully available online since the end of 2020.
The Digital Acropolis Museum showcases exhibits in high definition, alongside a startling array of multimedia applications, including games, videos, and 3D images. It is also the first museum in Greece to go fully digital, leading the way for other Greek institutions that will hopefully soon follow in its footsteps.
Other famous museums that offer digital tours
Other museums that you can virtually visit:
British Museum, London
This iconic museum located in the heart of London is the world’s largest indoor space on Google Street View. You can go on a virtual visit to more than 60 galleries – perfect for creating your own bespoke tour around your favourites. See highlights like the Rosetta Stone in the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery or discover gems like the beautiful textiles in the Sainsbury African Galleries. Visit here
Guggenheim Museum, New York
Google’s Street View feature lets visitors tour the Guggenheim’s famous spiral staircase without ever leaving home. From there, you can discover incredible works of art from the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary eras. Visit here
The museum also offers other online tours and activities on its website.
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
You can virtually walk through this popular gallery that houses dozens of famous works from French artists who worked and lived between 1848 and 1914. Get a peek at artworks from Monet, Cézanne, and Gauguin, among others. Visit here
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Find plenty of tips to enjoy the Van Gogh Museum from home. There is something for everyone: explore the artworks in the online collection, watch the 4K virtual tours on YouTube, get creative or dive into compelling stories about Vincent van Gogh. Visit here