From 4 July, museums and galleries in England are permitted to welcome back visitors.

Our lockdown research has consistently shown that audiences, whatever their usual motivations for participating in culture, are mostly looking for a joyful experience when they return. 

When Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū in New Zealand re-opened in May, the spontaneous reaction of staff and visitors demonstrated this in spades – and offers us all a lesson in staying positive.  

Amy Harrington, Visitor Services Manager, explains: 

“Preparing for this particular reopening (we’ve had our fair share!) [Christchurch has suffered numerous devastating earthquakes] required some extra logistical preparations to ensure our staff and visitors stayed safe.

The Gallery team were split over two levels to further reduce any risk of sharing the Covid virus.

We’d prepared for queues of visitors but expected some community apprehension about returning to places of gathering in the city. Instinctively, our staff gathered together on reopening day – the upstairs team spaced along the balcony, the downstairs team in the foyer, all curious to see who we would welcome back first. 

Our Director, Blair Jackson, had prepared a copy of our new publication Te Wheke to gift our first visitor. As a regular friend of the Gallery crossed the forecourt, our spirits lifted.

As he walked through the doors, spontaneous applause broke out across both levels.  

In that moment we reunited with a person and that person plugged a Gallery-sized gap in his lockdown life.

When you lose it, or rediscover it, you become acutely aware of that important, intangible space where the Gallery and people’s need for the Gallery connect. 

We’re a proud home to our city’s collection of art, but we’re also a home for wellbeing, respite and our people’s social, intellectual and spiritual needs. 

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata. 
What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people (and art, of course).”

For more information about the needs and motivations of returning audiences, see Covid Audience Mindsets and Culture Segments.

Images courtesy of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū