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Museums Are More Than Buildings

Much has been written about the reopening of Museums after their closure as part of social distancing measures.

It’s a joy to see our cultural institutions welcoming their communities through their doors, despite continued restrictions on visitor numbers.

The reopening of museums is a step towards life getting back to normal, and it should be welcomed. However, it also highlights how I think we too often see our museums as a place.

Throughout the lockdown, we saw museums find imaginative ways to stay connected to their communities.

A Dutch museum which commissioned local artists to create posters to brighten peoples lives (here). A museum in Tulsa which broadcast local musicians on their Facebook page (here) and a historic flour mill which restarted production to provide much-needed flour during a shortage (here).

All of these initiatives show our ability to reach beyond our walls.

Despite the unusual circumstances of this year, museums reaching out beyond their walls is nothing new. The museum installations at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands always strike me as being quite brilliant.

With millions of people spending time in the airport with nothing to do, both the Rijksmuseum and the Nemo Science Centre offer exhibits to those passing through.

So with our museums not able to welcome visitors in the usual way, and with some nervous about walking through the doors of our venues, should we be not only reopening our doors but looking for ways to take our museums on to the streets of our cities.

The brilliant Grand Tour from the National Gallery comes to mind as a way to do this. In 2007, the museum hung reproductions of their artworks around London, juxtaposing paintings with the city in interesting and entertaining ways.

As well as physically taking our museums onto the streets, we’ve seen during the past few months, the imaginative ways that digital teams within museums have adapted online experiences.

These have clearly illustrated that our work goes beyond our four walls and that digital isn’t just a tool for attracting more visitors.

So, let’s celebrate as our museums reopen, but not forget that to reach out beyond them. Our buildings are just one tool with which to achieve our missions, but as we’ve seen in 2020, we have many more.

About the author – Jim Richardson

Jim Richardson is the founder of MuseumNext. He has worked with the museum sector on innovation projects for more than twenty years and now splits his time between delivering consultancy, innovation workshops and keynote presentations.

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