Cultural Mediator and Educator, Benfica Museum - Cosme Damião
October 15, 2021
Keywords: Museum; Sports; Pandemic; Digital Transition; Audiences.
In March 2020, Covid-19 struck in Portugal and imposed our first lockdown. In just a few days, reality as we knew it changed completely and the Benfica Museum – Cosme Damião had to close its doors.
The initial shock was followed by the need to adapt to the constraints created by the pandemic. The first step was to develop an action plan that would allow us to continue catering to our different audiences, such as schools, children, families, and seniors. With the museum closed, digital platforms proved to be the most viable means of communication, allowing constant remote interaction. The Benfica Museum website and its Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages became the museum’s principal tools for cultural mediation. The digital transition plan began with a guided tour of our permanent exhibition, which was made available on YouTube and social networks.
Once the main mediation tool had been defined, it was necessary to rethink how we would communicate with our digital audience and understand how to meet its expectations and needs. For instance, the museum’s activity on social networks would need to reflect its cultural and social commitment. The publications were intensified and renewed, including sports- and nutrition-related content that guided the followers towards new healthy behaviours to face the pandemic and the quarantine period. Also, several regular themed posts were created, including Your Choice, Memory of the Match, and Before and After, aimed at referring the followers to specific events, to the Club’s collection and to the importance of the work developed by the Sport Lisboa e Benfica Cultural Heritage Division – the division within the Club that is responsible for the management of the Benfica Museum.
The digital transition was embodied in the #BenficaMuseumAtHome project, with the purpose of guaranteeing access to culture during the pandemic. Firstly, investment was made in the adaptation and online publication of existing recreational and educational materials. These materials were made available on the website and allowed the public to continue to experience the Benfica Museum remotely. For instance, we shared articles online from the O Benfica newspaper – the Sport Lisboa e Benfica’s weekly printed newspaper -, games for the whole family, colouring pages and creative workshops to commemorate events, such as Easter and Mother’s Day, and develop artistic skills. The public reception was positive, which boosted the continuous growth of this project. In addition, as a founding member of the International Sports Museums Association (ISMA), the Benfica Museum has created measures and recommendations to be adopted by its members to guarantee a safe reopening.
Making the digital transition
Given the impossibility of holding face-to-face events while closed, the Sport Lisboa e Benfica Cultural Heritage Division organised online initiatives. In 2020, the Storage, Conservation and Restoration Department organised two webinars on the Zoom platform, which brought together various conservation and restoration specialists and explored in depth the challenges linked to cultural heritage management. In December 2020, on the verge of the second lockdown, the museum organised the first cycle of online guided tours of Sport Lisboa e Benfica’s history, entitled Stories in Red and White. The receptivity and enthusiasm of the public led to the creation of two new editions. In total, between December and April 12 online guided tours took place, which communicated the exhibition from different perspectives, exploring relevant themes from the Club’s centenary history. One of these tours opened the doors of both the Storage, Conservation and Restoration Department, and the Documentation and Information Centre, to the public, giving the audience the opportunity to observe the museum’s professionals at work. The celebration of the 117th anniversary of the Club also included a special digital programme: online interviews were organised on Instagram, with former and current athletes from the Club, recalling the achievements and great moments of Benfica’s history. In short, our work during the first lockdown was crucial to preparing the reopening of the museum and creating activities adapted to the pandemic context.
Reinforcing educational actions
Throughout the pandemic, the Sport Lisboa e Benfica Cultural Heritage Division provided various cultural content to educational institutions and families, including papers on the history of Sport Lisboa e Benfica, documents that communicate the Club’s collection, encouraging meditation on the theme of sporting heritage, and guides on healthy eating and physical exercise.
The museum also reinforced its educational actions to support teachers and students, who were strongly impacted by the lockdown. Pedagogical materials were created for different teaching cycles, made available on the website, and sent via e-mail to Portuguese schools: for instance, the education sheet Saint Martin’s Values, which related the legend and traditions of Saint Martin to the values of sport, and Saint Vincent, Patron Saint of Lisbon, which unveiled who Saint Vincent was and explored the symbol of Lisbon’s coat of arms and the emblem of Sport Lisboa e Benfica. These materials included a creative workshop proposal to promote students’ art education and critical thinking. The pandemic also revealed the urgency to work directly with and for the surrounding community. It was in this context that the hybrid school project The Place We Are was born, with digital and face-to-face formats. Aimed at students from various educational levels, this project involved schools from the Lisbon parishes surrounding the stadium: Benfica, Carnide, and São Domingos de Benfica. The aim was to use the concepts of identity and community to promote the history and heritage of the areas where the memory of the Club is strong.
To date, Portugal has gone through two lockdown periods. As football and other sports came to a halt and the Club’s activities were reduced, the Benfica Museum took over, on digital platforms, as one of the main emotional links with the Club’s members and fans. After two closures, the Benfica Museum recorded a drop in visitors of around 80%, in line with the rest of Portugal’s museums, as stated by the Portuguese Cultural Activities Observatory during the Museums and Social Responsibility – Participation, Networking and Partnerships Conference, on 23 and 24 March 2021. However, the digital transition brought about growth of approximately 15% in the museum’s social network activity: the number of publications increased by approximately 50% and the increase in digital accessibility boosted its reach. The museum’s website received about 1,000 visits every week, thanks notably to the #BenficaMuseumAtHome project. In addition, the museum’s programme was, on several occasions, reported in the national press.
This article is one of many examples of how museums from all around the world adapted to a challenging time and found new opportunities for growth. We hope our journey inspires your cultural institution to dive into the digital world and to continue to invest in this alternative way to engage with audiences in a meaningful and powerful manner.
References and resources
Benfica Museum – Cosme Damião website: https://www.slbenfica.pt/en-us/instalacoes/museu-benfica
Sport Lisboa e Benfica Cultural Heritage Division: https://www.slbenfica.pt/pt-pt/instalacoes/museu-benfica/patrimonio-cultural
#MuseuBenficaEmCasa (##BenficaMuseumAtHome): https://www.slbenfica.pt/en-us/instalacoes/museu-benfica/ficaemcasa
International Sports Museums Association (ISMA): https://www.ismamuseums.com/