Accessible museums: dialogue between space and cyberspace

With the pandemic came the affirmation of the change in the mode of access, of usability e participation in places of culture: the possibility of exploring museums by zeroing in on the distances recorded by the virtual visits during the two lockdowns is emblematic of this.

In fact, the attention of museum directors to the
virtual tours
there was already there in recent years to the point of accelerating during lockdowns, reinforcing what is the civic responsibility and democratic component of accessibility inherent in culture.

In fact, for ICOM (International Council of Museums), the museum is. A permanent institution, serving society and its development, open to the public and carries out research involving the tangible and intangible records of humanity and its environment: acquires, preserves, communicates and, above all, exhibits them for the purposes of study, education and enjoyment.

In other words, therefore, a museum is concerned with conservation, scientific research and communication.

And here the civic responsibility that characterizes it is explained: society needs to recognize itself in a history, in the past, in order to have its own characteristic identity in the present. Museums preserve the objects and memories that flow into the cultural heritage of the community establishing itself as trait d’union between past and present, playing a conservative role for the community, communicating with it through the objects, which must be collected and treated with the utmost scientific rigor.

The world of the museum is marked by the importance of time and intimate reflection. Quite the opposite of the online world, which instead is characterized by “everything and now,” within reach and at the speed of a click.

What relationship, then, can there possibly be between the actual visiting experience of a museum and the virtual one?

A virtual visit is a generic way of referring to the virtual, “remote” exploration of a place of special historical, architectural or scientific interest. Exploration that is activated by using digital tools that allow a visit to be made remotely through a device whether it is a smartphone or personal computer.

The advent of technology moving in this direction has meant that a dual form of museum experience: l’on-site or in-person experience enhanced by the use of media, which is connoted as immersive and multisensory; theoff-site experience or remotely mediated by technology, which is on demand and allows both customization and sharing of information.

In this dual perspective with the introduction of technology as a cultural tool, in-person, in-space visits are becoming increasingly interactive; absent, in-virtual museum visits use a variety of tools to offer online visitors an “authentic” museum experience, making use of technological strategies that can move the visitor within the virtual spaces and discover the works of art in a manner similar to a real visit.

What then are the advantages and the disadvantages Of traditional and virtual museums?

The traditional museum is perceived as an exploratory experience that is activated with the involvement of the whole body and not only through the gaze: one moves between the rooms, around and in front of the works, one has precisely the sense of one’s position in the space; all fundamental and indispensable aspects for the organization of the spaces intended for an exhibition and are something therefore different from looking at images on a screen; for this reason it must be recognized that the experience inside a virtual museum can never replace the real one, but can instead expand the possibilities of cognitive and cognitive interaction with the works: museums are holders, in addition to the works, of exclusive content, which are fundamental elements in order to give rise to a digital strategy.

Exclusive, digitally transmitted content can shape innovative communication strategies, opening the way to endless new possibilities for information transmission, brand loyalty and engagement.

And in fact, the advantages of pairing a digital strategy with a traditional one could prove manifold even from a visitor engagement point of view:

  • increased direct customer base thanks to virtual access, which is priced lower than physical access;
  • reaching the already interested public unable to visit the exhibition in person due to distances or other forms of limitations;
  • reaching a potential new audience who otherwise could not reach museum spaces;
  • Increased popularity and reputation of the museum;
  • remote involvement of schools for educational activities;
  • opportunities for partnerships and co-marketing with companies that intend to associate their brand with cultural imagery;
  • The relationship then between real and digital in the museum setting is to create new experiences that do not negate the physical exploration of spaces but work in synergy with it.

Therefore, the museum today in order to survive is called upon to renew its offerings to reach new audiences through new channels, implementing innovative strategies, seizing the opportunities of virtual tours to generate new business opportunities, and engaging people from all over the world through content that can generate unique emotions.