Less known than London’s British Museum or New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Latin America is nonetheless home to some of the world’s leading historic and cultural institutions from Chile’s National Museum of Fine Arts to Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology. Covid shut doors and froze visitor numbers forcing curators to innovate. One way was through social media – photographic and video content saw social media followers grow by some 1570% for some museums. Notably, growth was significant among a younger demographic who have traditionally been a harder audience to attract.
The owner of one of Peru’s leading museums explained, “Through social media outreach, younger people are brought into the museum world sphere. Many of Peru’s museums now have a presence on Tik Tok, Instagram, Youtube etc. The mediation of content becomes important, the language has also changed. Before the speech was more formal and archaic, today the words, idioms and aesthetics are influenced by the cultural expressions of younger generations.”
“Many of Peru’s museums now have a presence on Tik Tok, Instagram, Youtube etc. The mediation of content becomes important, the language has also changed.”
The owner of one of Peru’s leading museums
Things are changing including the development of museums that are more reflective of the kinds of things young Latinos are interested in; more music and racial expressivity less Egyptology and Iberian colonialism. Rio Grande do Sul state, in southern Brazil, will open Latin America’s first museum dedicated to hip hop culture. Cultural expression including experiences of racially motivated violence will be a key theme and the museum will offer after-school activities, a community garden and sports complex.
Adolescents have become a key target demographic for museums in part because they were significantly adversely by Covid, more schools shut and for longer in Latin America than anywhere else in the world, many in rural and impoverished areas were unable to access remote learning. Museums started to think of themselves as able to posit themselves not just as cultural institutions, but educational ones too. Activity programmes were substantially expanded.
Schools have also promoted accessibility to cultural programmes from different museums and institutions. Young people have become involved in museum activities in a virtual way, and that increases the capacity and intentions of young people today to go to museums.
What else could museums do to incorporate digitalisation into their outreach? “There is a boom in NFT’s, digital art opens the way to interest in this kind of exhibition and it can be fairly easy to attract and involve the general public. Other kinds of educational institutions, science museums for example, are really going to have to innovate to give the public a format suitable for the virtual world,” explains a senior official at Mexico’s Secretariat of Culture.
“There is a boom in NFT’s, digital art opens the way to interest in this kind of exhibition and it can be fairly easy to attract and involve the general public.”
A senior official, Secretariat of Culture, Mexico
On Tik Tok young people and influencers have livestreamed tours, the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan has been digitally recreated allowing for virtual walk throughs. It was, ironically, the pandemic that forced museums to think outside the box in this way.
This type of format can also be attractive abroad as a method of projecting the grandeur of pre-Hispanic cultures. However, the power of virtuality in museography is still something that is still hard to see as feasible and sustainable. Nonetheless, in Latin America, museums have shown a remarkable resilience and ability to adapt – in doing so, both the institutions themselves and the people who use them stand to benefit.