BKK are coming to the end of completing an upgrade of one of Melbourne’s prominent cultural institutions, ACMI (or the Australian Centre for the Moving Image as it’s otherwise known), and when we embarked on this journey almost three years ago no-one could have envisaged the current status quo.
Cultural institutions have already taken a significant hit through this COVID-19 period and when they do finally reopen it’s safe to say things won’t be the same as our thinking around public spaces has been altered by the current chain of events.
Institutions are regularly judged by their visitor numbers and increasing these, or the ability to do so, is how these organisations often pitch their business cases to government when applying for funding; so with current restrictions on numbers of people in place and the likelihood that this will continue for the foreseeable future what impact does this have for the longer term?
Current ideals around packing these places to the rafters and ringing out the last millimetre of space flies in the face of latest health guides; will spatial planning have to become morbidly obese to allow for adequate social distancing or will numbers be capped so that experiencing such places returns to the past time of the limited few?
Luckily for us in the case of ACMI we had fortuitously planned ahead in some areas; new bathroom taps and driers are sensor based, public spaces are generous to cater for the doubling of visitor numbers and choice of materials in most instances is easy to clean and wipe down.
Both museums and galleries had already increasingly looked to add more interactive elements to their exhibits but for the time being ”a look but no touch” policy seems to be likely, will this challenge then spawn a whole new way of interaction, will more museums and galleries become virtual as The Louvre and Guggenheim have done during the pandemic? This concept was already being explored by some pre-COVID-19 as a way to enhance a greater level of access to their collections and objects that could not be easily viewed due to their sometimes-delicate nature, but will this become the norm? One hopes not, there is nothing quite like seeing works in real life, to experience their scale, mastery, and with older works sometimes how they even smell.