In the spring of 2020, as the CoVID-19 pandemic drove a ‘remote pivot’ in many organizations, the question of what was happening in museums and art galleries was a pressing one for myself and colleagues. I had just begun a research project that was intended to innovate and evaluate new forms of site-based digital practices for museums with historic buildings (known as DigiPich, https://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/digipich/) when it became clear that the project would have to shift to a digital-only format. But the context in which digital-only provision was offered by museums was unknown, either quantitatively or qualitatively. Some insight into the existing provision and how a range of museums was adapting to the pandemic seemed like a useful background context for both my project and for colleagues with adjacent interests in museums and digital heritage.
I contacted a colleague, Dr. Karina Rodriguez Echaverria, from the School of Computing, Engineering and Maths, and we agreed that there was a programme of immediate work which could and should be undertaken: to survey the field of museums’ digital offers during the most severe period of lockdown. We secured funding in partnership from Radical Futures and the SECP, to employ a lead researcher, doctoral candidate Myrsini Samaroudi. In a series of meetings over May and June 2020 Karina, Myrsini and myself determined the scope of the project and the principles of sampling and data collection that we would apply. Further research assistance was secured via employment of 3 students from the MA Curating Collections and Heritage in the School of Humanities who contributed to the data collection. This work was completed in July 2020, before lockdown restrictions had really begun to ease, and we immediately began the process of data analysis enabled by the team’s expertise on computational data processing and visualisation. At the same time, Myrsini began drafting the text of an article which included her outstanding contextual research (on sector-influencing policy for museum and heritage services during lockdown) together with the findings of the survey, with graphs produced by Karina and some further analysis on the response to Black Lives Matter and editorial work contributed by myself.
The article was completed before the end of August – an incredible pace of work which was facilitated by the collaboration. We discussed several possible forms of dissemination for the research, but found that the journal Museum Management and Curatorship was publishing material focussed on museum responses to the pandemic. We contacted the editor who was interested in the text and upon review invited us to publish it in the September 2020 issue, under the title “Heritage in Lockdown: digital provision of memory institutions in the UK and the US of America during the Covid-19 pandemic” (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09647775.2020.1810483). As of the time of writing in May 2021, exactly a year after we began work on the project, this article has already been cited 12 times in other publications. It has also informed the work on the DigiPich grant whose outcomes are still evolving, and helped to established a cross-disciplinary working relationship which has considerable potential for future projects.
by Lara Perry