Changes in museums

I got an unexpected call from a friend who is a trustee of a smaller museum in which he asked me what I thought were going to be the big changes in museums as a result of COVID-19. I had to think on my feet, because although I’ve been reading a lot about what’s happening, I haven’t really had to structure my thoughts on the topic. So, these were my immediate thoughts:-

  • It’s pretty obvious that there is likely to be a reduction in the number of big blockbuster exhibitions. They are so expensive to organise, they require a great deal of international travel, they only work if there are lots of visitors. I noticed that the V&A’s exhibition of Kimonos was pretty well drawn from its own collection and I can imagine that this will be a more general pattern: packaging up work from the existing collection and work in store in order to save on costs.
  • Much activity is surely bound to migrate online, and already has. After nine months of working much more actively online – online seminars, online conferences, online teaching, staying at home and having meetings on Zoom, it’s a bit implausible that the pattern will change back to the old normal, however much people may yearn to be back in the galleries.
  • Visitor numbers are down all over Europe. We’re now in a second wave of COVID and it looks as if there may be a third wave and a fourth wave. We’re not going to get back to normal anytime soon and that includes less international travel, less cultural tourism, fewer visitors, less visitor income, so museums are going to have to change their financial projections not just this year, but for the next five years at least.
  • Deaccessioning is gathering pace in American museums, not just in order to help provide necessary income, but also in order to re-shape the character of collections and which artists are represented.
  • In the UK, trusts and foundations and indeed the government have stepped in with grants to help museums survive this year. But what happens next year ? This was the question I was asked and I would love to have an answer.

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