Pivot to digital: How museums and galleries responded to COVID-19

16 November 2021

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Dr Jenny Kidd, 

Dr Jenny Kidd

Senior Lecturer in the School of Journalism, Media and Culture at Cardiff University

Dr Jenny Kidd is Senior Lecturer in the School of ...

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Dr Eva Nieto McAvoy, 

Dr Eva Nieto McAvoy

Research Associate at the School for Journalism, Media and Culture at Cardiff University

Dr Eva Nieto McAvoy works as a Research Associate ...

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Dr Ania Ostrowska

Dr Ania Ostrowska

Research Officer (Screen), Creative Scotland

Research Officer (Screen), Creative Scotland

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As the UK went into full lockdown in March 2020, museums and galleries were faced with the prospect of having no visitors and limited audiences for the foreseeable future. 

As a result, many institutions turned to digital as a way of staying connected to their audiences. They began to experiment with new ways of opening up their collections through online platforms. For some organisations, this meant accelerating the digital strategies that they already had in place. For others, they needed to quickly learn how to innovate in order to retain and build audiences through digital systems. 

This research looks at how museums and galleries experienced this ‘pivot to digital’. It examines some of the lessons learnt by these organisations, and sets out some best practice principles for the sector going forward.

There are some fascinating insights that shed light on a sector that has struggled in the face of lockdowns and restrictions on physical visitor numbers. Communications officers who were responsible for producing digital outputs suddenly had a hugely increased workload and more responsibility. Some people reported that this pivot forced their organisation to change for the better, transforming how they engage with audiences and plan for the future. Others felt that they were put under pressure to create products and deliver online services that weren’t feasible or necessarily what they felt audiences actually wanted. 

The research is based on a series of interviews held with the people working for museums and galleries who are responsible for producing digital content during the pandemic. Among other questions, the researchers wanted to find out how the pandemic has changed people’s approaches to digital engagement,  whether they were engaging with audiences in new ways, and whether attitudes about the value of digital platforms had changed. 

Credit for hero and thumbnail images to Mo on Unsplash