We stand right now in a critical moment of change. As with all other significant historical moments, the present one will also be judged after the fact. As many years pass, the current era may come to be viewed simply as one brief node of change. But it cannot be denied that our experience with the COVID-19 pandemic inscribes us with tendencies that will be difficult to undo. It is a situation that applies equally to museums as well. Amid growing societal demands for ‘social distancing’ and non-face-to-face meetings rather than physical encounters, the museums have found themselves in a situation where they have had to suspend one of their most prominent activities: welcoming visitors. Days when once-crowded galleries fall silent are now more and more frequent; a mood of caution surrounds the sharing of public spaces and objects.
The ‘normalcy’ of our society is once again being called into question. Ruptures of our community once hidden and obscured are now coming to the surface after the pandemic. The non-face-to-face interaction has reduced physical activities by individuals and institutions, while online activities have proliferated. Existing boundaries and connections – national borders included – are being questioned anew. The roles of museums and how they perform social functions have become the subject of renewed discussion worldwide. What Do Museums Connect?: Museums in a Post-Pandemic World attempts to share various perspectives confronting and exploring changes such as these in a surging tide of non-face-to-face and digital activity. The broadening of museums’ approach to mediation does not only consist of changes in form; it also raises the need to more broadly consider how museums envision the world and the orientation of the experiences they offer. The ten researchers, curators, critics, and other professionals invited to this symposium each reflect on a different perspective as they discuss the ways of defining the new roles of museums that changing times demand, along with their cultural, social, and technological contexts. The presenters analyze the nature of post-pandemic changes, discuss the darker aspects of the internet, point out the influence on human emotions, and stress the need for art and technology to promote a sense of community and connection.
If we can share in perspectives that stand to transform our crisis into our assets for insight, the museums of the future will be able to establish their roles and significance in more multilayered ways as they seek out new directions. Only when we consider and assess phenomena from a stance of reflection and critical understanding, our experience presents us with a clue of wisdom to advance the next step ahead. We look forward to What Do Museums Connect?: Museums in a Post-Pandemic World being an opportunity to encourage contemplation and practice, allowing us to review the contemporary era and explore future possibilities.
The content addressed in the symposium can be broadened into other themes in adjacent areas beyond the issues around museums. Hopefully, not just museum specialists and professionals but anyone interested in such topics as the interactions of technology and society can discover fascinating connections for them with this symposium.