Dear ICOM members,
I want to start this word by sending you my warmest support in these difficult times. I hope you, your families and friends are all safe and healthy, and that you are coping with this situation as well as you can.
In these past few weeks, our world has become a strange place. As almost half of humanity is confined in their homes, it is hard not to wonder when and if our lives will go back to be what they were before. Although the COVID-19 pandemic is, for a lot of us, the biggest global challenge we have encountered in our lifetimes, this is perhaps a moment for us to reflect how spotless life has really been before it. Like any other global challenge, it needs a global response across all sectors – and museums have a role to play.
Museums have remained open during other crises in the past, their spaces available for communities to exchange, meet and heal. Ready to collect the present, find together sense in it, and share lessons for the future. This time, thousands of museums around the world are in lockdown – and we do not know when they will reopen. Aside from security and maintenance workers, many of who are still on-site protecting our museums while putting their lives at risk, most museum professionals find themselves confined. To those still mobilised, I wish to express my biggest gratitude and profound admiration, which I am certain are shared by the whole international museum community.
Paradoxically, even with their doors shut, museums have never been more accessible. The offer of virtual tours, collections, videos and conferences is immense, and it is growing every day. It is as if the COVID-19 outbreak triggered innovation beyond digital solutions that overarch to supporting community resilience. Smaller museums without state-of-the-art technology are demonstrating outstanding resilience by finding other ways to reach their publics, sometimes with something as simple as a hashtag. Our field is being forced to change at an accelerated pace. We have the opportunity and the power to make the end of this story better than it can otherwise be.
ICOM and its Committees are no exception to that wave of change. Despite the cancellations of many conferences and meetings, including ICOM’s Annual Meetings, our network is quickly adapting to the new paradigm. ICOM Committees are already proposing exciting alternatives to stay in touch with their members wherever they are, such as webinars, social media campaigns, and overall, a stronger digital presence. I urge Chairs of all our Committees to carry on with the usual dynamism in their groups. To our members, I want to assure you: no matter how long the confinement lasts, ICOM will not stop being there for you. We will keep reaching, listening and engaging with you; and when this situation is over, our international network will be stronger than ever.
We are fully aware and confident about the tenacity of museum professionals to take on the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic poses. However, the museum sector cannot survive by itself without public and private support. There is an urgent necessity for emergency relief funds and policies to protect professionals and independent workers in precarious contracts. This crisis has put numerous cultural institutions around the world on the verge of economic collapse. But we will need museums when this is over; even more than we ever have. After this period of resentful isolation, we will need them to remember who we are and where we belong to, and to decide what we want to do for our future with the experience we will have accumulated. We will certainly engage more with our communities in order to build a sustainable future for our planet.
Dear Colleagues, ICOM has represented the international museum community since 1946, tirelessly defending the vital role of museums in their communities through challenging and uncertain times. We will continue to do so during the pandemic and in the aftermath. This crisis is calling for profound changes, and we will adapt our work to continue our mission with the invaluable support of our members so that they can also continue to support community well-being in their respective environments. The solidarity, dedication and professionalism of each and every single one of you has been and will always be our collective strength.
Suay Aksoy, President of ICOM
This timespace follows the World Health Organization's situation reports regarding the COVID-19 outbreak that started in Hubei, China, in January 2020. Cover photograph taken in Japan by Jérémy Stenuit.