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Museum partnerships are simultaneously more essential and more logistically challenging than ever before. Pooling resources across organizations is a smart means of reaching audiences in a time of severely reduced visitation. Yet, the pandemic’s financial squeeze makes embarking on new initiatives challenging for museums facing staff reductions and acclimatizing to rapidly shifting cultural realities. 

Few cultural landscapes have embraced collaborative partnerships as enthusiastically as China’s in 2020. As lockdowns swept the country in January, Chinese museums began developing new partnerships, or refocusing existing ones, with a particular bent towards China’s technology giants. ByteDance, the company behind Douyin, China’s TikTok, worked with a host of prominent museums for International Museum Day; Tencent partnered with the Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes; and Tibet’s The Potala Palace held its debut livestream supported by Alibaba’s Taobao.  

Fittingly, collaboration was the focus of this year’s symposium from China-based organization Museum 2050. Hosted at the recently opened HEM Museum in Guangdong province, the event drew from domestic experiences as well as global ones through a weekend of presentations, panel discussions, and workshops.   

Jing Culture & Commerce connected with two Museum 2050 participants, Brendan Ciecko, founder of Cuseum, a digital solutions provider for cultural organizations, and art and research collective zzyw, comprised of Qi Zhenzhen and Yang Wang, to discuss the state of partnerships in 2020.


How has the pandemic impacted museum partnerships?

Ciecko: It remains to be seen. On the one hand, museums have been thrust forward and pushed out of their comfort zones; on the other, many museums have pressed pause on any new partnership initiatives except for those that drive revenue.

zzyw: The pandemic drastically changed the way we think of concepts like museums, space, and interaction. We develop virtual worlds and invite audiences to alter these worlds through some form of input, oftentimes with microphones, touchpads, or other electronic devices, which is challenging in light of the global pandemic. 

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Are there specific types of collaborations you’ve seen emerge this year?

Ciecko: Partnerships that show a clear tech-centricity and also incorporate some components of potential downstream revenue generation for the museums. This includes the British Museum with Alibaba, UCCA with Baidu, and Netflix with the Brooklyn Museum. 

zzyw: The number of virtual exhibitions has increased by a big margin. This has pushed curators and artists to reimagine what virtual exhibitions really mean. This could lead to deeper examinations of the computational media, challenging us to think what exactly does it mean to interact through a “virtual” space.

What new opportunities and trends have you noticed?

Ciecko: Digital has provided museums with innovative, flexible, and measurable ways of tapping into partnerships. Digital has played a vital role in opening up access to museums’ rich collections of content and visual assets. Their brand paired with these assets is ripe for use, monetization, and distribution, and that is where partnerships come in. Most of the world’s tech giants have shown a growing appetite for inspiring the public with arts and culture-oriented projects, and have delivered on this through collaboration with museums.

What are the biggest challenges for museums going into 2021? 

zzyw: We are particularly hopeful for the role museums will play in social innovation going into 2021. General audiences from a variety of backgrounds meet in museums to engage and reciprocate. In a time defined by conflicts and tension, museums possess the transformative power to rethink the role of technology in bringing people together and representing different voices. 

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Cultural Collaborations, Features