Game changing digital innovations bring UK museums to new audiences

Grandmother and grandchildren visiting a museum

The Digital Innovation and Engagement Fund is supporting museums to explore digital innovations such as bespoke video games and telepresence robot guides.

The fund is a collaboration between UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and The Museums Association.

A total of £600,000 will support 14 museums across the UK to kick-start, scale up, and evaluate the innovations they so adeptly designed through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Game changing initiatives

This has been an extraordinary period, one that has had, and will continue to have, significant long-term impacts on how museums function, their audiences and their role in society.

But the shifting habits of museum audiences has provided a catalyst for change in the sector not seen since World War 2.

UKRI’s public engagement team and AHRC will be supporting museums on this journey of change, innovating and testing approaches to deliver more diverse content to more people and to creatively explore and innovate for their audiences of the future.

These funded projects will explore innovative ways of engaging with new and existing audiences, including but not limited to:

  • the National Football Museum in Manchester translating the women’s experiences of football into a podcast series by and for local young women
  • the Scottish Fisheries Museum project to crowdsource digital local histories.

Supporting a strong recovery

The COVID-19 pandemic has seriously impacted museums in the UK and while many have reopened their doors, they are still battling with its consequences.

UKRI and the Museums Association are committed to providing long-term support for the museum sector to ensure that our nation’s most beloved cultural institutions emerge stronger and more resilient.

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI, said:

Museums play a vital role in bringing communities together. They help us to understand our past and imagine a better future.

This investment will bring diverse, underrepresented voices into museums to share their experiences, so that new audiences benefit from our outstanding museums and museums benefit from different perspectives.

Coming together as a society to learn and discover new things is a key part of our cultural lives, and the recipients of this funding will help to facilitate this in novel and exciting ways.

Professor Christopher Smith, AHRC Executive Chair and UKRI International Champion, said:

Our nation’s museums have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to educate and inspire audiences while their doors were closed.

The resources developed to enable this has had the additional positive outcome that it has helped them to reach diverse, global audiences and has redefined what is possible for the future.

There is a lot of optimism about what this means for the sector and investments such as there will support museums to continue to innovate and grow.

Sharon Heal, Museums Association Director, said:

The Digital Innovation and Engagement grants were a timely opportunity for museums to build on their creativity in engaging their communities during lockdown and to develop their skills in the digital space.

The 14 grants awarded represent the best of a very competitive funding round and range from innovative co-curated online tours to explore decolonial narratives, to creative online forums for care-leavers.

Working with UKRI-AHRC has helped us develop a ground-breaking funding stream that will support museums to build on the new ways of working that have evolved in the pandemic and we look forward to continuing this partnership.

Further information

The Digital Innovation and Engagement Fund recipients

Birmingham Museums Trust, Birmingham

Birmingham Museum Trust will run a six-month project addressing:

  • industrialisation
  • colonialism
  • racial equality.

Produced with and for Birmingham’s communities, the project will involve underrepresented communities local to Aston Hall to ensure that Birmingham Museum Trust’s digital offerings are more inclusive and multidirectional.

Brent Council, Brent

Running over 12 months, Brent Council’s Harlesden Trailblazers project will produce a digital trail using QR codes celebrating the contributions of Black, African and African-Caribbean communities to Brent. The project will be co-produced with local community participants, who will be recruited through links with partner organisations.

Durham University, County Durham

Durham University’s ‘Street Museum’ is a six-month project to transform the streets of low engagement neighbourhoods in Durham into museums. The aim is to produce aa fully collaborative, co-curated outdoor exhibition across County Durham.

The Foundling Museum, London

The Foundling Museum will develop a creative portal for care-experienced people.

The museum will build and moderate a private online forum connecting care experienced people of all ages across the country, with a particular emphasis in the 18-30 age group.

Films, podcasts and artists’ virtual workshops will encourage individuals to process and express their own experiences and thoughts creatively, whilst public-facing content will surface issues affecting this marginalised audience.

The Great North Museum, Newcastle

The Great North Museum has received funding to continue their Story:Web project. The aim of Story:Web is to dismantle the museum as a place-based repository and rebuild it as a co-curated big data resource, accessed and experienced globally.

Hastings Contemporary Museum, Hastings

Hastings Contemporary will expand their telepresence robots project. Since 2020, the telepresence robots have been roaming the halls of the museum and livestreaming their view of Hastings Contemporary’s collections to marginalised audiences.

The funding will enable the team to evaluate how telepresence robot interactions can build new audiences, provide access to exhibitions, and build connections between people.

Horniman Museum and Gardens, London

Horniman Museum and Gardens will open African collections to underrepresented communities to enable people to use the collections to inspire research and debate. The project is written by community participants, and will include:

  • virtual collections
  • an online community collections research hub
  • two digital toolkits.

Manchester Museum, Manchester

Manchester Museum will launch a 12-month project supporting neurodiverse children and young adults to curate new digital content for the museum. The project is aimed at creating access and agency for neurodiverse young people experiencing Manchester Museum’s ancient Egypt collections.

National Football Museum, Manchester

The National Football Museum will work with a team of community producers to co-create a podcast to improve women’s representation in football culture. This six-episode podcast series will be made by and for local young women and will provide comprehensive training in:

  • research
  • script writing
  • recording
  • editing.

National Videogame Museum, Sheffield

The National Videogame Museum will recruit an artist-in-residence and community curator who will work with 40 local black and Asian residents to explore, document and share experiences and feelings about identity and representation.

They will translate these lived experiences and diverse identities into a videogame and videogame assets that will join the NVM permanent collection.

The Novium Museum, Chichester

The Novium Museum will expand their ‘virtual field trips’, which bring high quality museum learning into the classroom for children experiencing increased disadvantage as a result of COVID19. The investment will enable them to offer virtual field trips to an early years and key stage one audience and expand the curriculum subjects covered by the field trips.

Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

The Pitt Rivers Museum will reveal new stories about decolonial practice by repurposing a 360° museum tour by embedding co-created interactive content. This will allow users to break down and understand how coloniality works in museum cases and offer tours on particular themes such as:

  • colonial legacies
  • problematic language and labelling
  • non-binary voices.

Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust, Anstruther

Using the power of digital connection, the Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust will reveal the stories caught within their photographic archive. This 12-month project will crowd-source information and data to produce a newly digitised nationally-significant photographic archive.

University of Bristol Theatre Collection, Bristol

The University of Bristol has received funding to create a series of mixed-reality activities over using museum collections. This is to enable young people from underrepresented communities to explore the hidden histories and creative processes of Britain’s oldest theatre.

They will use a pioneering mix of 2D digital facsimiles, 3D printed physical objects and augmented reality to creatively explore behind-the-scenes theatre activities to bring the process of making theatre to life.

Top image:  Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

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