Whilst museums, galleries and heritage sites may not have been shut down so entirely by COVID-19 as performing arts venues, they have still had to undergo a full factory reset in terms of sense of purpose, delivery logistics and visitor management - both in-person and online.
The in-person experience
% of surveyed audiences who attended venues...
In the year pre-COVID
- Visual arts: 29%
- Museums: 49%
- Historic house, castle, heritage site 43%
- Historic park or garden open to the public 49%
- Other heritage place 20%
Since COVID lockdowns began
- Visual arts: 5%
- Historic house, castle, heritage site 8%
- Historic park or garden open to the public 15%
- Other heritage place 4%
Renewed consideration of how visitors engage with spaces, the introduction of one-way systems, and reduced tactile engagement, have all helped to shape 'covid-safe' indoor spaces that the public can still enjoy during periods of eased restrictions. Even when open though, museums and galleries have had to think hard about the ways in which adapting the physical visitor experience might also present additional barriers for already lower engaged visitors:
- having to book a ticket in advance,
- restricted numbers,
- limited additional facilities, etc.
When so many museums and galleries would previously have relied more heavily on walk-ups than most arts and culture organisations, thinking about the messaging around visiting is something they are having to do with more specificity than ever before.
The repurposing of and focus on outdoor space has been of huge benefit to many venues in the quest to pursue inclusivity in a restricted world, especially during periods where indoor engagement has not been possible. Our COVID-19 Cultural Participation Monitor has shown us that, even if people haven’t been doing anything else cultural during the pandemic period, a lot of them have still visited outdoor exhibitions and heritage sites, and many organisations have flourished in their ability to pivot their attraction to one of outdoor-led activity.
This is just one of many ways in which museums and galleries have been turning their attention evermore towards their more local audiences. Not only are venues in traditional tourist destinations revisiting their purpose and strategy to make sure that they are still relevant to the home crowd, but many local and regional museums have been using their sites, staff and assets to serve the most vulnerable in their communities - be that through offering food bank space or partnering with schools to provide larger learning facilities. What it means to be a local venue has taken on a whole new meaning for many.
The online experience
% of digital cultural engagers during lockdown who have:
For many museums and galleries, developing a digital strategy has been on the agenda for a long time. When COVID-19 forced them to close their doors, it shot to the top of the priority pile. This pivot though, whilst fast and challenging, has forced a huge amount of upskilling of staff that it will be important to continue to nurture post-pandemic, including an increase in cross-team learning and collaboration within venues. Organisations have invested a lot of time and courage in the desire to do things differently - to do things digitally - that will lend themselves to the more blended approach that we can hopefully expect as we gradually return to some sort of much desired normality.
No longer will the 'digital offer's' role be simply about attracting visitors to the physical experience, but different kinds of engagement will be available to facilitate either entirely physical/digital or wrap-around experiences. In many cases, wholely new engagement models and learning programmes are being developed to reach participants who cannot engage physically, at a never before seen pace.
For families in particular, the before and after digital package appended to the physical experience can, moving forward, make for a much richer ‘visit’. Children can be further encouraged to engage digitally with 'the trip' both beforehand and afterwards for an even fuller experience and the idea that digital is something that you can do as a family or as a group is really finding its feet. You don’t have to be sat in front of a screen on your own, it can be a social experience. That’s been quite a steep learning curve for both 'audiences' and the people providing the experiences for them - it might be a great thing though if those kinds of behaviours remain.