April 2, 2020
In addition to providing museum virtual experiences for visitors, staff, directors, and boards need to figure out how to adapt their operations to the virtual world under fast changing circumstances caused by the pandemic. This past week I participated in a couple of American Association State and Local History Conversation webinar series focusing on what next steps museum staff and boards could do to keep their museums running. I attended AASLH Conversations: Leadership, Boards, and the COVID-19 Crisis that focuses on how leadership should respond as the pandemic continues to effect the world, and I attended AASLH Conversations: Planning for an Uncertain Financial Future to figure out how to develop a financial plan for our museums as we face this unprecedented situation. The information I will share in this post are developing resources and are important takeaways from each one I participated in. What all museum professionals should remember is that, like many of us in and out of the museum field, we are all still learning and adapting to the ever-changing circumstances around the world.
There are many considerations museum professionals have to make decisions when facing this pandemic including keeping communication clear between museum leaders, staff, and board members. During the AASLH Conversations: Leadership, Boards, and the COVID-19 Crisis, some of the most important points made was that it is important to be transparent about the realities with your board and team, be compassionate to others and yourself by stepping back when needed, and be creative as well as flexible to figure out the solutions. The speakers Christy S. Coleman (the CEO at the American Civil War Museum) and Katherine Kane (the former Executive Director at Harriet Beecher Stowe Center) emphasized that: business as usual will not work. It is important to acknowledge that museum leaders have to operate differently and find out how to serve the community. Also, both staff and boards are scared about the pandemic on both the professional and personal level, and as leaders we have to address the hard stuff and explain what we are planning to keep communication open to all. Museum leaders need to recognize that they should adjust their time to virtually meet with board members since they have their own work and families they need to take care of on top of dealing with the pandemic; meanwhile, staff members need to know whether or not they will be laid off, furloughed, or pay/hour reductions. Museum professionals also need to consider their museum financial plans and figure out what their next steps are based on their past and current financial reports.
Becky Beaulieu, the director of the Florence Griswold Museum and author of Financial Fundamentals for Historic House Museums (2017), was the speaker for the AASLH Conversations: Planning for an Uncertain Financial Future in which she shared her insights and advice. Beaulieu pointed out that we are facing an unprecedented time, and because of this the webinar like the previous one was focused on creating a discussion in which she will share her thoughts and answers to participants’ questions based on her expertise. She described in detail about business interruption plans (emergency plans for when something unexpected happens especially a pandemic), and shared three important things that need to be clear when developing a business interruption plan: what is your team and their responsibilities (i.e. who is writing the checks, contacting vendors and sponsors for events, etc.), what is your recovery time, and what are your core operations. Also, she stressed that it is important during this unprecedented time to create a source for all staff members to access resources from the museum community to inspire your own plans. Another important takeaway is to make sure to figure out what your plans A, B, and C are when considering cuts and funding options (i.e. insurance, grants, and for only the last resort-endowments). Museum professionals have difficult decisions to make during this time to make sure we continue to serve our communities, and having these conversations on a regular basis with other museum professionals within the field will help all of us during the pandemic.
If you want to learn more about these webinars, the link to the AASLH Conversations series is here: https://learn.aaslh.org/covid19response