In this exclusive interview, a spokesperson for the British Museum explains how the team began implementing the building’s phased reopening from August 27 and the fantastic response that its virtual galleries and online offerings have produced.
The Net Gallery: What were the biggest challenges you faced when planning and preparing to reopen the British Museum?
British Museum: The collection is housed in a splendid, but old and complex, building. Historic infrastructure dating back many decades needed careful attention as we remobilised. We needed the time to unveil the collection in a way that minimised risk by carefully monitoring conditions in galleries, showcases and stores as we reopened. It took time to ensure a safe and welcoming visitor experience, but staff worked hard to make this happen as soon as possible.
TNG: How did you choose which galleries to reopen and is there a timeline planned for reopening others?
BM: The museum is taking a phased approach to reopening to be sure we can accommodate visitors safely and securely. We will be keeping safety measures under review and will adjust them as we learn how they work in practice and as Government guidance evolves. We plan to reopen some of the upper floor galleries later in the autumn.
TNG: What reactions and feedback have the online offerings and virtual galleries (Oceania and Prints and Drawings) produced? Do you have plans to continue using these options?
BM: We were really pleased that our online resources were so well received; in fact our website in March saw the second-highest amount of monthly traffic ever. In total there were 6.52m pageviews.
The page of the website which introduces the museum’s 8m-strong collection was by far the most popular. Visits to this page were up a whopping 1493% in March compared to February. Other pages to see significant increases in traffic were: the page covering the museum’s Egyptian collection (up 762% month-on-month); its ‘virtual’ version of the Prints and Drawings Gallery (up 1712%); and a page exploring LGBTQ objects throughout history (1055% increase).
And in a sign that parents were seeking out help to home-school their children while the schools were closed, the museum saw a significant increase in the number of visits to the Learning pages, which provide school resources which can be downloaded and used at home. Visits to these pages were up 237% in March compared to February.
TNG: What did you do to maintain momentum and keep the museum in people’s minds throughout lockdown?
BM: The British Museum already had an extensive range of digital activities, but we continued to build on these. A full list and explanation of the activities can be found at https://blog.britishmuseum.org/how-to-explore-the-british-museum-from-home/.
TNG: Do your plans include showing the Tantra Exhibition?
BM: Our two spring exhibitions have been moved to the Autumn. Tantra and Arctic will be the first shows to open, with Tantra on September 24 and Arctic on October 22. We hope visitors will take the opportunity to enjoy these diverse exhibitions in a quieter environment.