The cultural institutions – museums, concert halls, cinemas – were particularly affected by the measures, as a physical presence of visitors, which had been obligatory until then, was no longer permitted. ‘Systemic relevance’ became a kind of buzzword and gave rise to discussions about the significance and social position of the cultural fields. Did the pandemic show that aesthetic experiences can indeed be neglected in times of crisis?
The answer is no, because it quickly became clear – quite the contrary – that this calculation was not so easy to make in practice. The reality of the ‘corona’, the domestic quarantine in which much of European society found itself, revealed a gap in the online landscape that needed to be filled by cultural education and leisure activities. It was an error of thought to detach museums from the overall social context and to deny them a relevance for social well-being. Social distancing cannot function without cultural distancing.
Already in the last pre-Corona years, museum institutions have been making efforts to digitize their mediation services and make them accessible online. In this context, most of the collections were digitized, and work was done on presentation formats for artistic projects that were from the outset located in virtual space. Up to now, interest in such a form of translation has mainly come from specific circles of experts who, within the framework of academic discourses, have investigated the conservational, documentary and, not least, mediating potentials of new media technologies. The project Beyond Matter – Cultural Heritage on the Verge of Virtual Reality is one of these few initiatives that was already working on the implementation of corresponding formats before the Corona crisis.
The lockdown has now shown that the digitization of museums not only meets a need of the museums themselves to find new ways of mediation and distribution in order to remain accessible, but that it has also been demanded and gratefully accepted by the public.1
Corona brought to light a social need for cultural education, consumption of and exchange about cultural productions so clearly that even relatively small cultural institutions are now making their online presence more conscious and interactive.
The Corona pandemic can therefore be seen as a catalyst, which on the one hand promoted the sensitization for and the need for digital formats.
Many museum institutions either showed initiative or quickly followed prominent examples in order to conduct virtual exhibition tours, discussions, guided tours, film streamings etc. online. Since this ‘acceleration’ has resulted in a large number of contributions, most of which did not originate from a research intention, but nevertheless reflect an interesting current trend, we would like to present the results of our partner institutions here and thus provide an excerpt of the strategies of virtual events developed in response to the sudden emergence of a “long-distance society”.
Cf. Hartmann, Stefan: Museen, Covid-19 and digital heritage, Augsburg 2020, p.5: “As a rule, the expansion of online offerings corresponded to the increase in user numbers. […] 50 percent of the institutions provided at least two different online services. These were institutions with at least 5,000 to 10,000 visitors*. A good half of the museums were able to notice an increase in the number of users of the online services; for the rest, the user figures were either not collected or no comparison with previous user numbers was possible. In ten percent of the museums, the user numbers did not increase.”