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October 14, 2020

COVID-19 Co-Creation During the COVID-19 Lockdown: My Wachau – Multiple Voices on the World Heritage Site

Isabell Fiedler

Head of Art Education | Visitor Service | Artothek Niederösterreich

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Keywords: Multiple voices; Co-creation; Community engagement; Audio guide.

© Kunstmeile Krems

How do children see the UNESCO World Heritage Area Wachau? What do they associate with it? The Education Department of the State Gallery of Lower Austria investigated this question on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Wachau in 2020, and an extensive art exhibition at the State Gallery of Lower Austria. The aim of the project is to integrate the voices of primary school children in the exhibition and add new interpretive and contextual layers to the art works. To achieve this, the children interviewed several experts about key art works in the show. The audio contributions are available online on the museum’s website and via QR code in the museum exhibition.

Integrating multiple voices in the museum narrative

The Education Department teamed up with a primary school in the World Heritage Area Wachau to produce an alternative audio guide for the exhibition Wachau. The Discovery of a World Heritage Site. In each episode, pupils interview one expert about a specific artwork in the exhibition. The experts include: the museum director, the curator of the exhibition, UNESCO and World Heritage managers, as well as local residents. The students lead the conversations and define what stories are told. Thus, the focus of attention is shifted from art historical details to questions such as ‘Why is there a hat on the floor and nobody picks it up?’, ‘Why did the artist paint a woman with a child?’ or ‘What is behind the brown stones?’

© Kunstmeile Krems

Project implementation in challenging times

Shortly after the project was launched on 2 March 2020, museums and schools in Austria were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This posed a challenge for the Education team: How could the contact with the local community be sustained despite social distancing? How could co-creation be achieved while parents grappled with the double task of home working and home schooling? The commitment of the participating children to this project was the main motivator to find a solution. The decision to continue the project remotely required flexibility from all parties, and was implemented as follows:

  • The pupils conducted further research on the art works at home. They used all their imagination to record the questions for the experts with their mobile phones and without a real interview partner. The Education Department of the State Gallery of Lower Austria – Kunstmeile Krems, recommended that they rehearse with siblings or parents as interview partners before the final recording.
  • The parents supported the children in researching and recording. They helped them to investigate specific questions such as, for example, the breed of a horse depicted on one artwork.
  • The teacher helped the parents and pupils in every way possible. She included the project in the home-schooling schedule and invited the pupils to report on their personal achievements and challenges on a regular basis. The teacher also acted as a gatekeeper between the families and the project team, forwarding documents and questions when needed.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, the experts faced more technical issues than the young reporters. The pupils sent the experts questions by e-mail and asked them to record their answers digitally. One 84-year-old expert carried out her first voice recording successfully with a mobile phone, but it took several attempts with assistance from a member of the Education Department.
  • The audio team composed tutorials for the children, and helped them remotely with their recordings. They wrote a brief suitable for children, which outlined the role of (radio) reporters, defined and emphasised the importance of good journalism, and outlined tips for conducting a good interview. A brief was also developed for the parents, which addressed more technical questions such as the volume of the recording and how to submit the audio files. The audio team edited the recordings to create the final audio contributions; due to the different recording settings, it was a tricky task.

Anchoring the exhibition in today’s world

The audio contributions anchor artworks from the past in the pupils’ lives and open up new levels of interpretation of the art works and the Wachau in general for museum visitors in both the analogue and digital museum space. This initiative fulfils the State Gallery of Lower Austria’s mission: to be a place for all people and their ideas, and to connect art to our everyday life.

The project was funded by ‘culture connected’, an Austria-wide initiative by the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research.

References and resources

State Gallery of Lower Austria:

https://www.lgnoe.at/en

Wachau. The Discovery of a World Heritage Site:

https://www.lgnoe.at/en/exhibitions/15-wachau

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