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Heritage & Conservation

Reorganizing Exhibitions in the Asia-Pacific Region: Transmitting the Philippine Experience in Anticipation of Post-Pandemic Museums (1/3 in a Museum Move series with Dr Ana Labrador)

The speaker, Dr Ana Labrador started with a brief message of concern with the situation in Ukraine, and how their museums are facing a challenge in ensuring their collections are secured in the midst of conflict. This serves as a reminder of various risks, uncertainties, and eventualities that museum staff need to consider and prepare for in managing their collections.

Dr Ana began her talk on the “raison d’etre” of the museums; and as defined by ICOM, they serve as portals of knowledge, involving taking surveys, research and conservation efforts, as well as cultural exchange and practices among various stakeholders ranging from intergovernmental, NGOs, museum organization and heritage conservation groups. However, that definition is about to change to respond to calls on the democratic process; with calls for transparency and consideration of proposals. Dr Ana proceeded to present photos to show the vast cultural and biological diversity of the region.

The topic of Reorganizating Exhibitions was a response to the pandemic, on the sudden need to review the practices that were affected (i.e. social distancing, securing tangible objects), as well as the focus on the need to collect intangibles to add to the “stories”.

Dr Ana then shared the practices of some museums in the region to address these concerns, with focus on the Philippine setting.  In the Philippines, the National Museum was invited by the British Council – Manila to join sessions on the use of instruments and software that enabled them to pivot their operations virtually.

Prior to the pandemic, the National Museum held a travelling exhibition called Museum Boxes, and Dr Ana also shared documentation on an otherwise empty National Museum, while ensuring that galleries remain well-maintained and secured even if they were closed during lockdown.

Dr Ana then went on to discuss how the National Museum website and social media platforms had to be updated to maintain online presence (i.e. digitalization of documents) and to address the lingering issue of unequal resources causing digital divide – more than anything, this was highlighted during the pandemic. She also briefly discussed issues regarding artworks stuck in transit because of the pandemic and how they had to assess for any incurred damages.

The pandemic enabled the museums in the region to revisit their research and knowledge practices, as well as taking the time to carefully plan their shift of operations from the physical to the virtual. She went on to discuss the need to properly plan for any such shifts, and how to make it engaging for the audience. She also mentioned how proactive steps were also taken to collaborate and partner with private entities, such as co-curation, as this collaboration leads to new platforms of engagement.

Lastly, she highlighted the best practice of looking after the welfare of the museum staff by providing psychosocial support. This proved to be valuable as it helped them deal not only with the pandemic, but with other changes that ensued.

If you watched the SPAFA SESH “Reorganizing Exhibitions in the Asia-Pacific Region: Transmitting the Philippine Experience in Anticipation of Post-Pandemic Museums”, please complete the questionnaire (approximately 5 minutes) to help us improve future SPAFA SESHes: https://bit.ly/Evaluation-Form-SPAFA-SESH16-Reorganizing-Exhibitions-in-the-Asia-Pacific-Region

Date: 28 February 2022

Time: 10 a.m. (BKK)

Online Platform: Facebook Live https://www.facebook.com/seameo.spafa/ and on *Zoom. *(Please register at: https://bit.ly/SPAFASESH_ReorgExhibitionsinAPRegionthePHExperience)

During the long lockdown from March 2020 and as most museums were closed in the Asia-Pacific Region, maintenance and management of collections became a primary consideration or those we have not done before the pandemic caught us up. Eventually the demands to create exhibitions were brought about by pressures from considerations of spending funding, materials prepared before COVID-19 issues, and the desire from museum professionals to reach out to our public. In this presentation, our guest speaker Dr Ana Labrador will talk about her experience in the Philippines with installing physical exhibitions in challenging circumstances, being forced to go digital, and sharing lessons learned to our neighbors in Southeast Asia, the Pacific, and beyond. The pandemic may have been frustrating in the beginning but opportunities in improving museum operations eventually was made possible through an earnest attempt to make our collections accessible through exhibitions.

Speaker: Ana Maria Theresa P. Labrador, PhD (Cantab), Honorary Senior Fellow at University of Melbourne

Moderated by Mrs Somlak Charoenpot, SEAMEO SPAFA Director

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