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Luke Syson on the future of the Fitz in difficult times

To help ensure the health of visitors and staff, the doors of museums and galleries all over the world are currently closed. The Fitzwilliam is no exception. But that does not mean we are shut for business, or that we have ceased to be a meeting place. What we do online has never been more important, and the Fitzwilliam is thinking hard about how to make a compelling and distinctive contribution to what has been become exceptionally fertile terrain.

We’ve begun with a focus on families with children at home. Look, Think, Do is intended to provide activities, inspired by the collection, for everyone to do together. By building this feature, we hope to continue our important work with schools. And there’s more to come.

Two things have become evident. Our audiences are divided between those whose normal daily lives and routines have come to a sudden halt, and those who are now attempting to continue their work virtually, while social isolating. That means that the digital world provides both lifelines and extra pressure, as we learn new technologies and spend more time than ever looking at screens. For those of us not ‘born digital’, it has become clear how much the world has changed - and, for many of us, how much we need to catch up. The digital can never again be an extra or an add-on to other museum activity. At the same time, we’re hungrier than ever for the experience of the real, of the actual: real places, people, works of art. Our contact with those things has become more powerful and valuable. So we have to recognise that the way we experience works of art on screen is different, and so we need to make that experience differently powerful. That can be about seeing details or the evidence of the way something was made that is invisible to the naked eye. It can be about the quality of the stories we tell. And it can be about the chance to listen and converse - for all of us.  I will leave you with the image of Rubens’ Head Study of a bearded man, which I wrote about on my Instagram account on 20 March.

There’s lots of material of this kind to enjoy on our website. And, as we develop more, we’ll keep in touch.

Bearded man by Rubens

Wishing you well,

Luke Syson
Director and Marlay Curator