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Cultural institutions navigating the global pandemic

There is no denying the devastating toll that Covid-19 has had on cultural institutions and heritage sites. Lockdowns and travel bans have hindered the tourism industry and, in consequence, many have lost their jobs and many institutions their revenue.

A global toll on museums

Robben Island lost 90% of their visitors last year due to Covid-19.

The toll on museums is a global phenomenon. UNESCO released a report last year on the state of museums, noting that over 90 % of museums around the world had to close their doors during lockdowns and over 10 % may never reopen. The Robben Island Museum, one of South Africa’s most visited museums, has recorded a more than 90% drop in visitor numbers during the 2020/2021 holiday season. Chief financial officer at the museum, Blayne Crocker, said:

“Covid-19 and the related economic onslaught have placed us in an unprecedented financial situation, where our most pressing challenge is our short-term sustainability”

Going Digital

In a bid to counteract the devastating impact of the pandemic, many museums are going digital. While this is not a silver bullet, Durban’s Phansi Museum has plans to do the same.

The Phansi Museum in busier times, during a school tour.

Writer and video editor at the museum, Similo Gobingca, reveals that going digital is a process not without its own challenges. It is about bringing real-life experiences to the screen, and this can, of course, be a challenge in a space where tactile interactions are the norm. On the process, he shared:

“We are not a typical museum where you walk in and look at a tag with a long description. We give you a tour, tell you stories and tell you things about every aspect of the artefacts. We are a feel good museum, you can walk in here and touch and feel stuff…”

The curators of the museum are trying to find innovative ways to bring the tangible aspects of the museum to life, but in digital form. It has begun some fundraising initiatives and plan to make the digital experience a reality later this year. While the museum is not currently open for walk-ins, they do take group bookings and currently have two resident artists, namely Ntombi Langa who makes musical artefacts and pottery artist Phumlani Mnyawo.

Images courtesy of Phansi Museum, Save Our Museums UK, and ENCA.

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