Game changing digital innovations bring UK museums to new audiences

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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.

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. 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.

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.

AHRC 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.

Source: UK Research and Innovation.

Launched in April 2018, UKRI is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). They bring together the seven disciplinary research councils, Research England, which is responsible for supporting research and knowledge exchange at higher education institutions in England, and the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. For more details go to: https://www.ukri.org/

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