Online museum offerings are proving culture isn't on hold despite the lockdown.

One of the areas in the UK that has been hit the hardest by the pandemic is the cultural sector. Museums and galleries are all closed until the government deems them safe to open again, which has left many people with a cultural itch they are unable to scratch.

However, while it is always nice to wander round a museum in person, many of the venues across the Nottingham area have brought their exhibits to peoples own houses through a digital presence. Whether it is social media challenges, video exhibitions or even virtual reality, there is something for every interest and every age to sink their teeth into and tide them over until cultural sites can reopen.

Not only is the digital presence great for those at home looking to pass the time or help the education of school children, it’s also vital in keeping museums afloat, as many rely on visitor donations and entrance fees. “All of this helps these cultural venues to maintain a relationship with their visitor base,” said Kinga Kapias, Acting Marketing and Communications Manager of Visit Nottinghamshire. “It reminds people that one day they’ll be reopening ready for them to visit.”

Polly Harrison looks at a Nottingham museum and a gallery to find out how they are operating in the pandemic, what they are offering to the public and why they thought it was important for their missions to continue.

Nottingham Contemporary

Nottingham Contemporary closed its doors before the lockdown began

Opened in 2009, Nottingham Contemporary is one of the largest contemporary art centres in the UK that takes root in Nottingham’s heritage. They offer several different exhibits a year for visitors to experience and learn about inspiring international art.

The Contemporary closed on March 17 2020, slightly ahead of the government advice as they followed similar cultural organisations in the city wanting to be respectful towards public safety.

Rather than attempting to promote themselves and stay relevant in the current climate, the team at the Contemporary wanted the approach to their online presence to be as selfless as possible. “It felt like it wasn’t a moment for us to push our brand and be super relevant” said Andy Batson, head of audiences and partnerships. “It was important to me to be more altruistic than that; to look at the creative community around us that were going to struggle and give them an opportunity to use the platforms that we hold.”

In terms of what they’re offering during lockdown, for the past few years they have been working in partnership with V21 Art Space who have been scanning their exhibitions for virtual reality experiences. Before the lockdown they had a small audience but since then it has become a way for the people to visit past and present exhibitions from their own homes, including activities and learning notes to support your digital visit.

Another big project that they have been working on is The Contemporary Journal, an online publishing platform. Where the gallery would usually hold an extensive series of events about art, politics and thought in general, these events have been transformed into written online content, as well as a few live-streamed events on YouTube and Instagram, as they cannot happen face-to-face. A core part of the galleries mission is to share ideas, something that creating this platform has allowed them to continue.

They have also created ways for the public to actively get involved, with creative challenges posted by their artists in residence, and an appeal for video clips of people doing creative things for a project they’re producing for the upcoming Nottstopping Festival to celebrate Nottinghams Creative Spirit.

“People need culture in their lives,” said Andy on why it was important for the Contemporary to interact with the public during lockdown, “and if they didn’t have access to that then most of the culture they would see online would be Netflix. There’s nothing wrong with that but I think it’s important to have access to culture that perhaps speaks to them in different ways.”

National Holocaust Centre and Museum

The National Holocaust Centre and Museum was ahead of the curve when it comes to digital exhibits

The National Holocaust Centre and Museum is based just outside of Newark and promotes the understanding of the roots of discrimination and prejudice. Visited by school children of all ages as well as members of the public, the centre provides a range of facilities and exhibitions to explore the history and implications of the Holocaust, including regular meetings and discussions with actual survivors.

Before they closed for the pandemic, the centre were already exploring the digital potential of their exhibitions and had created several virtual reality experiences that are now available to people at home. One of these involves stepping into famous Nazi propanganda photographs to immerse themselves and understand the manipulation of reality that was happening at the time.

As well as hosting regular Q&A live-streams with holocaust survivors, one of their main activities during the pandemic is to carry on its educational mission for primary and secondary school students, creating digital learning resources to support home learning that is happening at the moment.

One of their award winning exhibits has been moved online. Telling the story of a ten-year-old boy who grew up in Nazi Germany and was eventually sent to England by his parents, the unique and permanent exhibit has been translated into videos as well as an app for children to learn about the Jewish culture and why it is important to respect cultural differences. There are also opportunities for children to actively interact with survivors and send them letters, not only for their own education but also to ensure elderly survivors are not lonely as they isolate.

For secondary school pupils, they have created several video exercises all around the theme of “stand up, stand together”, exploring what it means to be a bystander to hate. One of these videos comes in the form of an award winning hip hop music video, Edek, bringing one woman’s experiences of the holocaust to a younger audience in a unique way.

Speaking to Sophie Farrell, Marketing Manager, it was important for the centre to carry on its key mission of education. “One of our strategies is, if you can’t come to us we’ll come to you,” she said, as usually the centre makes visits to schools across the country as part of their outreach programme. “We’re educating people to stand up against hate,” she said, “certain regions have reported an increase in hate crimes, particularly against Chinese people on the back of coronavirus which is obviously unacceptable.

“It’s a very basic message, just be kind, but now more than ever it’s important to remind people where hate leads.”