Sunday, January 17News For London

From virtual tours to online exhibitions: How Covid-19 is challenging London museums and galleries

Photo: Alejandra Angulo

Covid-19 restrictions have forced museums and galleries to reinvent for survival. Online platforms have been an alternative for cultural institutions, but are they enough to compensate for the financial sequels of the second lockdown? Westminster World talked to representatives of the London Transport Museum and Branch Arts project about the sector’s challenges, transformations and future.

Chris Nix, Assistant Director for Collections and Engagement at London Transport Museum, believes that the pandemic is not causing only financial losses, but is also transforming the way people seek out cultural experiences.  

“Our shop has just done a refresh of the website and we were relieved to find that more people switched on to things online, but that was nowhere near enough to balance the rest of the lost income. The furlough scheme has been a key part of our survival,” said Nix.

To survive, the museum has introduced interesting initiatives such as the Hidden London Hangouts, a YouTube channel that looks into the world of hidden stations and which has brought people on furlough back to work.

A study ran by ArtFund reported that six in ten (60%) surveyed museums are worried about their survival, while only half (55%) have received emergency funding to date.

Flora Fairbairn, Co-founder and Director of Branch Arts, a project that represents U.K and foreign artists, commented that the coronavirus impact on the cultural sector is concerning and sometimes overlooked.

“London has always been a landmark city for visits to museums and galleries. Without them being accessible, a lot of cultural attraction has diminished, putting pressure on the city as a tourist attraction.  Many jobs have suffered and without extra government and private funding, many institutions will be forced to close,” she said.

Photo: Alejandra Angulo

Along with British artist Matthew Burrows, Fairbairn also leads The Artist Support Pledge, a network to support creators during Covid-19 that since its creation in March has raised millions for struggling artists, giving them an extra outlet to sell their work.

“The Artist Support Pledge has been a good example of ways for artists and galleries to survive during lockdown.  Galleries have been inventive and almost all have created online selling exhibitions enabling their artists to still have a way of having their work bought by collectors despite shows being cancelled,” said Fairbairn.

What happens next?

Photo: Alejandra Angulo

As lockdown comes to an end on December 2 and the country returns into a tiered system, the London Transport Museum is preparing to reopen and the team is optimistic about the institution’s future.

“We have made a comeback from lockdown already, so we know how that is going to look. We have a renewed confidence in ourselves, as having done this once, we know how to do it again. Hopefully, the audience will be in demand and they will want to come back,” said Nix.

Fairbairn considered: “Although it’s going to be very tough for many independent galleries to stay open due to rising rent costs and lack of visitors, those who managed well with their online sales are going to find other ways to keep going, while many will end up going online instead.”