The world is always in a state of change. Change is often driven by technological and social development but occasionally by crisis.
While we feel that the development of technology and society is a more or less normal state of affairs, crises introduce exceptionally rapid changes that shake the foundations of society. In the acute stage of the coronavirus crisis we can now already see that our society will change permanently. The sudden change brought about by the coronavirus is only part of a greater process of change that we are experiencing.
Museums are memory organisations creating meanings with the aid of historical perspective and taking up issues and questions rooted in the present. Our present era will also be recorded in museums and it will become part of history.
An important task of museums is to keep history alive, to give it new interpretations and depth, and to help draft scenarios of the future in aid of solving contemporary challenges. How can we do it now during the present coronavirus pandemic? I am reminded of a quick visit during my autumn vacation to the Estonian Maritime Museum in Tallinn, where it felt great to experience history with my family in a living way, in the middle of an immense exhibition hall. It was a good reminder of how museums, at best, have the ability to bring people together.
In museums, we are accustomed to using exhibitions and events as efficient means to carry out our mission and to reach out to people. Now that museums have closed their doors, we have to consider other methods instead of physical encounters and spatial experiences. Open content, providing wider accessibility to archives and virtual tours of exhibitions, serving as platforms and facilitators for digitised discussion, and offering a broader use of the educational content of museums are only a few examples of the range of activities currently undertaken by museums towards their audiences as they carry out their mission.
‘The work that is being done will bear fruit into the future.’
All the work that we do now will also bear fruit in times to come. What we learn now will become our resources also in the future in a world that is becoming technologised and virtualised at an ever faster pace.
Alongside technological solutions, the question arises of what content do we highlight, and why. How can we look further and foster understanding towards the future by making use of the historical span of events that is characteristic of us? How do we take our places as active agents in society commenting on developments and facilitating change, who can also present positive scenarios of the future at the time of an acute and challenging state of emergency?
The answers to the above questions are not easy. Nor is there any single correct answer. Perhaps the most important considerations are to be topical and to have significance, whether in terms of aesthetic content that makes people feel good, or completely new perspectives opening up new thinking and discussion. A strong vision and a strategy for activities also help in this work. When the direction is defined clearly, the solutions for activity are easy to realise – above all in a changing operating environment.
The world is always in change. It is up to us how we regard change. There is no doubt that the rapid changes brought on by the crisis will lead to difficulties and challenges. But looking further, it may also give us opportunities to be more ready and more open to learn, and to encounter change.
Director, Design Museum
First published in Finnish on 17 April 2020