News ID: 272943
Published: 0349 GMT August 15, 2020

UK museums turn to innovation to keep doors open amid pandemic

UK museums turn to innovation to keep doors open amid pandemic
The picture shows the building and campus of the new multimillion-pound museum and art gallery, The Box, in Plymouth, England.

Virtual field trips, a dynamic stylus and the digitization of a vast aviation archive are three of the ideas British museums have come up with as a way to future-proof their offering in the face of damaging COVID-19 restrictions.

The museums are among the first successful batch of applicants awarded Respond and Reimagine grants by the Art Fund – an independent membership-based British charity raising funds to aid the acquisition of artworks for the nation, which split £600,000 between 18 projects that came up with new ways of working during the COVID-19 pandemic, reported.

The Box in Plymouth was due to open in spring with an Antony Gormley, British sculptor, commission and an ambitious exhibition to mark the 400-year anniversary of the Mayflower voyage, which saw the Pilgrims sail to America, but was forced to postpone until September because of COVID-19 restrictions. Its successful Art Fund bid for £25,000 will be spent on developing a stylus that visitors can use to interact with digital exhibitions and audio/visual elements when it opens.

Abigail Netcott, marketing and development manager at the Box, said developing the devices was essential as cleaning interactive exhibits every time a visitor used one was not feasible. Instead visitors will be given the stylus and can use it to interact with exhibits.

Netcott said, “I think we can measure success by customer experience and that’s the focus for us now. We have significantly reduced capacity because of COVID-19, so we’re roughly going to run on about a third of anticipated visitors.”

Aerospace Bristol was another successful applicant and received £30,000 to turn its vast archive of aviation industry artefacts and documentation into a “digital storytelling experience”. The museum is developing an app for people to use on their own devices which will make the photographs, glass plate negatives, drawings, film footage, minute books and accounts contained in its archive accessible remotely.

Aerospace Bristol’s marketing manager, Adam Jones, said because a lot of the visitors to the museum are elderly and in an at-risk group, the digitization of the archive is a way for them to engage with the museum without physically having to come in.

“They’re the kind of people that at the moment, might not feel quite as comfortable visiting, or might have some concerns. So if we can take that material to them then obviously, that gets rid of the problem.”

Portia Tremlett, the public program engagement officer for the Novium Museum in Chichester, said its successful idea – to create virtual field trips for school children to learn about the Romans – was designed to take pressure off of teachers and develop less hands-on experiences which no longer work in a socially-distanced environment.

“Even when schools can do external trips, all the risks and costs associated with it are quite prohibitive,” she said. “So what we wanted to do was create something virtual, so schools could get that same experience of learning outside the classroom without leaving theirs.”

Schools will be able to purchase the virtual tours from the Novium, which is also offering “loan boxes” that contain objects to support learning with the scheme being piloted via local schools in the area.

Tremlett added that even local schools could struggle to afford a physical trip to the museum because of transportation costs and logistics, so the virtual tours could become a permanent fixture in the future.

“Obviously, anything that is hands-on and involves touching is not really what people want to do right now. So with virtual field trips, we’re then going to adapt them so that they can become a kind of digital interactive offer within the museum,” she added.

This week the government published guidance for cultural institutions applying for £270 million in repayable cultural finance from the government’s £1.57 billion art support package, which was announced in the first week of July. Part of the criteria for accessing the funds includes being able to demonstrate “national or international significance” and opportunities to engage their local communities “through education and outreach”.

The director of Art Fund, Jenny Waldman, said the organization had been “inundated with applications” for the grants, which will total £1.5 million, adding that traditional funding models have been shattered by the COVID-19 crisis.

“It is hugely encouraging to see ambitious and creative proposals from museums all over the country who are passionate about serving their local communities and engaging audiences, despite very challenging circumstances and devastating loss of income,” she added.


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