Museums, Crisis and Covid-19: Vitality and Vulnerabilities

Lead Research Organisation: University of Ulster
Department Name: Faculty of Arts


The Covid-19 crisis is having a significant impact on the museum sector, nationally and globally. It is exposing the vulnerability of museums, their staff, projects and collections. Elsewhere, innovative programming is demonstrating the vitality and versatility of an engaged, responsive and participatory museum service, proving that museums are places of relevance even in a crisis.

This research project focuses on how museums can continue to contribute to community resilience and wellbeing in a time of crisis. It addresses sector adaptability as it adjusts audience engagement and collaboration (such as new collecting practices, programming and exhibitions) in response to Covid-19. The differing responses during the Covid-19 crisis - in some museums staff were furloughed yet elsewhere they have been involved in responsive projects - uncovers deeper attitudes to the essential (or otherwise) nature of museum services. Going forward, this project will lead and inform the sector as it adapts to effective community-digital possibilities that still embraces new thinking in participation and engagement. Alongside this, the project evaluates how we adapt our practices to be mindful of audience diversity, digital poverty, and the isolation challenges for vulnerable audiences arising from Covid-19.

Rising to that challenge this project:
1. identifies how museum pedagogy and practices must adapt to new audience needs;
2. explores possibilities for co-produced community-digital innovation; and,
3. investigates the offer museums can make to support community resilience during and in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis.

The importance of this project lies in the following areas. Firstly, new knowledge about the understanding of the impact of Covid-19 on the museum sector in NI that will both inform the Department for Communities (DfC) and have national relevance. Secondly, by generating new thinking around the community-digital dynamic and leading innovation as museums adapt. Thirdly, understanding the new needs around community resilience and wellbeing, arising from Covid-19.

The Museums Association's response to the Covid-19 enquiry described museums as vital in supporting communities, promoting community cohesion, enabling wellbeing, and reflection on significant public issues. Many of our museums work with vulnerable groups, who will remain cautious/shielding post lockdown e.g. the Dementia Friendly Programme (NI Museums Council). This project will investigate the impact of putting such programmes on hold, how they can be effectively adapted/reinstated, and make recommendations for immediate application/future planning.


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