Museums shut down during the Coronavirus lockdown are inching to towards reopening, with institutions across Europe and North America looking to welcome visitors again in May.
But with the Coronavirus crisis ongoing, museums have to walk a careful line balancing public safety with giving the public access to culture, art and history.
How might museums look different when they reopen their doors?
Museum visitor numbers will be limited. This means that even institutions which are usually free to attend are going to have to introduce ticketed entry with time slots to avoid crowds and queues. The ticketed experience will be hands-free, so self scanned tickets are a must.
Information and ticketing desks are going to be protected by plexiglass to block virus-containing droplets released by coughing, sneezing and speaking. Museum staff in these positions interact with dozens of visitors during their shifts, making them particularly venerable.
Touchscreens, children’s play areas and other interactives which require touch are going to be closed. Over time expect new interactives which don’t require visitors to use their hands and a move towards ‘bring your own device’ experiences.
Arty Face Masks
Many countries require face masks to be worn by citizens, and several museums will start to sell their own face masks with artworks from their collection printed on them. Expect this to be the first addition to every museum store.
As we saw at the Louvre at the start of the crisis, museum staff are not beyond stopping work if they don’t feel that there has been appropriate action taken to protect their health. Expect tension at some museums as they reopen, and in some cases staff walking out.
Special Hours for Vulnerable Groups
Coronavirus is of particular concern to older audiences, many of whom are regular museum visitors. Expect museums to offer special visiting hours for this group, for example, the first two hours of the day could be reserved for those over seventy.
With museum finances impacted by the lockdown and continued coronavirus restrictions, expect museums to look to their permanent collections for new exhibitions. As we saw in the wake of the financial crisis, the frequency of exhibitions will also change, with fewer shows over the coming years.
With tourism impacted for some time to come, look to museums to think more locally. How can they better connect with local communities, how can they focus on helping local people and surviving the crisis together? (For many in the MuseumNext community this is nothing new, but in the wider museum sector the same isn’t necessarily true).
Museums have been quick to make use of digital channels during the lockdown to offer distraction, education and humour. This made museums more accessible and more relatable for many, so one would hope that this would encourage new audiences to walk through the doors of museums. But will the experience that they want, be different from regular visitors?
A catalyst for change?
Is this crisis the catalyst for change that goes beyond plexiglass screens, face masks and temporary shifts in behaviour?
That decision lies with those working in museums. In times of upheaval, there is a greater opportunity to move quickly, to make change happen and to challenge the usual way of doing things.
How will you use this opportunity?
About the author – Jim Richardson
Jim Richardson is the founder of MuseumNext. He has worked with the museum sector on technology and innovation projects for more than twenty years and now splits his time between delivering consultancy, innovation workshops and conferences.