Cultural planning during a global pandemic

It was relatively easy to work out how to plan cultural content during lockdown (if you had the energy or manpower) – make it digital, make it empathetic and use it to help people make connections. We probably all feel at the moment that it was dead simple pre-lockdown too, when we had the budget and people didn’t have to weigh up the risk of catching Covid before visiting a museum.

But what about now? We’re being encouraged to get back to normal and then blamed if we do. We want our old life back – but not the bad things. We want to look at something other than our own families’ faces and a cup of lukewarm tea, but we don’t feel safe being in a confined space that’s not our living room.

Here are five tips for creating cultural content in this strange, in-between world we find ourselves in now.

  1. What can you offer outdoors? Not every museum or heritage site has the benefit of huge grounds, but can you partner with a local park or outdoor space? Can you create an urban trail?
  2. How can you avoid lots of surfaces to touch without defaulting to a passive experience? Almost everyone has a smart phone and apps don’t have to be expensive or difficult to produce. Why not make use of this and offer enriching content through people’s pockets?
  3. Be gracious and audience-centred. It’s stressful to do so much risk planning, but don’t pass that onto your visitors. Talk about what they can do, not what they can’t. Make safety reminders polite, informative and brief.
  4. Think big. Remind us of what’s good about humanity. Take us outside of ourselves. Connect us to something bigger than this moment. Leave visitors feeling that their horizons have been expanded.
  5. Make contingency planning a creative task, not just a managerial task. How can the same experience be offered to people at home during a lockdown, should it happen at short notice? This is a good habit to get into anyway – many people can’t travel to museums or get up winding flights of uneven steps. Use this time to improve your accessibility and best practise.

As in most cultural planning (and in life in general), it comes down to empathy. How are people likely to feel? Build your plans around that and aim to make them feel better.

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