While the world negotiates the ups and downs of Covid-19, museums and non-commercial galleries in the UK are in the midst of hopeful planning for a May 17 reopening date. 

Our international research on audiences during the pandemic shows people are hoping to get a range of emotions and outcomes from their early encounters back in ‘real life’ culture. 

We’ve pulled together some great examples of organisations that are clearly demonstrating they will be offering these experiences once we’re all back on the inside. 

Manage safety messaging with care

Most cultural organisations will rightly be focusing on immediate safety concerns. But while promoting a safe experience can put minds at ease, it won’t provide that underlying motivation to attend. 

Mask-wearing, enhanced cleaning and social distancing are so fundamental right now that they don’t need to be the first thing you talk about. Care messaging should be woven through all of your communications, but focus first on raising excitement and expectations. 

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston does this brilliantly with images of visitors wearing masks set against inviting and vivid Basquiat artworks featured in their Writing the Future exhibition. 

Other great examples include the Chester Zoo visitor charter, which includes all of the required safety information in a bright and family-friendly way, and characters Art Cat and Dippy from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh in a playful safety video. 

Offer a range of outcomes as people ‘catch up’ on missed experiences

Our research shows people have exceptionally high expectations for their return to in-person cultural experiences.  As well as spending much-missed time with friends and family, they want to be educatedmovedinspired and reconnected through culture. 

The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, which re-opens later in April, is capitalising on the many outcomes that people are hoping for. Their bold reopening campaign is themed around culturehistoryart and ideas all with images of masked visitors deeply engaged with exhibits. 

Similarly, New York’s The Met‘s inspiring home page video montage shows masked and socially distanced visitors spending time with family, appreciating the built and natural environment, and connecting with the exhibitions. 

Focus on families and educational experiences

As parents look for opportunities for their children to catch up on missed education and experiences, be mindful of what part you can play. 

Discovery Place in North Carolina, well-positioned to capitalise on parents’ hopes for fun AND educational experiences, has a ‘Welcome back to Wonder’ campaign to re-inspire exploration among its young visitors. 

But it’s not just children. We’ve found ‘learning new things’ is one of the main things that adults are looking forward to when re-engaging with culture. It’s worth showing your education offer will appeal to all age ranges. 

The Science Museum’s ‘See you soon’ video beautifully demonstrates the exhibitions are designed with both adults and children in mind.

Highlight the natural elements of your site

Everyone’s lockdowns have been different, but many people have either missed, or rediscovered, nature over the last year. While the focus right now in the UK is on getting back inside buildings, don’t neglect the other spaces that you may have.

Simpler things, such as a change of scene or seeing different architecture, will be eagerly awaited. 

This is especially important if you can’t yet re-open your indoor venue. 

While both The Kennedy Center and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in DC are yet to open in full, their outdoor spaces offer a way of staying connected with the venue. 

Consider your balance of in-person and digital, even after reopening

Many potential visitors won’t be ready to return just yet, and those from further afield might not be able to.

But our findings are that many people intend to continue with some digital engagement even as venues reopen. While you open your doors, consider your long term strategy for digital, and let people know that they can stay involved both onsite and off it. 

MFA Selects is the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s new microsite, and NYPhil+ is the New York Philharmonic’s. 

Both sites, launched early in 2021, bring high production value ‘designed for digital’ content, showing each organisation’s seriousness about digital strategy long term.

In the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s case, combining its reopening with launching its microsite demonstrated that digital is not just a stop-gap. 

We wish you all a great reopening! 

Website images:
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Met
Science Museum
Hirshhorn Museum