Interpretation and Covid-19

Collection of objects collected during lockdown on display at the House of European History. © House of European History / European Union, 2020.

In this second discussion piece exploring the impacts of Covid-19 on interpretation, we look at how the collections and stories that lie at the heart of our heritage and cultural attractions can be maximised.

A shift of focus away from external to internal collections opens up a world of possibilities. Blockbuster exhibitions and travelling displays in general have been a great tool to increase repeat visitors and keep content fresh and exciting. However, the difficulty in gathering a multitude of international loans coupled with the increased costs of transport and insurance means these types of exhibits are likely to be shelved indefinitely. This presents an opportunity to reassess permanent collections and look for innovative and creative themes to display previously overlooked artefacts. Of course, it would be difficult to communicate 17th Century French History at a Natural History Museum, but each object will have a multitude of stories to tell: who used it, owned it or made it? How was it made and where did the materials come from? Can it tell us anything about a specific moment in history? If a picture is worth a thousand words, one object should give you at least five interpretative directions.

Heritage and cultural attractions are uniquely placed to collect and interpret experiences of this monumental historic event. People are already sharing their Covid stories through grassroots platforms, fulfilling their human need to connect with one another about a life-changing event that is shared but also uniquely personal. In the Hollywood Dells neighbourhood of Los Angeles, a neighbourhood have curated their own Quarantine Museum– a selection of notes, art, crafts, and tokens of people’s experiences of Covid-19 displayed on their fences as neighbours attempt to connect with each other in a time of limited contact. Providing a platform for people to tell their stories through our local, regional and national museums is both a strategic and socially responsible way to mark this uncertain moment in history. Collecting contemporary perspectives and artefacts now ensures you have the assets and tools to use later in time, and these authentic accounts can then form the basis of your interpretative direction. If collecting physical material proves challenging look to the Isolation Museum, a website that allows people to virtually reflect on their spaces and relationships during lockdown through objects and memories. For guidance on collecting Covid-19 material sensitively and respectively, the Museums Association have released the following statement.

How can hsd support you?

Although support for collections might not rise to the top of the list of concerns at present, development of a forward-thinking collecting and interpretation strategy will help to ensure your attraction remains relevant and cutting edge well into the future. hsd’s multi-disciplinary team can offer a range of interpretative services that will support this important process, including:

  • Interpretative assessments
  • Temporary exhibition strategies
  • Collection / contemporary collecting reviews
  • Audience evaluation planning
  • Market research programmes

If you want any advice or support please do not hesitate to get in touch with our New Business and Consultancy Team – or 0116 251 8555.