MUSEUM 2050 Dispatches

Updates from the Museum of Modern Art Dubrovnik

Jelena Tamindzija

The coronavirus pandemic has had and will have an unprecedented impact on a variety of industries all around the world, including the Arts sector. This unfortunate crisis hit us in March as we were preparing for our summer program and activities with big expectations for future collaborative programs. As a museum that puts an emphasis on working extensively with both the local public as well as with the international public that pours to a popular tourist destination–Dubrovnik– we have since seen a shift in the everyday working environment as active and live engagement with the public rapidly and unexpectedly eliminated human touch and started exploring virtual communication on a larger scale.

However, this has enabled the curators to finally find that long-sought free time lost while running the museum’s daily operations and dedicate this time to collection research. We have been happy to share these findings on social media platforms in ways that we envisaged as a fun, interactive and educational manner not only to get to know the collection better, but also the curatorial staff. This direct contact plays an important role in forming the perception of a museum as the audience connects to the museum on a more personal level. That audience is therefore more keen to regularly visit the museum and attend its shows and activities.

Presenting the work of artists from the end of the 19th century up to the present day provides us with the opportunity for direct feedback from the public, but more crucially, allows for the participation of that public in providing information from the personal life of a particular artist or identifying more artworks in private collections in Dubrovnik, Croatia and abroad. With both parties having more time, a strong bond can be forged between curatorial staff and artwork patrons. This can be critical not only for future group or solo exhibition loans and potential acquisitions, but also in solidifying the perception of the museum as a knowledge repository. This has been important for the transformation of the visitors’ perception of the museum as a strictly dictating institutional voice to a space open for the establishing a dialogue with the community and the non-local public. We seek to give audiences the chance to engage in research within the local art community, or of a particular artist they are fond of and with whom they have had some personal links throughout their life.

As online platforms helped us weather the unexpectedly fast arrival of the storm and continue of our programs and communication with the public, we were simultaneously aware of the limits of this new online reach. As much as we were quite successful with the online art workshops for younger generations, programs for children and art quizzes we initiated, reaching the older generation emerged as a problem and posed the question: who can the museum serve if the only version is an online version. Do museums still get to stick to their agenda and mission of being inclusive and fighting discrimination on any basis, including that of age discrimination?

This question has been unfortunately set aside as the Museum has gradually opened its doors and welcomed back its physical audience while resetting from online digital exhibitions to the onsite shows in the premises of the former mansion of the Banac family, today the Museum of Modern Art Dubrovnik, in addition to two exhibition spaces in the heart of the Old town of Dubrovnik.

This crisis, however, demonstrated an opportunity for the museum’s discourse, mission and approach to rethink existing and new audiences. Rather than providing the public with a strictly visual experience during an exhibition visit, the emphasis was now put more on establishing a story-telling narrative that will engage visitors in the creation of the show by providing their own personal stories or in the aftermath of the show opening providing their direct feedback. This opportunity enabled museums to strengthen their role of communicator in society and serve as the link between untold personal stories and a larger contextual framework.

About the Author:

Jelena Tamindzija is a Curator at the Museum of Modern Art Dubrovnik. She is based in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

About the Series:

Museum 2050 has always been about bringing people together through our community’s shared passion for museums and institutional development. As the world slowly and carefully starts reopening, we are checking in weekly with various members of our broader network to share personal reflections, anecdotes and musings about how they and their institutions have been operating in the face of this pandemic. In these incredibly difficult times for all, we hope that these brief vignettes from around the world bring us closer together, and remind us that even when the world stops and museum doors close, we still persevere.