COVID-19 has put us all in a questioning mood – one where we wonder what lies in our futures. Financially-motivated lay-offs, sudden adjustments to what we previously considered as normal, and social distancing requirements have come amid a wave of uncertainty. And museums are no different – their role was already undergoing rapid and meaningful changes, but the pandemic necessitated quick decision-making.
Prof. Carmel Borg and Dr Sandro Debono from the Department of Arts, Open Communities & Adult Education, are moderating the MUŻÉ.X Pre-Conference Webinars, a series of presentations by international voices from the museum world, who will be sharing their perspectives about museum futures ahead of the conference which is taking place next year.
Newspoint spoke to the two moderators about their own perspective on how museums in the local scene are faring.
How do you see museums coping in Malta?
It is certainly the case that the entire ecology needs support. Public, private and church museums have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’ll take a while for museum publics to return. New funding models are required but we also need to rethink obsolete practices and becoming more receptive to new management models that are public-centred.
This is the moment of truth for museums.
The measure of relevance that emerges from their public programming will be decisive.
What are your opinions on e-tours? How do they compare to the physical experience we are accustomed to?
We do not think e-tours do justice to the museum experience, and it’s a well-known fact that these haven’t been particularly successful. They can complement the physical experience, but not replace it, as data emerging from Google trends, covering close to two decades, has clearly shown.
Besides, there’s much more to the digital experience than e-tours – the whole experience is much more immersive.
Why is there an urgent need to discuss the future of museums?
Our original plan was to convene for the first-ever edition of a biennial museum conference this year, but that was before COVID-19 disrupted all plans. Since then, we have shifted the physical conference to October 2021 and decided to contribute to the active discussion on museum futures, happening all over the world, with these six webinars. We chose this method of communication because we believe webinars have a global dimension and we are proud of having received so much positive response.
What is your role in the MUŻÉ.X webinars?
We will be moderating the six webinars, together with our special guest, Mike Murawski, who is a change leader and a committed advocate for more equitable and community-centred museums. He will follow each speaker’s presentation and discuss with his reflections. Mike is a well-known champion for equity and is the co-creator of the international movement #museumscannotbeneutral. He will also be a guest editor with us for the publication, featuring the edit transcripts of the presentations.
What expertise are these speakers lending to the subject?
They are recognised authorities in their own right. So far, they have contributed to the unfolding discussion about museum futures, mostly on social media. They have been purposely selected to address key issues such as participatory practice, future thinking, community engagement in the arts, technology and its potential use, and last but not least, racism.
Some of the speakers are associated or have worked with top institutions, including the Cooper Hewitt in New York, the Australian Center of the Moving Image in Melbourne, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington. Two of the speakers are museum directors, and another two are leaders of international movements championing change and innovation in the museum world.
We're definitely talking about top international speakers that we have purposely brought together to discuss and debate the world of museums.
How can one register for this webinar?
Registration is via website. We strongly advise against leaving it for the last minute.