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/

Back to School During a Pandemic

September 17, 2020

Last week many students have begun to go back to school on virtual platforms or a hybrid of in person and virtual schools as we continue to face this pandemic. Museums are preparing to help parents, guardians, teachers, and students once again by working to maintain as well as build relationships with our communities to understand the emotional needs, and providing resources to assist in their education plans. In a previous blog post What Kind of Learning Are We Doing?, I pointed out that

We continue to figure out each day how to proceed teaching and learning while we are facing this pandemic. It is most likely hard at first to figure out a new routine for education especially for parents and guardians who are suddenly have to deal with finding ways to educate their children; for students who have to adjust to not being able to interact with their peers and teachers as they are used to; and for educators who have to figure out quickly how to transition their lessons into an online format.

This is still true as the new school year begins. The families I know have to figure out ways to continue their children’s education at home, at school, or a hybrid of both remote and onsite schooling. Each family faces their own challenges in finding out ways to engage children in their lessons. Museums should continue to work to keep the needs of their communities in mind as they continue to offer remote experiences for its visitors.

There are many examples museums have for education programs that vary on subjects covered and community support. Below I have included a list of resources that share what some museums are doing to help educators at home and at school in assisting with educating their students.

Announcement: Starting next week, I will be participating in this year’s AASLH Annual Meeting which has been moved to online due to the pandemic.

Links:

What Kind of Learning Are We Doing? The State of our Education during the Pandemic

USA Today: These online learning tips will help parents prepare for a successful school year, even if it is virtual.

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/09/01/my-primary-school-is-at-the-museumduring-the-pandemic/

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/09/02/never-waste-the-walls-what-pk-12-schools-can-learn-from-museum-design/

https://sites.google.com/view/museum-distance-learning/home

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/remote-teaching-resources

https://cthumanities.org/bring-connecticut-history-to-life-in-your-classroom-with-teach-it-from-connecticut-humanities/

https://edsitement.neh.gov/teachers-guides/digital-humanities-and-online-education

Virtual Offerings:

https://www.mountvernon.org/education/distance-learning-programs/

https://marktwainhouse.org/teachers-students/

https://chs.org/history-to-go/

https://chs.org/education/online-learning/

Museum of Science, Boston: https://www.mos.org/explore/mos-at-home

https://www.explorableplaces.com/places/the-paul-revere-house

Plimoth Patuxet (formerly Plimoth Plantation): https://plimoth.org/learn-1 ; https://plimoth.org/plimoth-online

Old Sturbridge Village: https://www.osv.org/virtual-village/

https://www.nytransitmuseum.org/learn/schoolgroup/

https://www.morrisjumel.org/learning-from-home

https://www.morrisjumel.org/virtual-education-survey-2

https://madmuseum.org/online

https://www.nyhistory.org/education

https://www.tenement.org/visit/virtual-school-programs/

https://www.frauncestavernmuseum.org/digital-content

https://nassaumuseum.org/museum-from-home/#remote-learning

Nelson-Atkins Museum: https://nelson-atkins.org/nelson-atkins-at-home/learn-at-home/

The Field Museum: https://www.fieldmuseum.org/educators/learning-resources/learning-home

The Durham Museum: https://durhammuseum.org/education/digital-learning/at-school/

Reaction: Museums Are Being Tasked With Radically Transforming the Way They Work.

September 3, 2020

I saw this op-ed on Artnet news via Twitter written by post-graduate Interpretive Fellow at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Aaron Ambroso, titled “Museums Are Being Tasked With Radically Transforming the Way They Work. Here Are 6 Practical Steps They Can Take to Do That”. This is an interesting piece because it is important that museums should transform the way they work, and it is important to hear multiple perspectives on what is going on in the museum field. What also drew my attention to this piece was the responses to this op-ed. A number of tweets argued that the misconception that “all museums are art museums” was present within the piece. It is a misconception that is spread both within and outside of the museum field in webinars, newspaper articles, et. cetera. The problem with implying that “all museums are art museums” is not every advice, suggestion, or guideline fits with all museums, and by talking about museums in general while only highlighting the art experience it alienates other history, science, natural history, children, and many more types of museums that are working on transforming the work they do. I decided to take a closer look to see for myself what Ambroso had to say about museums transforming the way they work and where the misconception came from.

Since the op-ed was released on Artnet news, which is an extension of Artnet (the leading online resource for the international art market, and the destination to buy, sell, and research art online), it seems that the intended audience for this piece is art museums. The title of the piece and the arguments made within the piece, however, suggests that it addresses all museums. As I read the piece, I noticed that Ambroso discussed museums while heavily using examples of art museums. For instance, he stated that

Museums around the country have done pathbreaking and important work addressing issues of political neutrality, and many have made explicit discussions of race, sex, and class a central part of exhibitions and programming. Yet still too often, museums display works of art with an exclusive focus on qualities that are supposed to speak in universal ways, or with blinders about the way art objects may be read in problematic ways by disadvantaged communities.

For example, is it best to emphasize a 16th-century British portrait’s technical and formal qualities? Or should we recontextualize 16th-century symbolic objects, which were closely tied to the upper nobility, to better understand the historic inequality of the present? Too often, issues of technique and formal composition can be seen as implicitly neutral—as if they do not evince a particular perspective with an implicit value system.

The previous statements might make sense for art museums, but it may not make sense for other types of museums such as history, science, natural history, and children’s museums.

In response to the steps presented in the op-ed piece, I have mixed reactions to what was being presented in the piece. I agree that it is important for museums to connect with the community museums are located in. Ambroso pointed out the importance of connecting with the community:

Museums must go beyond the expertise of curatorial and education staff and understand themselves as interacting with specific communities across often fraught social and geographic boundaries. Many museums have come a long way in co-creating with indigenous communities. But there are also communities only miles away from museums that may feel as far away socially as people from another continent.

My concern is with the section that Ambroso labeled as “Let’s Be Neutral, Please”. While he pointed out that museums need to continue to question the history of neutrality and acknowledge the active role they play in stage-crafting the art experience, I think the title of the neutrality section was misleading since it could be easily misinterpreted as his suggestion that museums should be neutral.

Ambroso’s op-ed expressed interesting points that are important for art museums to consider when working on transforming their interactions within the community and within their walls during these hard times. If opinions are shared on what museums in general should do when reforming their practices, they should reflect on how they can be applied to all museums and not one specific type of museum. When articles are written about museums and webinars are presented for museums, it is important to develop the information that apply for all types of museums not just art museums. Every museum has not only their focused subject matter their exhibits, programs, and collections support but they have their own budget sizes, communities they serve, locations, et cetera that any specific advice or guideline does not apply to their needs.

I recommend reading the piece to see more of what they wrote on reforming museums in the link below.

Links:

https://news.artnet.com/opinion/museum-ethics-op-ed-1904895

https://news.artnet.com/

Reflections on Museum Education Since COVID Arrived in the United States Part 1

August 20, 2020

It has been at least six months since the United States was on lockdown due to the pandemic, and there has been a lot of changes that have occurred especially within the museum field. Usually I would write a reflection about the museum field in the past year in December however I decided to share my reflections on museum education to describe what I have seen that is happening in the field. Throughout the months I have been writing about how the museum field responded to the pandemic. For instance, I wrote “Museums Offering Virtual Experiences during the Pandemic” which focused on how more museums are developing virtual programs and engaging with communities in the virtual realm.

There were other posts that also described how museums handled the news of the pandemic and professional development programs that are moved online. In “What Kind of Learning Are We Doing? The State of our Education during the Pandemic”, I shared information I learned in an AASLH program about how museums should also help the communities cope with the drastic changes the pandemic has brought not just focus on providing education programs. I also attended a number of professional development programs that were moved to the online platform such as the New York Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) conference and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) conference. I included a few links to the posts and relevant pages of blog posts in the list below. As the pandemic continues, it is important to also take a moment to reflect and practice self-care before continuing to do any work before being quarantined and overworking burns us out.

Another inspiration for this blog post was Joan Baldwin’s post on Leadership Matters called “The Museum Crisis: Does Reflection Help?” Baldwin’s post described the importance of pausing and reflecting on one’s work in leadership and museums. She pointed out that

A reflective practice allows us to avoid making the same mistakes again and again. It asks us to acknowledge where we went off course, imagine a second chance and aspire to a better outcome. Okay, so why does any of that matter when, if there is a resurgence of COVID, your museum may close? Organizationally, it may not matter. But if you’re lucky enough to serve a museum or heritage organization that is open and weathering the COVID/post-George Floyd storm, then reflection, both personal and organizational, will help you emerge from the same old place, doing the same old thing, just well enough.

When the pandemic reached the United States, the Three Village Historical Society closed its physical location and continued its operations from each person’s homes. The Education Committee, myself included, met with one another through Zoom to plan the next steps in running education programs. In each meeting we had, we planned virtual programs that were both inspired by existing programs that we usually implement in person and by programs we have learned about that we adapted to teach Three Village history. As we face the upcoming fall season, it is important that we also reflect on how we will proceed to help schools as they make decisions on re-opening their doors at the capacity they chose to start the new school year.

During these months, I was asked to present at an online forum for the Museums Galleries Scotland called “Moving Forward with Learning and Engagement: re-connecting, adapting and collaboration during and post lock-down” to share the perspective of Looking Back, Moving Forward in Museum Education and participate in the group discussion answering questions such as How can we sustain and build on the connections we have made during lock down?

I am grateful for each experience I have had especially during these hard times, and while it is hard to stay motivated in the pandemic there is a way to help ourselves with mental health and general wellbeing. Reflection could help in addition to many self-care practices.

Link:

How are Museums Dealing with the Coronavirus?

Museums Offering Virtual Experiences during the Pandemic

COVID-19 Blog Posts

Professional Development

The Museum Crisis: Does Reflection Help?:

https://leadershipmatters1213.wordpress.com/2020/08/10/the-museum-crisis-does-reflection-help/

Charging Admission to Museums during this Pandemic: A Discussion

August 13, 2020

As some museums are either considering or planning to reopen their doors, there is some discussion about charging admission to visit both virtually and in-person. The pandemic has caused numerous financial hardships for many people, museums, nonprofits, theaters, stores, et. cetera. Museums charging admission is not a new topic in the field, but it has especially been relevant within the last months as museums consider re-opening their doors. In order to figure out how to keep museums running financially, museum professionals have been talking about whether or not to charge admission for some virtual experiences.

A conclusive answer for all museums would be hard to reach since each museum have their own budgets and their own limitations, and the pandemic created even more limitations for museums. In the blog post I wrote a couple of years ago What We Can Do About Admission Fees to Our Museums? I pointed out that

Many museums have different admission policies based on their operation budgets and funding they may or may not receive from donors and sometimes the government. The decision on what the admission prices to museums is not an easy one to make. Many museum professionals and visitors debate over what would be an appropriate amount to pay admission to museums.

With the pandemic continuing to financially effect museums among other recreational, educational, and businesses, the previous statement I made in that post is still true now but with more things to consider. It is not only museums, schools, businesses, et. cetera that are struggling but families and individuals are also struggling, and for many spending money on trips to museums (that have re-opened their physical sites to certain extents) is not a priority.

Museums are considering varying options to address the admissions issue. The Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket, New York, for instance, decided on suggested donations for their virtual events. One museum in Germany decided to do an experiment with a different way of charging admissions. In the post shared on the American Alliance of Museums website, they shared information from the experiment by the Weserburg Museum of Modern Art in Bremen, Germany when they decided to change their admission policy to a “pay as you stay” model; there were two test phases that occurred in December 2019 and March 2020 when visitors paid one Euro per ten minutes, and in their results they revealed that while changing the admission to exist prices was a challenge the efforts had exceeded their expectations. Some of their findings include

The results of our experiment show that this pricing approach, which so far only existed in theory, not only worked in museum practice, but produced positive results. We must, of course, gather more data to understand the effects better, and it is in no way obvious that the system would work in other museums. It is also unclear what the effects would be in the long run. Available studies suggest that prices are rarely the decisive factor in the decision about whether or not to visit the arts, at least in Europe. We must also assume that the promotional effects wear off over time. But even if it is only a minor contribution – if a novel pricing model such as this can support our mission to be accessible, visitor oriented and open to new audiences, we should not leave this stone unturned.

When I read the article, I thought that “pay as you stay” model is an interesting option that museum professionals should examine to see if it would work for their museums. Since the United States especially has many museums of varying types, sizes (physical and budget), et. cetera, one model would not work for all of them. Colleen Dilenschneider released some information on her study on admissions to cultural institutions in the post Still Worth It? Admission Cost During the Pandemic for Cultural Entities (DATA). In the post, Dilenschneider pointed out a few things, including but not limited to, that people believe cultural entities are not less worthy of admission costs and that leaders should take a thoughtful approach to the decisions that need to be made about admissions rather than a reactive action. She also described value-for-cost perceptions which is a metric to help professionals understand how much perceptual value derived from an experience relative to its admission price unique to their institutions. For instance, the data informs three conditions as perceptions are being examined keeping data factors in mind:

Value of 100 = Optimally priced. This is the goal! This value means that the organization is priced and perceived such that the cost is not a significant barrier to engagement… while also not leaving money on the table!

Value less than 100 = Value disadvantaged. The lower the value, the proportionately greater the potential barrier to attendance the price point poses. For some organizations, this also represents an opportunity to improve the experience so it’s perceived as more worthy of one’s time and money.

Value greater than 100 = Value advantaged. The higher the value, the more money the organization proportionately risks “leaving on the table.” People would pay more for this experience without it jeopardizing attendance numbers.

In the end, the decision to charge admission is what all museums face but factors such as budgets and funding influences their decision to charge or not charge admission.

I recommend taking a closer look at the resources I mentioned in the list below.

What are your views on admissions to museums, cultural institutions, et. cetera during this pandemic (either virtually, in-person, or a hybrid)?

Links:

“Pay As You Stay” – an alternative pricing model for museums?

What Can We Do About Admission Fees to Our Museums?

Three Village Historical Society

Still Worth It? Admission Cost During the Pandemic for Cultural Entities (DATA)

How Museums Can Generate Revenue Through Digital Content and Virtual Experiences

Museums: What Will Happen When We All Re-Open?

June 25, 2020

While many museums are figuring out whether or not to re-open their doors, there are some museums that have decided to re-open their doors with limited capacity. Not all museums plan to re-open their physical sites due to varying reasons relating to but not limited to state regulations put in place. The most important consideration museums should keep in mind is the needs of the community, and find ways to continue to engage within the community especially through virtual programs. Museums work on figuring out how to implement Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regulations to keep its visitors and community members safe as we are still trying to flatten the curb in the United States. Many professional development programs I have participated in were focused on what should be done when considering re-opening the museum.

Plenty of resources have been released through the American Association for State and Local History on re-opening museums and historic sites. Last month I attended the webinar AASLH Conversations: Planning for Reopening in which speakers Martha Akins (Deputy Director for Facilities at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami, Florida) and Trina Nelson Thomas (Director, Stark Art & History Venues for the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation in Orange, Texas) shared lessons learned during the reopening of their own sites after major natural disasters. By sharing these lessons, they believed that it could hopefully uncover solutions organizations can bring to the cautious reopening on the other side of the pandemic. I also attended AASLH Conversations: You Are Not Alone: Reopening Small to Mid-Sized Institutions which was similar to the previous one except it was focused more on small to mid-sized arts, culture, and history organizations contemplating questions about the eventual re-opening to the public. Then the next webinar I attended was AASLH Conversations: Guidelines and Procedures for Reopening Your Historic Site in which the speakers discussed questions that many historic sites have been considering when re-opening: Where do you turn for Federal and State laws and regulations? What do you need to do to protect your visitors, volunteers, and staff? Will you phase your opening, limit visitation etc.? All of the previously listed webinars pointed out that these are conversations that are ongoing since we are facing unprecedented times and are using what we do know to figure out the best course of action.

The American Alliance of Museums also released resources that would help museums figure out their plans for re-opening. An example of a resource they shared was the Considerations for Museum Reopenings document that encourages museums to create flexible plans that are regularly reviewed based on updated information on the coronavirus. Both AASLH and AAM release resources to make sure that museum professionals take every consideration into account when considering re-opening their organizations. Some museums have made announcements to re-open their doors over the summer months.

The New York Historical Society announced on Twitter that they plan to re-open in stages beginning on August 14th with a free special exhibit located outside “Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” which documents the experiences of New Yorkers during the height of the pandemic. Access to the outside exhibit, according to a post from Gothamist, will be limited and face coverings will be required for entry, with social distancing enforced through timed-entry tickets and on-site safety measures. Also, the Met is planning to reopen on August 29th with new social distancing guidelines in place that will be revealed as it gets closer to the reopen date. In the Gothamist post, the writer stated that The Met plans to re-open with shorter hours and fewer days per week, and decided that all tours, talks, concerts, and events will be canceled through the rest of 2020.

One example of museums that have re-opened to the public was the Buffalo Bill Center of the West which is a massive AAM-accredited facility located in rural Wyoming in Cody, the Yellowstone National Park gateway community. As of May 7th, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West was officially reopened to its visitors. In pre-COVID times, there is usually an increase of visitors during the three months of summer season; approximately 80 percent of the 170,000 annual guests that typically visit the site. Peter Seibert, the Executive Director and CEO of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, wrote about the experience of re-opening the doors to the public on the American Alliance of Museums website in the post “Diary of a Museum Reopening”.

Seibert shared the timeline of closing its doors, deliberating on how to engage with its audience during this time, and ultimately making the decision to re-open their doors within the post. He shared the framework they worked with to help with their survival which were: focus on donors using bi-weekly emails to boards as well as advisors and phone calls to the rest,  focus on the virtual presence, get ready to reopen with what they were able to take care of now and what needs to be done overtime due to limited resources, and start the process of figuring out what to financially cut. According to Seibert’s post, he shared what he learned through the whole process:

For us, being back open to the public is central to our mission and existence. We don’t have the luxury of staying closed for protracted periods. Right now, our draft budget (July 1–June 30) has scenarios that all include lots of fundraising, and a few that contain staff reductions. I fear the latter more than anything. Having seen the effects of wanton cuts in a prior job, I know the destructive force of death by a thousand cuts. Being back open, I can at least fight to keep us intact.

Seibert’s conclusion illustrates a point that other museums are facing during this crisis: Museums are facing tough choices to figure out ways to survive past the pandemic.

Ultimately, it is up to each individual museum, historic site, and historical society to decide on when to re-open their physical spaces. They need to figure out what makes sense to them financially and how to serve the community’s needs where coronavirus cases vary in each state. It is important to communicate with other museums, pay attention to what actions they take, and see what fits best with their institutions.

If you are a museum professional, what are your thoughts on re-opening the museums? If you have previously visited museums before the lockdown, what would make you feel safe about returning to museums?

Links:

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/06/22/diary-of-a-museum-reopening/

https://learn.aaslh.org/covid19response

https://www.aam-us.org/programs/about-museums/preparing-to-reopen/

https://www.pem.org/blog/holding-down-the-fort?fbclid=IwAR0XM8rZ7B26-9MBj_m08fpL68EBgs_i-Kyn7Oyng-20Vn7jtr9Yfdxdw9I

http://midatlanticmuseums.org/resources/?mc_cid=929ec60e67&mc_eid=c18efcdabc

https://gothamist.com/arts-entertainment/met-new-york-historical-society-are-both-planning-reopen-august

The Future of Museums After COVID-19: Creating Plans for Re-opening

May 7, 2020

While we do not know for certain when the pandemic will pass, museums are preparing to figure out their plans once they decide to re-open their doors. Recent professional development programs that are now being released about how museums can re-open and what they need to consider when they decide to open. The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), for instance, has released its first AASLH Conversations series on planning on re-opening called Planning for Reopening. More resources became available for museum professionals to utilize in their own museums such as information from the American Alliance of Museums, Colleen Dilenschneider, Cuseum, and blogs. One of the most important takeaways from these sources is while we do not have all of the answers from this unprecedented event examining what your current state is of your staff, board, volunteers, museum, and community is  significant when considering re-opening the doors.

I recently attended the AASLH Conversations: Planning for Reopening webinar that was moderated by Lauren O’Brien (the AASLH Emerging History Professional Committee Member) and was made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. The speakers during the webinar were Martha Dixon Akins who is the Deputy Director of the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, and Trina Nelson Thomas who is the Director of Stark Art & History Venues (the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation). Some of the questions that were answered during the conversation were: Does opening up ASAP send the wrong message? How are you maintaining relationships especially with volunteers? What can we do to make the best of this situation? Also, they pointed out that there are things to consider when thinking about re-opening including

  1. Make sure to have enough supplies to keep things clean and for safety
  2. Planning and logistics
  3. Communication between staff, board, community
  4. Collaborations: involve all members of your team of your team

The next re-opening webinar in the series is called “You are Not Alone: Reopening Small to Mid-Sized Institutions” will take place on Friday, May 15th, and it will cover what should small to mid-sized cultural institutions consider to assure patrons your team is doing all it can to make it safe to return to your place of business.

Another webinar that recently took place was called Preparing to Reopen – Strategy, Planning & Process on the Road to Reopening Museums held by Cuseum. Brendan Ciecko (CEO and Founder at Cuseum), Mark Sabb (Senior Director of Innovation, Marketing & Engagement at the Museum of African Diaspora), Holly Shen (Deputy Director at the San Jose Museum of Art),  and Ellen Busch (Director of Historic Sites Operations at the Texas Historical Commission) had a discussion through the strategy, operations, process, and planning involved in reopening  museum successfully. Also, the speakers explored strategic planning, design thinking, and innovative approaches to welcoming audiences back. In addition to the webinar, Cuseum released a blog post that included tips and strategies for reopening museums after the COVID-19 closures. The tips and strategies they released were:

  1. Work with all levels of government to facilitate a smooth transition
  2. Take measures to ensure the safety of your staff and visitors
  3. Implement a phased or gradual transition, and develop contingency plans
  4. Continue to offer digital experiences
  5. Keep a clear line of communication open with your staff and members

I especially agree with making sure that museums continue to offer digital experiences because while museums are making plans to reopen it will be less likely that they will open at pre-COVID-19 conditions. Therefore, by providing digital experiences we continue to provide options for those who are not able to visit in person due to building capacity limitations or being most vulnerable for getting the coronavirus.

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) not only update their COVID-19 resources page on a regular basis, like AASLH, but they also released blog posts such as one from Scott Stulen (the CEO and President of Philbrook Museum of Art) and Elizabeth Merritt (Vice President, Strategic Foresight & Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums at AAM). Stulen wrote a post called “The museum we closed will not be the museum we reopen” in which he illustrated examples of what measures the Philbrook Museum are taking when considering re-opening. For instance, he pointed out that he and his staff worked together to plan their next steps using initiatives they developed:

Together we created a framework for response under the #PhiltheGaps umbrella. This includes four key initiatives:

  1. Contributing 10 percent of all membership dollars to the Tulsa Area COVID-19 Response Fund organized by the Tulsa Area United Way and Tulsa Community Foundation.
  2. Seeding a large “Victory Garden” whose produce we’ll donate in partnership with area food banks.
  3. Launching an emergency response online marketplace to help local artists sell their work and keep 100 percent of the proceeds.
  4. Producing a content surge that includes artist interviews, podcasts, live performances, and more on our social media pages.

The initiatives they developed focused on interacting with and assisting their community to help everyone who has been affected by COVID-19. Merritt released a blog post called How to Get Ready to Open the Doors in which she shared some thoughts on how museums may prepare their staff and exhibits for reopening.

Merritt addressed specific information she and her colleagues shared within the COVID-19 resource webpage. She focused on three important things museums need to address and keep in mind: reopening starts with a museum’s own people: staff and volunteers, when the doors open, what’s inside?, and how long will it take to queue up these changes? The first thing she shared in the post was why we should start focusing on staff and volunteers in the re-opening plans. According to the post, she stated

Museums will have to adjust their staffing to suit current circumstances. Some museums have supported their staff through closures, but those that have furloughed or laid off staff members will have to rehire before they can open their doors. Regardless, not all staff may be able to return to work right away, as they may be coping with lack of childcare, health issues, or concerns about their own vulnerability or that of family members. Commuting may be complicated by the challenges of finding safe, reliable public transportation. Volunteers—who typically outnumber museums’ paid staff—are often older individuals, and therefore at higher risk for severe cases of COVID-19. Many may decide (or you may decide for them) that it is prudent to delay their return, and paid staff may need to cover some of the work they usually do.

We will not be able to consider opening our doors without figuring out how we will get staff and volunteers to keep the museum running on the new restrictions and regulations for a cleaner and safer environment. I also came across blog posts from other professionals in and out of the museum field that are relevant to re-opening considerations.

On Medium, there is a blog post written by Jon Voss who is the Senior Strategist and Director of US Operations at ShiftDesign.org called Redesigning Libraries, Archives & Museums Post-COVID-19. Shift Design Inc is a 501c3 non-profit corporation that is also a registered charity in England and Wales as Shift; according to their website: We take a collective approach to tackling society’s social problems. We use design thinking to help social organisations maximise their impact. Voss shared information in the blog post that was based on the work Shift over the past decade in community memory and cultural heritage. The five ideas he shared were:

  1. Prioritize investment in small organizations embedded in local communities
  2. Adapt digital to the needs and culture of specific communities
  3. Create smaller, more authentic opportunities for connection
  4. Engage with equity and access in mind
  5. Leverage assets to combine cultural memory centers with community needs like affordable housing

Voss’ blog post is another example of reinforcing the idea that we should make sure to continue to connect with our communities and help our communities keep running. A couple of other examples of posts that focused on communities is Colleen Dilenschneider’s Intent to Visit by Household Income: What it Means For Reopening and Meeting Visitor Needs: What Will Make People Feel Safe by Age & Income (DATA). Both of these posts focus on what it will take for visitors want and need from museums in order to feel safe to visit in the aftermath of the coronavirus.

There are numerous resources that have not been elaborated on in this post, but I have included the ones I have come across in the list below. We should continue this conversation among our staff and colleagues to figure out what we could implement in our own institutions.

Resource List:

“The museum we closed will not be the museum we reopen”

Reopening the Museum by Front of House in Museums

Redesigning Libraries, Archives & Museums Post-COVID-19

How to Get Ready to Open the Doors

Intent to Visit by Household Income: What it Means For Reopening

Meeting Visitor Needs: What Will Make People Feel Safe by Age & Income (DATA)

Tips & Strategies for Reopening Museums after COVID-19 Closures

Preparing to Reopen Overview

Membership Mondays – Planning for Reopening after Coronavirus

Preparing to reopen

 

Diversity and Inclusion in Museums During COVID-19 and Beyond

April 30, 2020

Some of the considerations museum professionals are discussing is diversity and inclusion, and how we keep progression moving forward during and after the pandemic. I participated in an American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) webinar discussing diversity and inclusion. The webinar was AASLH Conversations: Inclusivity During COVID-19, and Beyond that was presented by speakers Marian Carpenter, Omar Eaton-Martinez, and Richard Josey. Carpenter, Eaton-Martinez, and Josey are members of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee, and they led a discussion about approaches to ensure that inclusion continues to remain a business imperative. I decided to participate because even though this is a topic that I have discussed and participated in professional development on this topic previously I believe all museum professionals including myself should be open to learning more about how to be inclusive in the museum field. Also, I decided to participate in this webinar because I believe it is important for the museum field as a whole to continue to engage more with the community by getting to know who the community is and having more diverse people involved in the museum.

To make clear for this blog post, diversity is the acknowledgement that every human being is unique while inclusion is the identified, accepted, and chosen behaviors we exhibit every time we encounter another human being. It is also important to note that we do not have all of the answers and that not one answer fits all museums. There are going to be steps that may not be helpful depending on the size of the institutions but figuring out how to continue to incorporate diversity and inclusion should always be the goal when museums make connections within the community. Museum staff should have the discussion about whose voices are missing from their institutions and how we can do better to have a diverse and inclusive community within the museum. This webinar provided questions to start the conversation on diversity and inclusion among museum staff.

The important questions that were discussed in the webinar and were asked to ask our colleagues in the museums we work with are:

  1. Why do you want to initiate or activate a diversity and inclusion lens?
  2. Are your spaces encouraging staff to be brave and representative of the diversity of your community?
  3. Are leaders and staff modeling the behaviors of an inclusive organization?
  4. What strategies, frameworks, and tools are in place to be intentional about improving inclusivity?

Museum professionals should remember that there is always room to grow, and that any diversity and inclusion plan has to be seen as a living document. If we think the plan is officially completed, then we close ourselves from They pointed out that it is also important to touch base with other organizations that are reaching out to similar audiences, and have the discussion to reach out to people especially to those with limited technology access; one example of reaching out to those with limited technology access is using the radio station to get information about the museum to a wider audience.

We are going through tough times right now, and now more than ever museum professionals should make sure we connect with one another to help our communities. If we are not paying attention to who is in our community, then we are not doing our jobs effectively. Therefore, we should not forget to address how we need to proceed with making our museums more diverse and inclusive.

To learn more about the AASLH Conversations series, including find a recording of this webinar, visit the link: https://learn.aaslh.org/covid19response

Below are links to relevant blog posts I previously wrote on diversity and inclusion:

Equity and Inclusion in Museums

EdComVersation: Developing a Strategy for Inclusion and Diversity

Why the Conversation about Gender and Museums Matter?

Museums Prove that Education is for Everyone

Gender Equity in Museums: An Important Issue that Should Be Addressed

EdComversations and Journal of Museum Education: Race, Dialogue, and Inclusion

Moving Towards an Equitable Museum Workforce: Reaction to Salary Doc

Preserving COVID-19 History: An Important Museum-Community Partnership

April 23, 2020

We are already seeing how we are affected by this pandemic, and museums as well as historical societies are reaching out to the community to contribute photos, videos, stories, et cetera about their experience in quarantine. While it is not appropriate for museums to collect equipment that are needed now to help those with the virus, all of us are wondering what the future will be like once the pandemic is over and should understand that one day this will become a part of our global historical narrative. Museum professionals and historians especially know that the more we preserve from this time the more people in the future will understand the how and why the pandemic occurred. Historians researched and museum professionals developed exhibits on the epidemic that occurred in 1918 (also known as the Spanish flu) to help readers and visitors comprehend the impact it had on the world. This will most likely happen to help future generations understand the impact of the coronavirus and learn the lessons we are learning now to help move modern medicine forward. In the meantime, we will figure out how we will get through the pandemic, and how to express our emotions with and support one another.

Our healing as a community, state, country, and as a global community could begin by learning from what we experienced, talking with one another, and preserving our memories for future generations to learn about these experiences. One of the ways we can figure out how people in the world are affected by being in quarantine, limiting physical contact with others, and traveling for only essentials is to develop the relationship between museums and the community further so we would be able to preserve these memories.

It is hard to think about this pandemic in the historical context perspective while we all are still emotionally, mentally, and physically involved. The important thing in maintaining a museum-community partnership is to learn what the community needs during this time, and to provide resources and activities to help individuals cope with changes in our society caused by the pandemic. When we keep communication open between our community and our institutions, virtual visitors are able to continue to trust museums to be the safe space to express concerns they have on current events. The more visitors trust museums to help them through the tough times, the more likely they are to share with museums and historical societies that decided to preserve community memories of their pandemic experiences.

We are seeing historical societies contacting their communities to encourage them to share what they are doing in their quarantines. The Connecticut Historical Society, located in Hartford, Connecticut, released a message through their member contact lists and social media outlets asking them to reach out to their staff with photos to preserve this part of Connecticut history. Another example is the Rhode Island Historical Society which shared its call for stories on social media. On their Twitter page, the Rhode Island Historical Society stated

Help make history by contributing to the new online Rhode Island COVID-19 Archive. This is a collaboration of RIHS and Providence Public Library. Stay safe! As the song goes, Rhode Island is Famous for You.

http://ricovidarchive.org

1:40 PM · Apr 16, 2020

RIHS reach out to virtual visitors with a survey to make sure they produce content the audience would benefit from. Also, they created a website that offers a space to contribute to the online collections and to browse through the collections individuals already contributed. There is also a section on the website that provided individuals with a guide to personal archiving, and it gives advice for individuals on how to back up as well as share their records.

The next example is the Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket, New York. In a Facebook post, they asked

Please consider sharing your thoughts and experiences, for the archives, as we learn how to get through each day in our new normal. Most importantly, stay paused and stay healthy.

April 17 at 10:48 AM

The post also stated that community members in the Three Village district should send an email to submit their story, video, or image. In addition to sharing on social media, they released a blog post describing the importance of preserving this history to remember the anniversary of the town’s founding 365 years ago. According to the Town of Brookhaven Historian Barbara Russell,

This worldwide pandemic becomes part of our local history as it affects our residents as well as those across the globe. Historians in New York State have been asked to record this event in their local municipalities, so I ask you all in the days, weeks and months ahead to share your experiences with me. You can write, video, create visual art, even clip your local newspaper articles. Let your neighbors and family and friends know they are welcome to contribute. Let us turn our town’s anniversary into an opportunity to record an unprecedented moment of time for future generations to know and understand.

Russell stressed the importance of community through these difficult and unprecedented times, and to encourage the community to become involved in preserving their history.

Do you know a museum or a historical society that is asking about preserving pandemic experiences? Let me know in the comments.

As always, stay safe out there and be good to one another.

Links to Resources and Additional Examples:

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/83093-public-libraries-after-the-pandemic.html

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/

https://aaslh.org/museums-and-victory-gardens/

http://ricovidarchive.org

https://www.tvhs.org/blog

www.chs.org

www.rihs.org

What Kind of Learning Are We Doing? The State of our Education during the Pandemic

April 16, 2020

After last week’s American Association for State and Local History’s Conversation series on Empathetic Audience Engagement During a Crisis which focused on how museums should be addressing the needs of and helping the members in the community, I decided to take a look at what is happening with education outside of the museum field. I wanted to see what education experts are discussing and sharing with the public on addressing learning during this pandemic, and to see what else museums are doing as well as what museums could do for our communities. The following is some information I have been gathering on the current state of our education system.

Our educational system was especially affected by the pandemic when the school buildings closed for the rest of the school year, and left students, parents, and teachers with the task of attempting to continue education from their homes. Museum professionals do what they can to reach out to the community with resources on coping with the stress, anxiety, and many emotions we are feeling while living in a pandemic; they also provide education programs for varying audiences including students, teachers, and families. We have seen varying types of museum programs and activities released on their websites and social media platforms. We are also seeing reactions to and a lot of discussion about the current state of our education system.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution released an opinion piece earlier this month that was guest written by two University of Georgia professors in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice, Stephanie Jones and Hilary Hughes. Hughes and Jones discussed in Opinion: This is not home schooling, distance learning or online schooling on how learning has changed during this pandemic and that it is different from the learning mediums we are used to under normal circumstances. They made these points in their piece:

So, let’s call this what it is: Covid-19 Schooling; or better yet, Teaching and Learning in Covid-19. What we’re doing today is teaching and learning to be in Covid-19.

This is not business as usual and it is unethical to act as if it could be. No one can (or should) expect the Covid-19 schooling happening at home to be anything close to usual, and perhaps this moment is providing all of us a chance to do something different: learn to be.

We continue to figure out each day how to proceed teaching and learning while we are facing this pandemic. It is most likely hard at first to figure out a new routine for education especially for parents and guardians who are suddenly have to deal with finding ways to educate their children; for students who have to adjust to not being able to interact with their peers and teachers as they are used to; and for educators who have to figure out quickly how to transition their lessons into an online format.

Hughes and Jones’ article was included in a reading list from a recorded podcast on WBUR-FM (Boston’s NPR News Station)’s website. They were also guests on the podcast with Luvelle Brown (superintendent of the Ithaca City School District in New York) and Henry Bucher (7th Grader at Deerpark Middle School in Austin, Texas) whose school district moved asynchronous learning via Google Classroom. All of the guest speakers on the podcast episode called COVID-19 Learning: How Parents, Teachers And Professors Are Adapting Their Approach To Education shared their insights on what is happening with education during the crisis and how they are coping with the transitions. They also stressed that what is important right now for education is for students to learn how to be, and this is an opportunity to take a moment to learn how to live in this new reality. The reading list also includes advice from a homeschool teacher and an article from the Washington Post about education leaders conclusions on the effect the crisis has on children’s learning.

The NWEA, a research-based, not-for-profit organization that supports students and educators worldwide by creating assessment solutions that precisely measure growth and proficiency as well as providing insights to help tailor instruction, released possible outcomes of the coronavirus closures in article on their site (their information can be found in the resources list below). They pointed out some cautions while sharing the projections:

While the COVID-19 school closures have some characteristics in common with a summer break, many school systems and families across the country are implementing various online curriculum, instruction, and progress monitoring resources to offset the disruption. However, trauma, joblessness, and an increase in the number of families facing food insecurity, homelessness, domestic violence, and even the illness or death of a loved one could make academic projections even bleaker for our most vulnerable populations.

We need to remember that the families and educators are going through a lot in their personal lives while trying to figure out how to keep education going during this pandemic, and find a way to support them not just by promoting educational opportunities. The authors of the article continued by sharing what must be done to start supporting educators and families during this time:

Policymakers and the education community should further their work to provide support, especially in math, to students while school is disrupted.

Educators will need data now more than ever to guide curriculum and instruction to support students.

Researchers, policymakers, and schools should work together to understand potential policies and practices for recovery.

In the meantime, we should connect with our communities more than we previously have in the museum field to learn what they need from us.

There are a number of places that are contributing to provide assistance to help parents, guardians, students, and educators through this unpredictable time. For example, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center shared an online Care Package which is a collection of creative offerings by artists, writers, and scholars who they have collaborated with in recent years. The care package includes varying approaches to addressing uncertainty, anxiety, and grief through vision, reflection, and healing. Also, Google provided a hub of information and tools for teachers to help them during the crisis to help make teaching online easier.

As museum professionals, we should remember to take care of the human needs of our audiences as well as provide virtual education resources. Stay safe out there, and remember to be good to one another.

Links:

Opinion: This is not home schooling, distance learning or online schooling: https://www.ajc.com/blog/get-schooled/opinion-this-not-home-schooling-distance-learning-online-schooling/b9rNnK77eyVLhsRMhaqZwL/

AASLH Conversations: Empathetic Audience Engagement During a Crisis: https://learn.aaslh.org/products/recorded-webinar-aaslh-conversations-empathetic-audience-engagement-during-a-crisis

COVID-19 Learning: How Parents, Teachers And Professors Are Adapting Their Approach To Education: https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2020/04/15/covid-19-learning

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s Care Package: https://smithsonianapa.org/care/

Google’s Teach from Home: https://teachfromhome.google/intl/en/