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Museum management projections after the pandemic

The latest offering of the Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibition & Conference (VIVA ExCon) 16 in its year-long Virtual Conference 2 is ’Museum Management Projections after the Pandemic with moderator Maria Rosario “Rica” Estrada, head of the Cultural Center of the Philippines Visual Arts and Museum Division (CCP VAMD). Resource persons are June Yap of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and Nikita Yingqian Cai of Times Museum.

June Yap shared that SAM which opened in 1996 is the first art museum in Singapore and it underwent a change in organizational structure in 2013.

From April 2020 to the present, measures were put in place to deal with the limitations of the pandemic. Their experience with “They Do Not Understand Each Other” exhibition for Art Basel Hongkong is that it took a year of planning only to pivot with the audience going from international to local, which was a strange experience for curators.

They now see the value of allowing for a virtual experience in exhibitions seeing as planned exhibitions were affected and there is a need to make a connection in disconnection.

SAM took the opportunity to meet up with other museums and this coping mechanism which makes one feel less isolated allowed SAM to regain a sense of connection. They looked more locally, among local community of artists which resulted in “Proposals for Novel Ways of Being,” art that responds to COVID-19.

By May 2020, they had a deluge of digital programs given the willingness to set up provisions for something different. Another resulting initiative is “Choose Your Own Art Adventure,” an interactive videos for 7 to 12-year-olds. They utilized QR codes and came up with virtual offerings like “Think! Contemporary Programme,” which has videos in the virtual tour.

“Project 2020 Showcase,” on the other hand, is an open call to document participant ideas of “Home in Singapore 2020” through a three-minute short film produced in 48 hours. Another project is “CosmicWander: Expedition (Choy Ka Fai), Escape Velocity V (Zai Tang),” emergent initiatives in programming with some key changes which try to anticipate what to do and utilizes museum collaborations. Yap believes that digital platforms will have a bigger role and only time will tell if we keep the changes or we revert to conventions, although transitioning is considered.

Nikita Yingqian Cai of Times Museum, on the other hand, discussed a different kind of institutional landscape. She talked of the long-term strategic planning of the organization from a great leap forward to low-end globalization.

In 2008, a household of farmers was still renting and living on the field across the building of Times Museum. In the conversion of rice paddies and villages into postmodern villas and office towers, the museum is now interwoven in a newly built 18 story residential building. The museum is private and does not work with collections. What is does is define institutional positionality with a homogeneous social texture.

Cai discussed Low-end Globalization as “the transnational flow of people and goods involving relatively small amounts of capital and informal, sometimes semi-legal or illegal transactions, often associated with ‘the developing world but in fact apparent across the globe.” She said that this affirms the global hierarchy and can initiate an exchange network. The museum thus prioritizes inquiries that unfold over time and across disciplines. It is a contingent product of cultural encounter, conceptually extended from Koolhaas’s ideal of “Great Leap Forward,” harnessed by the international curatorial vision of the 2nd Guangzhou Triennial curated by Hou Hanru and Hans Uritch Obrist in 2005, and negotiated, materialized, challenged by local agencies.

Cai’s sharing on the port-city cosmopolitanism and friction of global connections focused on sojourners and straits Chinese from Canton and wage laborers migrated within the Pearl River Delta region in time of Maritime Expansion (The Canton system, 1757-1842). The port-city, in particular, is an appropriate site to ground cosmopolitanism, given its status as a node within global commercial, migratory, and intellectual flows, and its ability to attract inhabitants of diverse backgrounds.

Here, cosmopolitanism is not an abstract ideal, nor a condition of migration or exile, but a process of negotiation between diverse communities participating in a dynamic and shared public sphere. This resulted in “Para-curatorial On The Move – 2020 Special: The Fleeting Union of Portals.” Cai concluded with a comment on the break out from the temporal-spatial constraints, negotiating positionality in friction and thematic online journals.

Estrada contextualized the inputs with an emphasis on putting value into the curatorial work and for organizations to go digital, especially given the uncertainties we need to deal with now. She assessed that it might be a good time for the opening of small spaces, engaging the public through different events and most especially reducing the carbon footprint of biennales and art festivals. She touched on museum collections’ diversity and inclusivity in terms of gender and historical or discursive subjects. She also reiterated the use of digital or virtual currency now known as cryptocurrency and the importance of being open to local judgment.

“Museum Management Projections after the Pandemic” was conducted virtually on June 19, 2021, but is available for virtual viewing through the website vivaexcon.org.* (Vincent Rose Cassiopeia Sarnate)

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