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Three Viennese Museums’ Responses to Covid-19. Three Natural History Museum Vienna.

ObermuellerAlexander 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.

@nhmwien Natural History Museum Vienna

A picture showing the closed but well lit facade of the natural history museum Vienna informs the public that the museum remains closed due to Covid 19. Like the Jewish Museum of Vienna the NHM staff invites visitors to visit the Google Arts&Culture page to investigate some objects of their collection like the famous figurine Venus of Willendorf, in closer detail. Hash tags like #cultureagainstcorona and #cultureintimesofcorona accompany the post from March 17th.

NHM staff posts regularly in English and German and uses already existing digital material like a video on the current exhibition concerned with the moon. Astronomer and astrophysicist Gabor Herbst-Kiss stresses that even astronauts have to go into quarantine in preparation for their venture into space. Highlights of the NHM’s collection like dinosaur skeletons and the mineral collection make a featured appearance on the institutions Instagram channel. Staff first references the new reality, namely social distancing, directly in a post on Bronze Age jewelry. Its spikes supposedly assist in the quest to keep a distance from potentially contagious peers.

With schools closed, NHM staff devised a format to entertain and inform kids about the museum’s collection. In the first colorful episode of a segment dubbed #NHMWienFromHome facilitator and educator Elli Jegel talks about unicorns. Donning a unicorn onesie, Jegel takes kids into the mythology of unicorns and ties the popular creature to the museum’s collection. Another educator with the NHM, Jasmin Hangartner, talks about ancient salt mines in the region of Upper Austria. After introducing the life of salt miners, Hangartner provides a recipe that archeologist came up with, after closely examining preserved left overs and human feces. Hangartner takes the audience through

the preparation of the dish called “Ritschert.” In doing so, Hangartner skillfully combines the necessity of cooking at home due to the Corona shelter in place regulations and historical knowledge usually presented at the NHM.

Irene Gianordoli addresses the viewer directly and starts her video off with a reference to protective facemasks she encountered on one of her rare trips outside. To engage children, who form a large part of NHM’s audience, Irene combines footage from the museum’s dinosaur hall with a how-to guide to create dinosaur sculptures out of toilet paper roles and fun dinosaur facemasks for kids to wear. Crafting miniature dinosaurs out of the left overs of the rare commodity toilet paper or facemasks provides children with an opportunity to make sense of the current situation while tying them to the museum. NHM staff usually uses these techniques during on site visits to engage their young audience. By moving them online in a worthwhile manner, they achieve the goal of engaging an absent audience and aid parents in their struggle to keep children occupied.

In the latest post, biologist Andreas Hantschk takes his audience to a pond, where he focuses on the mating season frogs and toads. After catching a toad and explaining its physique, Hantschk emphasizes the importance of protecting native species. NHM holds large collection of amphibian specimen that visitors are usually allowed to explore. Tying both the biologist’s fieldwork and the museum experience together, Hantschk stresses that visitors would soon be welcomed back to the NHM.

NHM chooses yet another approach to engage its audience during the Covid 19 shut down. By creating a series of videos aiming at children, an important segment of the museum’s audience, under the title NHMWienFromHome, museum staff certainly addresses Covid 19 but also tries to provide a framework suitable for children to make sense of the new reality. Unsurprisingly, different institutions respond to Covid 19 with their respective audiences in mind. Whereas the Jewish Museum sticks to its current exhibition and caters to an adult audience, the NHM clearly created its video series with its younger audience and their parents in mind.

Among the three museums under consideration only the Wien Museum varies its content depending on the respective platforms. Whereas the Jewish Museum and the NHM roll out every post in the same manner on Instagram and Facebook, the Wien Museum creates different posts for Facebook. Attuned to the possibility of longer reads, Wien Museum staff links to their blog where curators provide in depth analysis of historical parallels to the current situation.

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