In this issue, we focus our attention on what it means to re-evaluate cultural practice in this moment. The need to re-evaluate and reconfigure everything from research aims, project outcomes, engagement with institutions and communities, to everyday practice has become an indispensable and necessary skill during the global pandemic. Once taken for granted acts such as gathering, touching, and sharing things; behaviours closely associated with nurturing well-being and belonging suddenly became dangerous for our collective health. This rapid reconfiguration acts as a point of departure for the pieces in this issue, which reflect on both the re-evaluation of projects, partnerships and business models designed in pre-COVID times and what they are becoming as we envision a post-COVID environment.
The article by Clare Harding and Mark Lochrie considers how increased competency and familiarity with digital tools could change the priorities of institutions, particularly in digital innovation and visitor-led audience development. Using MOSTYN, a contemporary art gallery in Llandudno, North Wales, as a case study they reflect on the sudden rupture in social interactions that left obsolete their successful in-gallery juke-box style approach to customised content for visitors called EDGE. In re-evaluating EDGE they asked, “How can we deploy user-centred processes when we can, at present, no longer physically interact and collaborate?”. During the UK lockdown, they began to reconsider how the engagement practices embodied in EDGE could be reconfigured in light of a growing reliance on WhatsApp, Netflix, and Zoom for social interaction and togetherness. Their article highlights some early findings from their pandemic practices and considers how digital tools might become an integral part of their collaborative research process in the future.
Ivo Oosterbeek also reflects on the challenges of beginning a research project at the end of 2019. Drawing on, what he calls, ‘a permanent negotiation model of management’ his reflective piece outlines the ethical dilemmas associated with the MEMEX project. MEMEX will become a digital space for new forms of interaction between marginalized individuals and cultural heritage that uses collaborative storytelling, meaning-making and audience development strategies. The pandemic has intensified the barriers to social inclusion encountered during the early stages of MEMEX, but for Oosterbeek the particular forms of exclusion associated with this project speak to much deeper questions over societal, cultural and technological injustices. Oosterbeek’s article sets out a series of principles already put in place to negotiate and mitigate these specific barriers, after which he outlines a pathway for the latter stages of the project that supports cultural participation through technology predicated on human-centred interactions and grounded experiences.
Social justice is also a key concern for Catalina Delgado Rojas as she re-evaluates approaches to symbolic reparations and particularly state-sponsored memorials. She considers Fragments, which in 2019 became the first official symbolic reparation memorial to the victims inaugurated after the Peace Agreement between the FARC-EP and the Colombian Government. Delgado Rojas highlights the ethics and implications of state intervention on public memory and whether such a project can value the victims’ emotions and perspectives on the conflict, particularly so when after its inauguration Fragments became a cultural annexe of the state-sponsored National Museum of Colombia. Yet, in this current moment of social and political crisis, she sees hope in the recent actions of Colombia’s networks of museologists who have decided to strike as an act of support and in solidarity with their local communities.
Finally, in our first podcast of the Refresh, Re-evaluate, Reconnect series, Zuzana Morvayova talks to Cristina Boari, Professor of Business Strategy at the University of Bologna. Morvayova’s question underpins their conversation: “why do collaborations often emerge at a time of crisis?” They reflect on how business models have adapted to COVID-19 lockdowns and how the role of partnerships and networks create the conditions for new opportunities and audiences. Boari considers crisis a moment when the perception of risk is lowered and less problematic for businesses and cultural organisations, making collaboration possible in ways that might not have been considered in times of stability. Boari draws on her research and experiences from within and beyond the cultural industries both to provide wider context and as points of consideration for the cultural sector.
A common theme that emerges from the four contributions is solidarity. As cultural institutions and practitioners, we are stronger, more adaptive and at our most innovative and transformative when we come together, especially when we consider differences in knowledge, skills, experiences, and perceptions as something that offers potential and possibility. As this issue shows, cultural institutions have needed to re-evaluate much of what was once believed to be at the heart of their operating models to survive the pandemic. This has been a moment of acute crisis, but as Boari notes, this can also lead to previously unimagined networks and opportunities. This leaves us with a question, who now are our audiences and how can new collaborations support these burgeoning relationships.
Editor, CP Magazine