Now What? How We Should Be Looking Back and Moving Forward in the Museum Field, 2021 and Beyond

February 25, 2021

     Since we have begun distributing the coronavirus vaccine, we have a new president in the Oval Office, and many changes were made for all of us to adapt to ever changing conditions, I think the question that has been on a lot of our minds is: Now what?

We are not out of the woods yet, and we need to do our part in controlling the pandemic. In the museum field, museum professionals are working on creating experiences for either the virtual platform or limited capacity in-person.

They understand that the plans we originally had for museums have drastically changed course due to the pandemic, and like everyone else we are figuring out how we could keep our places running. Museums around the world are figuring out their next steps if they are not permanently closed. I went through a good number of resources to research what museum associations are sharing with the museum field for keeping the museums running as the pandemic continues and vaccinations are being distributed.

         The American Alliance of Museums released a post on their site called “Should my museum require staff and visitors to wear face masks when we reopen?” to share resources museums could utilize to enforce CDC guidelines. Each piece of information that is shared is not intended as legal, employment/human resources, or health and safety advice but rather they are based on the best available resources at the time the post was published. There are sections used to classify available information museums should seriously consider when re-opening the physical sites. When figuring out how your museum will enforce regulations as the pandemic continues to affect our daily lives, these are the types of information you need to take into consideration:

  1. CDC guidance
  2. State/local laws
  3. Legality and the Americans with Disabilities Act for employees and for visitors
  4. Training on proper use of masks
  5. Accessibility
  6. Equity and racial implications
  7. Availability of masks
  8. Tensions over masks, enforcement of policies, and employee training *Information is also available to help figure out how to enforce policies and who will enforce them.
  9. Communication

Once your museum has developed a plan and know how to enforce the policies, it will ease how your museum will move forward throughout the pandemic.

The Network of European Museum Organisations (NEMO) released a follow up report on the continued impact of COVID-19 on the museum sector, and I have included links below if you would like to read more about it. According to their announcement, NEMO pointed out that:  

Suitable support is needed for museums to build on their digital momentum. Almost all museums offer online activities, but an overwhelming majority admit that they actually need assistance and guidance in their digital transition.

NEMO recommends that museums stay open during these challenging times to offer people a place for rest and emotional recovery. There have been no reported cases of museums being infection hotspots. On the contrary, most museums are very well-equipped to allow for a Covid-19-safe experience for both visitors and employees.

NEMO included a link to their follow up report pdf within their post. Their report follows the initial survey, report, and recommendations about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on museums during the first lockdown. According to their follow-up report, this survey was answered by 600 museums from 48 countries between October 30, 2020 and November 29, 2020, and the majority of the answers came from Europe. They sought to investigate the different themes that emerged in the first survey they released and were discussed within the museum community; the themes were: consequences of income (and other) losses, the increased importance of digital museum offers, and adapted operations and preparedness during and for crises.

          I appreciate that their report had a disclaimer that stated while the results are not guaranteed as representative of current circumstances, it offers a view into the perceived consequences and challenges faced by museums as well as their efforts to overcome them and serve their communities during a pandemic. It is important to address that while there is important information to provide an idea of how museums should move forward it is important to remember that things are not always guaranteed and predictable; new strands of the coronavirus were discovered since the report was released.

The report went into detail about the issues museums face in this pandemic, survey results, and the recommendations that NEMO addresses to stakeholders at all levels. Each issue is split into three sections: Income Losses and Consequences, Development of Digital Services, and Adapted Operations and Crisis Preparedness. In terms of bringing visitor numbers back to normal, the report stated that:

Museums were asked when they estimated visitor numbers could return to their pre-COVID-19 levels. The majority (45%) of 283 responding museums do not estimate a full recovery of visitor numbers until the months between March and September 2021. 15% are prepared to wait until the spring or summer of 2022 before they will welcome the same visitor numbers as before the pandemic.

In addition to looking through these reports, I decided to look at resources outside of the museum field to see what museum professionals could utilize in their own practices for the museums they work for.

I found in my research tips for a successful remote or hybrid curriculum adoption from Amplify, which is an education company that partners with educators to create meaningful learning experiences in schools, whether it is helping to create a professional development plan, working shoulder to shoulder in the classroom, or providing real-time support in a chat window on a teacher’s laptop. Also known as DECIDE, the tips are:

TIP 1 Design the process.

When something unpredictable happens, in the process or in the educational environment, your plan will function as a framework you can adjust as you move forward.

TIP 2 Experience the programs.

You know you need to evaluate each program, but consider exactly how your committee will do that, and how disagreements will be resolved.

TIP 3 Convene a dream team.

The right team can make a complex adoption easier. Group dynamics are important, but think about how you will solicit individual feedback as well.

TIP 4 Investigate short-term and long-term needs.

Discuss with the committee how well your current instructional philosophy aligns with your short-term and long-term goals.

TIP 5 Develop the right rubric.

Using a rubric not only helps you measure what matters, but also ensures that your entire team measures the same things in the same way.

TIP 6 Establish consensus among your stakeholders.

How you make your final decision is a process unto itself. Determine in advance how you will resolve disagreements together.

These tips could be used for education programs in museums since we are figuring out how to engage with student groups like many educators outside of the museum field. Museum educators need to develop an effective curriculum so they can help other educators supplement their own curricula, and this is true before the pandemic and it is just as true now. Our programs need a framework to fall back on when things do not go to plan, an effective evaluation plan and team to know what is working and what needs to change, and to know the short-term and long-term needs of the program to be able to find out what the students took away from it.

By no means this is a conclusive list of things museums need to do moving forward within the pandemic. I encourage you all to take a closer look at not only the sources I introduced in this post but to also look at museum associations in your area for additional resources.

I’m on Buy Me a Coffee. If you like my work, you can buy me a coffee and share your thoughts. ☕ https://buymeacoffee.com/lbmfmusedblog

Links:

https://www.aam-us.org/2021/01/30/should-my-museum-require-staff-and-visitors-to-wear-face-masks-when-we-reopen/

https://www.ne-mo.org/news/article/nemo/nemo-follow-up-report-on-the-continued-impact-of-covid-19-on-the-museum-sector.html

NEMO COVID-19 Follow Up Report

DECIDE: 6 tips for a successful remote or hybrid curriculum adoption

Amplify

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/12/22/a-pandemic-time-capsule-and-tools-for-2021/

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/11/25/for-post-pandemic-success-get-creative-with-distributed-museum-models/

Distance Learning with Intention and Purpose

Fostering Academic Discussion Online

Improving Accessibility for All Students

https://achievethecore.org/aligned/tag/remote-learning/

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