Since the start of the pandemic, museums have been deserted. This is a stark contrast to the previous year, in which 13.6 million turnstile passes were recorded at 399 museum institutions. While some collections could already be accessed from the comfort of your own home, the pandemic has accelerated digital innovation to the point where museums are now more accessible than ever, thanks to a series of initiatives that will endure beyond the crisis . Interview with Stéphan La Roche, director of the Musée de la civilization.
What will be the financial impacts of the crisis for you?
These are significant financial impacts. Losses around $ 1.5 million for us. We no longer sell at the ticket office, in the boutique, in the restaurant or in the cloakroom. However, we have less expenses. For example, before, the Conservatives traveled to other countries to inspect objects that were part of international exhibitions coming to us, to make sure there were no breakages. Now all of this can be done by digital camera. It’s a lot less expensive and it takes a lot less time. It is something that will remain after the pandemic.
What lasting changes will we be able to observe in our museums after the pandemic?
Museums will remain places where visitors are physically welcomed. The fact of having access to works of art, objects, documents in real life, in front of us, there is nothing that replaces that. Digital is added to that. At the moment, it replaces it, but afterwards, it will enrich the offer. We have put a lot of emphasis on this in recent months by creating One Hour at the Museum, a site that brings together content from ten other cultural organizations, with virtual exhibitions, among others. It will become parallel programming at the museum after the pandemic.
I also think that being able to buy a time-stamped ticket will remain. We will welcome people who arrive impromptu. But we will continue to offer people to reserve their place.
Because of health protocols, the pandemic completely changed the visitor experience, when museums could be opened. What will happen when this is over?
The idea of the routes inside an exhibition, it will stay. We saw not only that it works, but that people like it. A journey is reassuring. We are always afraid of missing something in a museum, of not having seen the showcase, or the masterpiece that we had to see, because we do not really know where it was. The route makes sure people know where they need to go.
The other thing is the reinvention of interactive stations. We had a lot of tactile interactives, and for several months, years, we will be more careful about it, for health and safety reasons. We will find alternatives.
What digital initiatives will come directly from the pandemic?
We have a digital innovation lab at the museum called MLab Creaform. We continue to do prototyping with private companies, including Maelstrom Creatif and Alaviva. They imagined a prototype for bringing culture into contact, for people who are, in particular, in CHSLDs, elderly or disabled, who absolutely cannot come to the museum. There are different devices, like a mini dome which is being imagined to be able to live an immersive experience above their bed or their wheelchair.
Will museums turn to more local programming?
There has always been a balance, in museums, between local and international programming. We have to keep that. Personally, I cannot imagine that a museum like ours, even if it gives priority to national history, does not deal with international subjects. This is our mandate. You just have to find the right balance.
The need of our fellow citizens to open up to the world and to travel in another way is important. We said to ourselves that we were going to make our visitors travel. Next year, we will bring them to Italy, with Pompeii. Immortal city, and in Guatemala with Mayas.
You have already said that digital technology is not an enemy of culture and heritage. How does digital technology help culture get through the crisis?
It is an extraordinary tool. Right now, digital makes it possible to keep in touch with audiences, and that is important. It takes a long time to build audiences. Whether you are in an auditorium, in a museum, at the cinema and even on TV. It is essential to establish a bond of trust and maintain it. Right now, the best way to do it is with digital and we are seeing a lot of creativity right now. I find it to be very healthy.
- Name: Stéphan La Roche
- Profession: Since 2015, he has held the position of Director General of the Musée de la civilization, one of the four state museums in Quebec. He is in particular responsible for the museum’s digital shift, which includes the entire digitization of the collections, the development of an application and the setting up of a digital innovation laboratory. It was under his leadership that the museum experienced historic traffic in 2017.
- Impact: Working in the cultural sector for more than 25 years, Stéphan La Roche was also CEO of the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ).