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portrait of Nathan Mannion

Nathan Mannion

Senior Curator , EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum

portrait of Susan Hazan

Susan Hazan

CEO , Digital Heritage Israel

Opening doors at EPIC and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem

In July, Europeana held its first ‘Lunch Café’ on the theme of ‘Opening Doors’, encouraging discussion around the re-opening of cultural heritage institutions. In this post, Nathan Mannion and Susan Hazan, who led the Café, reflect on re-opening at their own institutions. 

main image

Title: A visitor in the 'Discovering & Inventing' gallery of the EPIC museum

Date: 2020.07.29.

Institution: EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum

Country: Ireland

CC BY-NC-SA

The challenges of closing doors

Following worldwide lockdowns prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, EPIC, the Irish Immigration Museum and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem closed their doors in March, a step which presented challenges for both institutions. As Nathan reflects, ‘It wasn’t an easy decision to make just before St. Patrick’s Day - traditionally Dublin’s largest annual celebration and the start of the tourist season. Group bookings had to be cancelled and refunded, temporary exhibitions postponed, events moved online and offices closed.’

The uncertainty of the situation was also difficult. Susan writes that, ‘I think all of us were in shock at the time; fearful for our family and friends’ health, and uncertain what this meant for the Museum. Along with the rest of the world, no one had any idea of how long before we could open our doors again.’ 

New initiatives and rethinking

Despite the challenges, both institutions began new initiatives to engage their audiences from home. Susan writes, ‘We decided that this was the perfect time to showcase our digital content, framed in a specially designed, responsive website.  The new home page read “The Museum is closed – Come in!”  and opened up a wealth of digital content, including virtual tours of Museum galleries, videos from closed exhibitions, as well as webinars, salons and podcasts. Social media campaigns extended our reach, and special emphasis was given to children’s activities.’

Staff at EPIC also began to work on new initiatives. Nathan writes, ‘What began as a scramble to get equipment to staff members’ homes soon became something altogether more wonderful. Early on, the Museum’s senior management team took the decision to keep on all staff who wished to remain working, albeit remotely. Our team of 20 front of house and retail staff were retrained and redeployed to assist with other department’s projects. They helped to research, design and deliver new education resource packs and workshops, themed tour routes, biographical information sheets, blog posts and much more. We began to rethink how we worked, how we communicated and what kind of museum we wanted to present to our visitors and patrons when we reopened.’

Re-opening 

That moment came for EPIC in June when, after being closed for almost four months, the museum reopened to the public. Based on the work of an internal COVID-19 response team, the Museum has put a number of precautions in place. Nathan describes how, ‘A new, colour coded booking system visible online and at the museum’s front desk lets visitors know how busy the galleries are. Admission is capped at 25 people every 15 minutes to ensure all visitors are evenly spread out.’ 

‘Sterilised stylus pens are provided to all visitors to use on the museum’s interactive screens, minimising surface contact while allowing us to keep our touch screens in use. Regular and visible cleaning of all surfaces by museum staff has proven very popular with visitors. Additionally, members of the public no longer find the ubiquitous bright yellow COVID-19 public signage engaging and rarely take notice of it. We changed all of our relevant signage to ‘hot pink’ and personalised the messaging – it has proven far more effective.'

Title: An example of the new social distancing floor signage introduced at the EPIC museum

Date: 2020.07.29

Institution: EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum

CC BY-NC-SA

‘Perspex barriers at our welcome desks, linear routes within the galleries and free masks on entry have also been warmly received but visitors have remarked what they really enjoy is the simple pleasure of a conversation with a member of staff. While we make every effort to ensure proper social distancing, we must also remember to maintain our human connectivity, in whatever ways we can.’  

Susan is also excited to see the Israel Museum reopen as a space for visitors to connect. She writes, ‘When I spoke about our much-loved Museum during the Lunch Café discussion, I still had no idea of a reopening date. We are all set now for our upcoming re-opening on 13 August with three curatorial wings, 27 departments and 15 special exhibitions waiting to open their doors. The new COVID-19 rules prescribed by the authorities are already in place, including an online health declaration form for staff and visitors.’ 

‘There is a certain excitement in the air and real yearning to be able to explore the galleries once again. Our beautiful Art Garden, designed by the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, and the vast Museum campus awaits visitors who have spent many months at home - the perfect place for families and friends to come together to relax, enjoy and breathe deep once again.’

Europeana Lunch Café

Nathan and Susan shared their experiences of reopening at a recent Europeana Lunch Café, as part of our Discovering Europe season. If you are interested in discussing relevant topics for the cultural heritage sector in an informal, online setting, and hearing more from members of the Europeana network, join us at our upcoming cafés! 

Register for ‘Europeana Lunch Café - the effects of travel and tourism restrictions’ on 13 August

Register for ‘Europeana Lunch Café - When will we see you again?’ on 16 September

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