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New report reveals museums' inspiring response to COVID-19: A chronicle of collection, connection, and change

Discover the resilient and transformative efforts of museum professionals across the UK as they adapt, engage diverse audiences, and redefine collection strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic in a pioneering report from Queen Mary University of London

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Section from Bengali patua narrative scroll by Bahadur and Rupsona Chitraka
Section from Bengali patua narrative scroll by Bahadur and Rupsona Chitraka

In an era defined by the unprecedented challenges brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic, museums have emerged as beacons of resilience, adaptation, and community engagement. A new report published today from Queen Mary University of London by the AHRC Stay Home Stories research project team delves into the experiences and insights of museum professionals from England, Wales, and Scotland.

The report, ‘Museums and COVID-19 Approaches to pandemic-related collecting, displays and public engagement’ delves into the remarkable journey of museum professionals as they responded to the COVID-19 crisis, a journey that involved rapid response initiatives, participatory collecting strategies to gather COVID-related material, digital engagement, and partnerships that transcended boundaries.

Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with curators, learning staff, and other professionals who shared their insights and experiences. Discussions centred around rapid response and participatory collecting strategies both digital and in person; the nature of the collections; partnerships and from whom material was collected; documentation and what the collections tell us about people’s experiences of the pandemic.

Lead researcher Professor Alison Blunt, founding co-director of the Centre for Studies of Home, a partnership between Queen Mary and the Museum of the Home  said: “Our interviews with museum professionals underscore the dynamic nature of pandemic-related collections and the collaborative spirit that emerged during challenging times. Museums became vital hubs for understanding and documenting the diverse experiences of individuals and communities.”

Other discussions explored the sharing of pandemic-related material in the public domain – online, through social and other media, in physical displays and through community engagement; links with social and racial justice movements; the challenges faced by, and support needs of, staff (including working from home and dealing with financial, social and emotional pressures); lessons learnt and how the experience of the pandemic will change museum policy and practice in the future.

From these conversations the report provides important recommendations on:

  • Contemporary and participatory collecting
  • Documentation
  • Public engagement
  • Digital engagement
  • Social and racial justice
  • Staffing issues
  • Financial sustainability
  • Evaluation/sharing

Dr Eithne Nightingale, Postdoctoral Researcher at Queen Mary University of London, added: “The success of museums in navigating the challenges of the pandemic lies in their ability to adapt and innovate. From practical support for vulnerable communities – such as the Museum of Homelessness’s work on the streets with people experiencing homelessness – to the development of new engagement strategies, museums have proven their resilience and relevance in the face of unprecedented upheaval."

Professor Alastair Owens, Project Co-Investigator at Queen Mary University of London, concluded: "As we reflect on the transformative impact of COVID-19 on the museum sector, it is clear that this report serves as a valuable tool for sparking creative dialogue and building resilience. Whether large or small, public or private, museums have a shared responsibility to contribute to the ongoing global conversation on our collective experiences and lessons learned."

To read the newly published report and find out more about the Stay Home Stories research project, go to

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