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Rapid response collecting - an inevitable museum term in the year behind us

Published on 13.01.2021

We followed the year 2020, which will surely be remembered for the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic is still going on, it is too early to talk about all its consequences, especially social and economic ones, as well as those that will leave a mark on the work of museums and other cultural institutions. However, it is necessary to point out that the museums, although closed right at the beginning of the pandemic, remained accessible (and it seems more accessible than ) to the general public. By moving their work to the virtual world, to websites, social networks and other internet platforms, they offered daily virtual tours of exhibitions, lectures, downloads of exhibition catalogs and other publications, as well as new interactive content. At the same time, through the mentioned platforms, they reached out for the objects, visual documentation and narratives that reflected everyday life in quarantine, and later the culture of the "new normal".

These events refocused on topics such as the active participation of museums in community events and emphasized the importance of timely and prompt collection of museum material, which are contained in the rapid response collecting method.

The most famous example of the use of this method is related to the Victoria and Albert Museum and its collection of contemporary objects from the local and global context. This collection was created with the aim of collecting objects with a certain cultural meaning at the moment of the actuality of that meaning, and not retroactively. Among them are objects such as clothes, shoes, fashion accessories, toys and the like, which in the context of certain social events have become symbols of modern protests, the fight against racism, climate change, tragic events in the community, but also design and technological innovation.

In addition to this museum, others have begun to embrace this strategy, especially during the period of documenting the COVID-19 pandemic. A large number of museums have started collecting masks, photographs, personal stories, and even jokes depicting everyday life during a pandemic. Also, ICOM called for collecting material during the pandemic, citing rapid response collecting as one of the steps in supporting the community. The call states that documenting and showing the crisis, its impact and the different ways in which people deal with trauma can enrich collections, give them new meaning and at the same time preserve knowledge and memories for future generations. New topics inspired by COVID-19, the difficulties currently faced by the homeless, the impact on the environment, new urban landscapes and the ways in which cities and communities have been affected by the crisis are cited as some of the topics that should be documented and / or collected.

One of our programs related to documenting of this pandemic is intended for children and youth. As we recognized them as a group that, together with the elderly, was particularly affected by quarantine, we launched the initiative "... And then Corona came to the door ..." (... Und dann stand Corona vor der Tür ...), which involves their voices in creating an image of everyday life during a pandemic. The proposed material included photographs, short videos, comics, texts and drawings, through which children and young people can present the time they spent without direct contact with their peers, without going to school, in online classes, as well as play, lessons and socializing while wearing masks and numerous restrictions. The collected material is published every Friday on our digital platforms and social networks.

Although the consequences of the pandemic on museum work are yet to be summarized, as well as the impact of the rapid response collecting method in documenting the pandemic, the validity of collected material, resolving ethical dilemmas and creating new guidelines in all areas of work, it is clear that museums must be prepared to respond quickly to what is happening in society or community and to gather testimonies about that. This reaffirms the correctness of the view that objects can no longer be collected just because of their historically confirmed importance, but because of their current significance, which allows museums to engage in the contemporary moment and refer to real life.


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