When asked to write a provocation about how museums should respond to the Covid-19 crisis, I had to ask myself this question: ‘Even though I miss going to museums and galleries, how much do we really need – or what do we need from – art and heritage in a situation like this?’ And the question sharpened when I considered it in relation to diversity because the pandemic has disproportionately affected BAME communities in both infection and mortality rates. Instead, I wondered whether, rather than worrying about how collections could be made remotely accessible, what should the social agenda of museums and galleries be in a time like this, just as the sector has had to consider the question of wellbeing?
The recently proposed ICOM redefinition of museums stated that they should be ‘democratising, inclusive and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the pasts and the futures. Acknowledging and addressing the conflicts and challenges of the present…’. So how would such a definition be practised in relation to a pandemic? Since many museums are wealthy institutions with privileged access to corporate finance, is the Covid-19 crisis an opportunity for them to develop a social responsibility agenda in the way that corporate capitalism has done? Such an agenda would make museums less about objects and more about humanity and could lead the way in, for example, collaborating with scientists to develop safe ways for people to visit and meet in public spaces. Surely now is an opportunity for museums to demonstrate their social value.
Errol Francis is one of the speakers participating in our free, live in-conversation event taking place on Zoom on Monday 18 May at 12:00. To view the full programme and reserve your place visit https://icomukbcimd2020.eventbrite.com
The live event is fully booked so we will make the recording of the event available on the ICOM UK YouTube channel afterwards.