Art during the pandemic: a virtual map of museums' digital initiatives


Chiara Zuanni's mapping project wants to document online art offerings worldwide both as an archive of the Covid-19 era and as a source of inspiration for art galleries. Photo: Handout

An interactive map shows the digital initiatives being offered by museums worldwide in response to the pandemic.

From virtual exhibitions to podcasts and videos, since closing their doors, museums have been getting creative to find ways to continue engaging with the public via their digital portals. But finding or discovering these initiatives isn't always easy.

Now, a new platform indexes these online offerings in the form of an interactive map. Rarely has art been so accessible as during the pandemic. Or, at least, in terms of being just a few clicks away.

According to a recent report from the International Council of Museums (ICOM), museums increased their digital activities by 15% in 2020. While some institutions, like the Paris-based Musée Guimet, opened up their reserves to online art fans with a video series, others, such as London's V&A, opted to put images of millions of objects from their collection online. All in all, it makes for a highly diverse offer that isn't always easy to navigate.

As a result, Chiara Zuanni, an assistant professor in digital humanities at the University of Graz, Austria, decided to create an interactive map of this digital art offer to help people identify initiatives more easily. The site splits listed events into nine categories, obviously including "online exhibitions," but also "social media initiatives" and "contemporary collecting projects."

The Tenby Museum And Art Gallery, for example, launched one such project last spring. Titled Museum Of Memories, its aim was to allow people of all ages in Britain to "create a snapshot of history from (their) own home" by collecting newspaper cuttings, pictures, letters and diary entries relating to the pandemic.

A digital divide in the culture sector

Chiara Zuanni's interactive map currently lists almost 600 initiatives launched by museums, most of which are located in North America and Europe. These geographical disparities are partly explained by the fact that the form for contributing to the site is only available in five languages (English, French, German, Italian and Spanish), but above all by the global divide in access to digital technology.

A Unesco report previously highlighted this digital disparity in the cultural sector, revealing that only 5% of museums in Africa and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have been able to provide online content in response to the pandemic.

According to The Art Newspaper, the interactive map is now a victim of its own success, as the site's simple structure is struggling to cope with the amount of data it stores. Ultimately, this goes to show just how many digital initiatives have been springing up to help museums continue their activity in spite of the pandemic.

After a year of closures, restrictions or opening at reduced capacity, some museums are now looking to capitalize on their online initiatives as a means to create new revenue streams. Museums like London's National Gallery and the New York Met have tested paid-for models in recent months, with others no doubt watching closely. - AFP

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Digital exhibitions , Museums , Map , Directory


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