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International Museum Day goes virtual

Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

From a new Google Arts & Culture toolkit to Animal Crossing, arts institutions have had to change with the times

Today 18 May 2020 marks International Museum Day, a celebration of the importance and influence that cultural institutions wield around the world. But with the COVID-19 pandemic shuttering many arts organisations, the day is being marked online.

In recent months, several museums have reported serious funding shortfalls – the American Alliance of Museums estimates that museums in the US are losing at least USD$33 million a day due to COVID-19-related closures – and layoffs. Some institutions in other parts of the world are tentatively reopening. Institutions on Berlin’s Museum Island, including the Pergamon and Neues museums, reopened their doors last week, operating social-distancing measures.

International Museum Day began in 1977 under the auspices of the International Council of Museums (ICOM). It has been held annually on 18 May ever since. ‘It seems like a strange time to celebrate, as thousands of museums remain closed and the uncertainty of what will happen in the coming months overwhelms our thoughts,’ ICOM president Suay Aksoy says. ‘Yet it is precisely now that we need to spread the message of the International Museum Day.’ This year’s edition is still being celebrated, with various museums sharing collections and stories online, and a nod to the day even appears in the Nintendo videogame Animal Crossing.

For this year’s theme, ICOM has chosen ‘Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion’, suggestive of the drive in recent years to ‘correct’ the art historical record, through more diverse programming of underrepresented artists and efforts to ‘decolonise’ colonial-era collections. The theme ‘aims to become a rallying point for both museums and civil society in general,’ Aksoy says. ‘We want to celebrate the manifold perspectives that make up museums, their communities and people, and to champion tools for identifying and overcoming bias in what they display and the stories they tell.’

ICOM has launched a new toolkit with Google Arts & Culture that seeks to help museums across the world share their collections online. ‘Connected to Culture’ provides guidance for arts institutions looking to programme events online, including tours and talks. The document includes advice on using social platforms, adapting live events for online streaming and running remote workshops.

More than 80 museums around the world have also shared parts of their collections on the Google Arts & Culture platform – you can see contributions from the Parsons School of Design, Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation and others over here.

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