Culture and Communities Convener writes in today's Edinburgh Evening News
It has been a year like no other. A year when all our services within the Council like everything else had to adapt quickly and decisively. And for many, it completely changed the way they lived and worked.
You could pick any area of service but I want to highlight the work of our Museum & Galleries service and how the team went virtual, creating online versions of exhibitions, digital lectures, podcasts and coming up with educational programmes that parents and teachers could use at home.
Before Covid-19 our Museums and Galleries had begun to integrate digital platforms, but we’ve seen this evolution accelerated by the pandemic. It’s been a challenging process but our curators and staff have really risen to that challenge.
Of course, we weren’t completely digital for the year and were able to reopen the City Art Centre from mid- September to just before Christmas, and in that time 4 new exhibitions were installed and proved popular with visitors.
Our museums team have engaged really well with schools, with officers running live, weekly art sessions with primary schools to support at home learning. These art sessions are inspired by paintings from the City Art Centre as well as our Edinburgh museum collections such as the Museum of Childhood and encourage children to discuss artworks and objects and to get creative by taking part at home.
The service also delivered an impressive 74 events digitally that would have been run in one of our venues. A series of digital lectures covering topics from Addressing the Legacy of Slavery and Ghosts of Edinburgh Women Who Chose to Challenge for International Women’s Day were watched by over 6000 people.
They were also able to do digital versions of diverse events such as visually impaired tours, BSL signed tours as well as dance, music and choir streams bringing people together from home.
There are also now three City Art Centre digital exhibitions; The City Art Centre is 40 featuring highlights form the collection; Front of House Staff where members of the team selected their favourites form the collection and Edinburgh: Our City featuring paintings of the Capital.
Our online services have been embraced and this is very encouraging as we plan for our service post-pandemic.
When lockdown is lifted and we have access to the 'real' and no longer have to make do with the 'virtual', I think there is opportunity for a balance between the two. We certainly can’t wait to welcome visitors back but we’ve seen that our digital space can be special in it’s own right and can reach even wider audiences.
Last month it was announced that Museum & Galleries Edinburgh will receive a total of £55,125 from Museums Galleries Scotland’s COVID-19 Development Fund to help create the service’s first Digital Engagement Strategy - supporting and building on the work done during the pandemic to keep connected with local communities and virtual visitors from across the world.
During lockdown, our digital channels have been the primary way we’ve been able to engage with our audiences. Although forced into this situation by the pandemic, we have seen the many benefits and long-term opportunities for this work and are excited to explore what we can do going forward. This has been down to the hard work and dedication of our wonderful Museums and Galleries staff , of whom we are very proud.