Louvre Abu Dhabi and New York University Abu Dhabi have joined forces for a new virtual symposium which “will address the new responsibilities and challenges facing museums today” in the context of Covid-19. Reframing Museums (16-18 November) will be open to the public and centred around three themes: Collections, Building/Place and People.
Speakers due to participate include Max Hollein, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg; Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, the president and director of the Sharjah Art Foundation; and Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Asked why this webinar is important, Manuel Rabaté, director of Louvre Abu Dhabi, tells The Art Newspaper: “We hope that these conversations will benefit everyone—from those whose livelihoods depend on a healthy, global, cultural ecosystem, to every visitor [that attends] a museum.” Issues such as sustainability, education and diversity will form part of the symposium agenda.
Crucially, Rabaté says that the symposium provides an opportunity to examine the role of museums in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. “Covid-19 has attacked the very DNA of people, forcing us to distance ourselves. Museums are more relevant than ever, but we need to reinvent ourselves to connect with our audiences again. We have a role to play in the reconstruction and reconnection. This, I believe, is how we begin to define what it means to be the ‘mindful museum’ that we are,” he says.
The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the in-real-life experience offered by museums. “Covid-19 is especially hard for museums as they thrive on bringing people together for a few hours of learning and community in a particular place,” says Mariët Westermann, vice chancellor of New York University Abu Dhabi.
She adds: “Having been forced to suspend in-person operations for some time, they have an opportunity to reframe themselves, with close attention to what they will be as places when fully reopened. How were they missed when they were gone, and what did they learn about their relevance that can help them be vital, vibrant, and meaningful places?” Westermann asks: “Can they transfer some of that energy into virtual space to reach communities that did not have a stake in them before?”
Rabaté also touches on the scale and scope of digital initiatives—which are capable of broadening an institution’s international reach—whilst bearing in mind the requirements of local audiences. “We are at the same time global and local… We are simultaneously expanding our international audience reach through new digital platforms, while also bringing a hyper-local awareness to the needs and interests of our local communities,” he says.