Museums and other cultural institutions (such as libraries, galleries, archives, memorial sites, etc.) play a key-role in social inclusion and cohesion. They create the sense of belonging, build shared identities, promote cultural awareness and historical reflection, improve people’s well-being and contribute to sustainable development and growth at local, regional and national level. Nowadays, museums and other cultural institutions are facing several challenges such as scarce funding, new legal obligations with regard to their collections (e.g. related to intellectual property rights), insufficient numbers of visitors or, to the other extreme, massive tourist crowds, which necessitate new and expensive conservation means and security tools. All these challenges are threatening the existence and efficient work of museums and other cultural institutions.
Adding to the aforementioned challenges, the lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic has heavily affected museums, other cultural institutions, arts and the entire ecosystem around them. Museums closed down for months, leaving staff unemployed and putting at risk cultural goods, as forced closing and absence of curators can severely impact the conservation and safety of collections.
On the other hand, cultural institutions have demonstrated great resilience and creativity in communicating with their publics remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Notwithstanding the general lockdown, the cultural sector, fully aware of the important role of culture, immediately mobilised itself to maintain activities and ease people’s feeling of isolation. Using digital technology and artificial intelligence, museums, other cultural institutions and artists offered new possibilities to access heritage and knowledge by participating in online cultural events, developed new creative business models and provided new training and capacity-building programmes to support cultural circles, and strengthened their presence in the internet and social media.
In light of the post-COVID era, museums and other cultural institutions will need to be the agents of a truly holistic and inclusive revival, as well as the developers of the new normality. They will be called to give people a sense that their life is no longer in abeyance, help to keep up the morale and be essential markers of people’s re-engagement with their cultural heritage. Therefore, there is a pressing need to ensure methods of sustainable financing in order to help museums and other cultural institutions recover quickly, continue operate in a safe and viable way and widen as much as possible access to citizens. Although the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as far as economic losses and jobs are concerned cannot be fully predicted yet, international organisations, such as the UNESCO, ICOM, NeMO and OECD provide already recommendations for measures to be put in place. Furthermore, national authorities have started allocating recovery funds that could also benefit the cultural institutions’ sector. However, these measures are only partial, short-term solutions and do not solve the sector’s structural financing issues. Signals from the sector indicate that in particular smaller, local museums without (or with limited) structural governmental funding, suffer disproportionally.
Therefore, R&I proposals under this topic should explore ways to mitigate the challenges that museums, other cultural institutions and the entire ecosystem around them are facing nowadays, including the social and economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. They should provide methods and models to sustainably finance cultural institutions, while ensuring equal and wide access to culture, heritage and cultural goods. Emphasis should be put on the role of local museums and new ways of participatory cultural management to help museums and other cultural institutions become fully embedded in cities’ life, taking also into account the differences between metropolis and small towns. A digital strategy might be developed as part of the new management and financing model, including sustainable ways of sharing knowledge and facilities to communicate through and about objects and collections of both tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Proposals are encouraged to include close interaction with local, regional and national communities and authorities, as well as cooperation with research institutions and the cultural and creative stakeholders (e.g. artists, actors, interpretation specialists, designers) to attract and engage the public and in particular young people.