Three Viennese Museums’ Responses to Covid-19. One: Jewish Museum Vienna
March 31, 2020
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Alexander Obermueller currently works on his Master’s thesis on the Raiford prison uprising of 1971. Before coming to USF he graduated from the University of Vienna and worked on a project on the Austrian Civil War.
Three Viennese Museum’s responses to the current crisis
Covid 19 not put only an end to in person classes at universities and schools but forced museums all around the world to close down for an unforeseeable time as well. Without in person visits, museums struggle to remain relevant. Some institutions could fall back on well-developed online tools and modes of digital engagement. For many closing their doors to an audience who is not able to attend proves to be a big challenge. How can institutions that promise to provide a close up experience of history (or art) through the “authentic” objects they exhibit, transition to an online experience that inserts another filter between the wanting audience and the powerful aura of unique objects. In this article I discuss three Viennese museums and their different approaches towards the challenges that Covid 19 entails.
Former journalist and head of the Jewish Museum Vienna Danielle Spera chose a format reminiscent of her former profession to announce the museum’s reaction to Covid 19. On March 11th Spera, correspondent like a microphone in hand, told the museum’s Instagram audience that the Jewish Museum will be closed, at least until April 3rd. Spera also invited visitors to follow the Museum’s online presence to make up for the lost opportunity of an in person visit. A week later the museum staff started using the hash tag #closedbutactive to emphasize its efforts to serve visitors and remain relevant during the Corona crisis. Danielle Spera guides virtual visitors through the current Ephrussi exhibition and narrates what visitors usually experience on their own. The hash tags #digitalmuseum and #museumfromhome signify the mediated museum experience. Another hash tag #jmwanywhere stresses the possibility to visit the Jewish Museum Vienna from anywhere. Additionally the social media team started using #stayathome a call on the community to protect those who are vulnerable and stay away from an institution that usually aims at attracting visitors.
In another episode of the virtual tour through the exhibition Spera references a video interview visitors would be able to watch on site. Visitors quickly encounter the limitations of the improvised museum tours. The video interview is not accessible to the online-audience probably due to copyright issues, the lack of time resources, or other inhibiting factors – this is uncharted territory and we all come up with strategies as we go along. The Jewish Museum Vienna’s permanent exhibition is accessible via Google Arts & Culture and on the current exhibition one can find an image video produced for the kick off of the exhibit, yet the current situation calls for improvisation. Virtual visitors profit from a rather exclusive format – it rarely happens that a museum director herself guides you through a tour.
Four days after the start of the minute long tours of the exhibit, the static camera position begins to move closer to the discussed objects, to allow visitors to engage them in more detail. Besides tours of the current exhibit and the weekly “Shabbat Shalom” posting, the director of collections makes a special appearance to commemorate the 250 anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birthday. A series of events, organized under the umbrella of #Beethoven2020 had to be canceled due to the virus and cultural institutions all over Vienna struggle to move the scheduled events online. Corona not only presents a challenge to institutions as a whole but also forces museum professionals to step into the spot light or get engaged with social media. Whereas the trained journalist Danielle Spera performs her tours eloquently other museum staff understandably struggles to adjust to the unfamiliar and challenging setting.