Reflections on Museum Education Since COVID Part 2: Shared Challenges Around the World During the Pandemic

July 15, 2021

One of my previous blog posts I posted shared reflections on the museum education since the pandemic reached the United States. Since this pandemic has made an impact on all of us around the world, I thought I would share information from museum associations outside of the United States. It is important for U.S. museum professionals to remember that we can learn from museums outside of the United States for ways to deal with challenges in the field. One of the most recent examples of museums learning from one another is how to continually serve the communities we are a part of while the current coronavirus pandemic has changed how we interact in the world. Each museum association I have been following released resources to help museum professionals engage with their communities while we continue to face the pandemic.

         The first one I follow is Museums Association (MA).  The MA was established in 1889 which made it the oldest museums association in the world, and it represents 14,000 individual members, 1,800 museums and 300 commercial members. According to their website, a small group of museum professionals founded Museums Association to foster mutual cooperation among curators and institutions. During the pandemic, Museums Association released a statement on extending emergency Covid measures; they stated:

The Museums Association is fighting hard to ensure museums get the support and investment    they need to see them through the Covid pandemic. In light of the ongoing nature of the crisis, we are calling on the UK and devolved governments to extend the emergency measures that have been so essential to the sector during this time.

I included a link to their full statement in the list below. The MA released some resources in addition to their statement. They shared some considerations to put in place before welcoming visitors back that came from the National Museum Directors’ Council (NMDC) good practices guidelines; the purpose of the guidelines is to set out the roadmap out of the current lockdown for England and explains how restrictions will be eased over time. There are nine considerations that museums need to remember; some of the considerations are Government has clearly announced that museums and galleries can reopen; Workforce safety and wellbeing can be supported; Public safety can be assured; and Museums are confident that visitors will return, and they can provide services in keeping with their public purpose. When there are updates needed to be made to the guidelines, they made notes of where on the guidelines it was changed and what was updated. The full guidelines document is available on the NMDC website.

         The International Council of Museums (ICOM), according to their website, is an international organization of museums and museum professionals which is committed to the research, conservation, continuation, and communication to society of the world’s natural and cultural heritage, present and future, tangible, and intangible. ICOM is the only global organization in the museum field. They also released a few resources on the pandemic and re-opening the museum. One of the resources they released was “Museums and end of lockdown: Ensuring the safety of the public and staff”, and in this page the basic measures are organized into seven categories including preparing for the arrival of the public, public access—adapting the flow of visitors, and in the office. I included a few of the measures from their page here:

PREPARING FOR THE ARRIVAL OF THE PUBLIC

  • Define a maximum number of visitors per exhibition room and inform the public (it is recommended to set a maximum number of people per square meters to allow a safety distance of 1.5 m between each visitor)
  • Consider a gradual reopening of exhibitions
  • As far as possible, set up a booking system (online, by phone and/or by e-mail). Set up an online ticketing system. Online tickets can be scanned by visitors themselves at the entrance to the museum

PUBLIC ACCESS – ADAPTING THE FLOW OF VISITORS

  • Avoid or manage lines at entrances and counters
  • Consider ground markings for lines to ensure that the recommended distance of 1.5 m is maintained
  • Close the cloakrooms requiring the presence of staff (lockers can remain available if they are disinfected regularly between uses) to avoid unnecessary handling and contact

IN THE OFFICE

  • Consider sustainable adaptation of emergency plans
  • Extend work loans to minimize movement, handling, and transportation
  • Common equipment used by several staff members will need to be disinfected regularly. In the absence of disinfection standards, this equipment shall not be used

They also pointed out that if museums are not in the position to respond to the measures, then the museums should extend their temporary closings.

       Another museum organization I follow is Museums Galleries Scotland. I first became aware of them when I was asked to be a speaker in their webinar about the future of museum education last year. Museums Galleries Scotland, according to their website, is the National Development Body for the Scottish museums sector. They support 419 museums and galleries, through strategic investment, advice, advocacy, skills development, et. cetera. I saw on their website they released a page of resources titled “Coronavirus Guidance for Museums” which is divided into three categories: Operational Guidance, Reopening Guidance, and Remote Working and Online Engagement. One of their pages included “Business continuity during COVID-19” which provide information for museums currently dealing with the effects of COVID-19 or the Coronavirus outbreak; some of information focused on financial support, business continuity advice, and best practice to follow.

     The above examples I shared is only a sample of what museum associations outside of the United States are distributing on their websites. If there are any resources that you do not see here, please share in the comments below.

I’m on Buy Me a Coffee. If you like my work, you can buy me a coffee and share your thoughts.  More information about additional benefits for supporting my work can be found here: https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/buy-me-a-coffee-page/

Links:

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

Museums Association

MA Latest Statement

MA COVID-19 Page

MA Reopening Museums Good Practice Guidelines

MA Learning and Engagement Manifesto

NMDC Good Practice Guidelines for Reopening Museums

International Council of Museums

ICOM Museums and the End of Lockdown

ICOM How to Reach your Public Remotely

ICOM Smart Museums to Face the Crisis

Museum Galleries Scotland

MGS Coronavirus Guidance for Museums

Pride Month and the Museum Field: Museums Interpret and Share LGBTIQ+ History

June 17, 2021

We should remember why we celebrate Pride Month and museums especially have the responsibility for educating the public about LGBTIQ+ history that has long been neglected to be told. June is LGBTIQ+ Pride Month which honors the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan as it was the tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. Stonewall Inn was one of the most popular gay bars in New York City back in 1969, and until 1966 it was illegal to serve alcohol to a gay person in New York State. Throughout the United States, police raids on gay bars and spaces during this time. The purpose of Pride Month as a commemorative month is to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.

        In more recent years we celebrate by having pride parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia and concerts, and LGBTIQ+ Pride Month events attract millions of participants around the world. Pride Month last year and this year has been different due to the pandemic. Last year, the museum field honored Pride Month on the virtual platform.  Hilary-Morgan Watt (the Digital Engagement Manager for the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden) and Emily Haight (the Social Media Manager at the New-York Historical Society) wrote a short post for the American Alliance of Museums’ blog to advertise the #MuseumPrideParade on Twitter encouraging museums and museum professionals to share items in their museums’ collections relevant to LGBTIQ+ history. According to the authors, the campaign they created at the time of their post was the third global campaign organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the New-York Historical Society during the pandemic, following #MuseumBouquet and #MuseumSunshine. Watt and Haight pointed out that:

We decided Pride was the right opportunity for a third campaign, to help museums   celebrate in place of the exhibits, film screenings, programs, and parade-marching many would normally be participating in. How do you participate? It’s simple—showcase images from Pride marches and other LGBTQIA+ protests throughout history, or other objects and stories from LGBTQ history, using the #MuseumPrideParade hashtag, and choose another institution to tag as your virtual marching partner.

For example: We’re sharing [object] for the #MuseumPrideParade and marching with [@institution].

The Museum Pride Parade took place last year on June 10th at 11am on Twitter.

        While we are still going through this pandemic, we still honor Pride Month and each museum does so in varying ways depending on if they are planning to have events and programs in person, virtually, or hybrid. I included links to various events and programs museums are doing for Pride Month in the list below to show what is happening. Also, I included a couple of links from last year’s Pride Month in the list.

        A lot of the programs and events especially in museums aim to educate participants in LGBTIQ+ history. It is important for museum professionals to remember that LGBTIQ+ history is not just in one month. There are museums that not only incorporate LGBTIQ+ history into their programs but also do outreach in the LGBTIQ+ community, and I saw some examples of this in the December 2020 edition of the Journal of Museum Education called Queering the Museum. One of the articles was Benjamin Rowles’ “LGBTIQ+-Themed Education at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna-Guided Tours with a Drag Queen” in which he pointed out the museum he began working for in 2016 holds countless European Old Master paintings and some of them can be interpreted to reference queer themes, yet there was a lack of LGBTIQ+ outreach. Rowles decided that since in addition to working in a museum he also works as a drag queen, he will combine both to provide guided tours as a drag queen; his article shared the experience of the offered guided tours that lasted for a few years.

        Another example of an article in this edition of the Journal of Museum Education was “Intuition and Vulnerability: A Queer Approach to Museum Education” written by Eli Burke, the Education Director at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson. Burke’s article explored intuition and vulnerability through an intergenerational arts program called Stay Gold that is specifically for the LGBTIQA+ community and its relationship to museum education. The main point of the article is that it seeks to examine how queerness is connected to both intuition and vulnerability, and how the Stay Gold program impacts the lives of LGBTIQA+ participants through that lens.

       Danielle Bennett, who has previously worked on LGBTQIA+-related projects at Amy Kaufman Cultural Planning and the New York Historical Society, also contributed an article for the Journal of Museum Education called “Lessons from Glen Burnie: Queering a Historic House Museum”. She made a case in the article for including queer narratives in historic house museums since including queer history in public history settings is important in its own right and as a way to invigorate museum interpretations and appeal to wider audiences.

Also, in the same article Bennett dispels concerns about “outing” historical actors and describe some language and ways of thinking about historical sexuality to assist educators in their interpretation. Then it shifts into the case study of Glen Burnie, a historic house museum that completely revised its interpretation to center the house’s last residents and its preservationists, a gay male couple; Glen Burnie’s interpretive shift leverages the efforts of both men to create public and private domestic experiences that create an immersive new house tour experience and can be used to create a critique of the portrayal of gender roles and heteronormativity at many historic house museums. More articles can be found in the fourth edition of the 45th volume in the Journal of Museum Education, and I included a link to current and past editions.

How are you honoring Pride Month this year?

I’m on Buy Me a Coffee. If you like my work, you can buy me a coffee and share your thoughts.  More information about additional benefits for supporting my work can be found here: https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/buy-me-a-coffee-page/

Links:

Library of Congress: Pride Month

Library of Congress: Stonewall Uprising

Journal of Museum Education

AAM Pride goes Virtual

Pride at the Smithsonian

World Pride at The Met

Western Museums Association Pride Month Sources

Celebrate Pride

New York City Pride

Pride Month 2021

Events in 2020

8 LGBTQ Objects to Celebrate Pride 2020

Announcement: Upcoming Book Project I Am Working On

April 23, 2021

When I started my Buy Me A Coffee page, my plan was to use the support for the blog and website to publish a book that would be relevant for the museum field.

           Today, I am announcing the book project that I have been researching and beginning the process of writing for. The book I am writing is on the coronavirus and the museum field. My goals for writing this book are to

  • preserve the history of the coronavirus pandemic from the perspective of the museum field,
  • describe the history of the previous pandemic over 100 years before this pandemic and how the actions taken in the past are relevant to what we have experienced starting at least since March 2020, and
  • discover how we all will move forward with the lessons we have learned.

It is a relevant book because the pandemic has made a significant impact on all around the world especially museum workers who engage with the public both within the community and inside the museum walls. A book like this one is beneficial for museum professionals, museum lovers, and individuals interested in history especially history of modern medicine.

           To write a book like this one, it is important to compile numerous resources such as relevant books, articles, and posts that will support the goals the writer set for their book. I have compiled a lengthy list of resources I am reviewing, and I will continue to compile and review resources before I finalize the official list of resources to be utilized for writing the book.

To help support this project and learn the benefits of supporting it, check out the Buy Me a Coffee Page I created here: https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/buy-me-a-coffee-page/

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/

Book Review: For Love or Money Confronting the State of Museum Salaries

January 21, 2021

MuseumsEtc, an independent publishing house based in Edinburgh and Boston on books for museum and gallery professionals, published the book For Love or Money: Confronting the State of Museum Salaries edited by Dawn E Salerno, Mark S. Gold, and Kristina L Durocher. I chose this book because museum salary is still a relevant topic in the field, and I have wanted to write this book review for a while. Now I am glad that I am re-visiting this book since I am going to be writing more book reviews for this blog. I recommend checking out this book, especially for individuals who are new to the museum field, since each section is incredibly detailed in the topic of what is going on for museum salaries.

            It is also a relevant topic now as the pandemic hit the museum field hard (like most if not all professional fields). Many museum professionals faced layoffs, furloughs, salary cuts, schedules cut, et. cetera when museums closed or continue to offer online experiences as a result of the pandemic. There are some that have re-opened their sites to limited capacity and some even require purchasing tickets ahead of the visit. As we continue to move forward, we need to revisit museum salaries. We as a museum field need to continue to make progress in equity for gender and salary, and having these conversations as well as sharing our thoughts, ideas, and actions are important steps in improving the state of the museum field.

Cover of For Love or Money: Confronting the State of Museum Salaries

For Love or Money is a collection of chapters written by various museum professionals within the museum field. Inside the book, there are twenty-four chapters and are divided into four sections: the state of museum salaries, causes and effects, addressing the issues, and turning talk into action. There are at least 29 museum professionals who have contributed their thoughts and research to this book.

            I appreciate that not only are there table charts but also cartoon depictions to illustrate and stress the points being made inside the book. In Taryn R Nie’s “Far Too Female: Museums on the Edge of a Pink Collar Profession” for instance, they included a table chart of compensation expenditure as a percentage of the operating budget and a table chart of gender ratio by position; an example from the gender ratio (according to the AAM 2017 National Museum Salary Survey) is the amount of museum professionals who held the position of volunteer coordinator who identify as male was 12.5 percent and those who identify as female was 86.8 percent.

In Emily Tuner’s “What’s Going on In This Picture? Museum Education as Undervalued Labor”, she included a number of cartoon panels that describe and illustrate the points she made in her chapter of the book. One of them labeled The price of entry to full-time museum education work displayed a hopeful candidate asking a museum professional about a full-time museum education position but was told despite her experience she was qualified for a part-time museum education position.

Also, I appreciate how much detail each writer put into their chapters as well as the amount of research they have included within the text and in their resource sections. In Charlotte Martin, Sarah Maldonado, and Anthea Song’s “A Case for Salary Transparency in Job Postings”, for instance, their chapter described how salary transparency in job postings is a relatively easy step towards the goal for assuring diversity and equity in museum and cultural institution employees, and they described New York City Museum Educators Roundtable’s (NYCMER) transition into changing their policy for all posting jobs on their job board to have salary transparency.

            On an additional note, I thought it was really awesome to see a tweet I had posted during the NYCMER conference in 2018 on the announcement of the policy change for their job board.

I recommend checking out this book for yourselves to learn more about what each museum professional has discussed about museum salaries and salary transparency.

If you like this book review and would like to see more of these posts on the blog, find out how you can become a supporter of the blog and website by “buying me a coffee”. Check out the link here: https://www.buymeacoffee.com/lbmfmusedblog.

Link: https://museumsetc.com/

Should Museums Die? A Conversation about Reforming the Museums

August 6, 2020

Last weekend there was a Death to Museums unconference that was livestreamed on August 1st and 2nd, and is now available to view on their YouTube channel. According to their website, Death to Museums is inspired by 2019 edition of FWD:Museums, a journal produced by students and faculty in the Museum and Exhibition Studies program at the University of Illinois at Chicago:

At the time of publication, the journal questioned whether museums can continue “business as usual” or if they should be reimagined anew. We find renewed relevance in this theme at a moment when museums are collapsing before our very eyes. We challenge the idea of returning to “normal” once the pandemic ends when “normal” means inequality, instability, extremely low wages, and an embarrassing lack of diversity across museum staff. Instead, we want to harness the collective potential of museum workers working towards radical change.

The way they challenged the idea of returning to “normal” was the unconference, and on each day there were presentations covering a wide-range of topics that focused on the goal to challenge oppressive museum practices and change the practices for the better. Some of the sessions include but not limited to A Proposal to White Museums, Museum Empathy and Compassion Fatigue: How Museums Can Support Staff Wellness, Not “Now, More Than Ever”—How Museums Can Talk Straight in Weird Times, Museum Internships Past, Present, and Future: Dismantling Systems of Powers from the Ground Up, and Dismantling Barriers to Progressive Action. I recommend watching all of the sessions to see for yourselves the discussions about reforming museum practices.

While we are all focusing on protecting each other and staying safe during the pandemic, museum professionals are taking advantage of this opportunity to discuss the changes that need to be made and had needed to be made for a long time now. Among the many calls for change in the museum field, museum professionals discuss the issues museums have not made enough progress in resolving especially during this pandemic including poor pay, anti-union, gender pay gap, and other inequitable and inhumane behaviors that turned museum professionals away from the field. I have also discussed some of the issues that were presented in the sessions in previous blog posts, especially under the What’s Going on in the Museum Field section. Reform in the museum practices is really needed, and before making changes we also need to address as well as acknowledge the foundations of museums that led us to this point. The changes we need to make not only should be focused on the institutions but also on the individuals working in the museums such as encouraging more self-care.

What do you think about death to museums? What would you want to see from museums moving forward?

Check out the links below on death to museums and related discussions.

Links:

https://deathtomuseums.com/

https://leadershipmatters1213.wordpress.com/2020/08/03/is-calling-for-their-death-the-path-to-fixing-museums-a-leadership-agenda-2021/

https://news.artnet.com/opinion/limits-of-care-and-knowledge-yesomi-umolu-op-ed-1889739?

What’s Going on in the Museum Field

Museum Educator: A Vital Role in the Museum-Community Partnership

July 23, 2020

While all museum roles within the building are important in their own functions to keep the museum running, museum educators are especially significant now as we figure out life and learning in this next normal. I have been reading for months through social media my museum field colleagues’ posts on layoffs, furloughs, and not being able to continue job hunting due to the pandemic; many of those posts were from museum educators who find themselves furloughed, laid off, or their job hunting became harder or completely stopped. Also, the Tenement Museum Union announced on Twitter that 76 employees were laid off, including all of their part-time educators. It is sad to see so many museum educators are being let go when they are needed especially during this time for more engaging programs. Museums should find ways to survive through the pandemic, but I do not believe that letting museum educators go is the solution.

I do not claim that there is one solution or method to keeping the museum afloat in this unprecedented time since all museums are facing varying circumstances that effect their ability to function onsite and/or virtually. A recent survey shared by the American Alliance of Museums revealed unsettling information about the state of museums:

One-third (33%) of respondents were not confident they would be able to survive 16 months without additional financial relief, and 16 percent felt their organization was at significant risk of permanent closure. The vast majority (87%) of museums have only 12 months or less of financial operating reserves remaining, with 56% having less than six months left to cover operations. Forty-four percent had furloughed or laid off some portion of their staff, and 41 percent anticipated reopening with reduced staff.

It is a reality that many museums are facing in the United States, and a huge loss for the communities that rely on the resources museums offer. Numerous considerations need to be addressed but we should not consider letting go staff members as the number one option on keeping museums financially supported. When we let go of the majority of our museum educators, we face a number of consequences.

Over the years I have been writing about museum education, I expressed the importance of the museum educators’ role in not only the museum but in the communities they serve as well. In the “Museum Education Challenges: Why We Need Museum Educators” post, for instance, I have discussed the demand for digital content for museum programming and how museums need to adapt to increasingly changing needs of the community:

Like schoolteachers in the classroom, museum educators were forced to learn to adapt quickly to teaching lessons that are normally taught in person now online in varying platforms including Zoom, Google, and YouTube. Even though most museum educators have already begun teaching on the online platform before the pandemic, not all museums had utilized teaching programs online. Providing education programs is a continuous process for museum educators and losing personnel in the education department would be a disservice to our museums, communities, and our nations.

If we do not have enough museum educators to meet the demands of the schools, camps, scouts, home schools, et. cetera looking for help with virtual lessons and resources, our museums would not be able to claim that they are part of the community they serve. Another example of a blog post I wrote to discuss the importance of museum education in the museum and community is the one called “How Education Theory is Used in Museums”. In this post, I wrote about how museums develop programs based on not only museum association standards but also on the state and national standards for education:

By developing an education policy in museums, it will help guide the education department in when drafting programs that will hopefully be accessible to its audiences, fulfill its mission, and appeal to teachers looking for outside the classroom opportunities.

If we lose the majority of our educators, we will create a disconnect between museums and educational institutions including but not limited to public schools, private schools, and home school groups. While it is possible that the majority of museums may not consider letting go of higher-level museum education professionals, we cannot make the assumption that all museums will not let go of their education managers or directors. As education standards change, and as school districts change how their school years will be executed, museums need to keep up with the changes and maintain contacts with other educators to prevent themselves from falling behind as well as being able to develop education programming relevant to the school groups that come to visit both in person and online.

In other words, each of the previous blog posts I mentioned both within this post and in the resource section below point out that letting go of museum educators is disconnecting ourselves from the communities we claim to be a part of and serve. I came across a post called “Caution: Laying Off Museum Educators May Burn Bridges to the Communities Museums Serve” in which an evaluator shares their perspective of the importance of museum educators especially within the K-12 community. Some of the points they made were:

The teachers highly value the respect and support they receive from museum educators.  The work of K-12 educators is hard and can go unnoticed.  But of all the museum educators I know, they consider K-12 educators essential to the well-being of our students and communities.  As such, museum educators’ frame their work as bolstering the self-regard and confidence of K-12 educators.

Sometimes the students point out something they see to the museum educator, but other times the conversation is completely un-museum related—they just seem to seek adult engagement and interest.  These individual museum educators are important to them.  This was underscored to me when I administered assessments to students in the program.  Students, knowing they were doing something related to the museum program, immediately asked me where are their museum educators (Adam, Ah-Young, Alicia, Barbara, Lindsey, Sarah, Suzannah)? They were notably disappointed to see me instead of their friends at the museum.

The kinds of relationships I have observed as an evaluator clearly demonstrates to me that museum educators are essential to a museum’s missions.  Museum educators are often the name and face of the museum to the community.  If these names and faces go away, I worry museum will have burned bridges into their communities.

As a museum educator myself, I especially agree with the observation that museum educators create connections with the students they teach within the programs. I remember a number of instances throughout my career in the museum education field when some kids are working on projects and decided to create another project so they can give me a present as a way to thank me, and I remember how the kids would be comfortable sharing stories with me (museum and non-museum related). When visiting museums, children especially have the opportunity to connect with the world they live in and with the real-world concepts, artifacts, and documents to fully grasp the lessons they learn in the classroom. Museum educators help children and other audiences bridge the gap between the classroom and the world around us.

 Like many museum professionals right now, I do not have the solution that would solve all problems museums are facing in the pandemic. The best we can do for now is to figure out the main priority to help museums survive, and getting rid of museum educators is not the priority we should have.

Resources:

https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/07/22/894049653/one-third-of-u-s-museums-may-not-survive-the-year-survey-finds

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/07/22/a-snapshot-of-us-museums-response-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/

https://www.aam-us.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/2020_National-Survey-of-COVID19-Impact-on-US-Museums.pdf

https://hyperallergic.com/578201/tenement-museum-education-staff-layoffs/

Caution: Laying Off Museum Educators May Burn Bridges to the Communities Museums Serve

Museum Education Challenges: Why We Need Museum Educators

How Education Theory is Used in Museums

Education Programming: How Important Flexibility is in School Programs

The Importance of Education Management in Museums

Museum Leadership: The People Matter

July 16, 2020

While museums are facing the pandemic, whether or not to re-open their physical doors, and anti-racism movements, museum leadership has been brought into question on how leadership could evolve to have a more people-centered focus. Earlier this week I came across the post on Leadership Matters called “Flat Hierarchies versus the Corner Office But What Matters is People”, written by Joan Baldwin, on the state of museum leadership during this pandemic and the rise of anti-racism movements. This post made me reflect on my experiences as a leader and on my previous thoughts on museum leadership expressed in the blog.

According to the Leadership Matters post, the COVID-19 pandemic and anti-racism movements exposed a lot of inequities that exist in the United States and in the museum field recent events led many to call for a new kind of leadership that is less paternalistic and hierarchical, more collaborative. In other words, museum professionals are looking for different ways to lead in the museum that does not support inequity, low pay for front-line staff, corruption, et. cetera. Baldwin raised a number of questions in address of this call:

But what does less hierarchical really look like? What if there is no leader, just a leadership team? Sounds great, right? Everybody plays to their strengths and happily gets the work done. But what happens in a crisis when decisions must be made quickly? What if the team can’t come to consensus? Or what if other members of the staff quickly learn to play one member of the leadership team against another to ensure decisions go their way?

Leadership has a number of considerations when faced with fast decision-making opportunities especially during a pandemic we all continue to face at the time of this blog post. The system of leadership looks different for each museum, institution, and non-profit organization, and no one answer can address all concerns each one has when figuring out how to lead. To determine the answers for questions like the ones posed above, if they are looking to change their approach to leadership, each institution and non-profit should examine what their own needs are before considering any change.

In addition to considering how to answer leadership questions, museums need to be reminded of not just who they serve but who is a part of the team within the museum walls. Baldwin pointed out that to be a museum leader is to also be a people person. In other words, she stated:

It means being someone who understands it’s not about you or about the content that brought you to the field in the beginning, but instead about the team you lead, and the people and careers you nurture. The absence of leaders who actually care about staff creates institutions where bullying is rife, where hot-shot attorneys are hired to defeat unionization, where sexually harassed women are told to go work things out with their co-workers is a horrific and bothersome bi-product of this absence of leadership.

Understanding that museums are run by people who are human with limitations is a significant part of being a leader, and based on the number of cases that have been shared on how front-line staff have been treated it seems that many museums have forgotten this fact. As well as remembering my experience in the museum field, this section of the post reminded me of an early experience I had as a leader, and while it was not in the museum field this experience had taught me the importance of being a people person in the leadership role.

One of my first experiences in a leadership role was back in high school thirteen years ago as a color guard captain. The high school color guard team was a small group with more seniors than other grade levels. By the time I was a senior in high school, one of the members in the same graduating class forcibly took over the captain position; she utilized the position to not listen to any input from myself and other seniors, and other color guard members, and focused on executing her own ideas. Her actions in the leadership role, including insulting and bullying members, led to many color guard members to leave. When she left the high school, I took over the role of color guard captain and worked towards salvaging the team by listening to remaining members on not only their needs but the ideas they had on making the routines better; some of the members that originally left returned to the team. During my experience as color guard captain, I understood the importance of group input since it not only opened my mind to other possibilities for creating color guard routines and remembering their needs as individuals and students, but I also recognized them as future leaders who will be carrying the torch once I graduated. The leadership experience that I have both witnessed and practiced myself had an impact on me ever since. I sought to continue my approach to leadership as a way to not only open myself up to growth but to help foster future generations of leaders move the museum field forward.

Since then I have learned about more responsibilities and considerations leaders face in the workplace to create a strong connection within the communities they serve. In addition to having a connection with the community, leadership needs to be practiced in order to learn how to be a more effective leader. This is especially true in the museum field. In my blog post, “Museum Leadership: What We Need To Do To Develop Our Skills in the Museum Field”,

There is a difference between having the knowledge and actually practicing this knowledge. If museum professionals are under the impression that there are only certain professionals that can exhibit their leadership skills, then we would be hindering our museum professionals and future professionals’ potential. We need to show museum professionals at all levels how leadership skills benefit all of them within the organization. Our field right now is working towards improving the museum workplace throughout the field but there are still issues we need to work through to untangle this web.

When museum leaders practice their skills, they are able to develop the skills they need to connect with other people and evolve as leaders for the future of museums. If museum leaders cannot connect with their staff, volunteers, and board members, then they would be less inspired to be open with their leaders on not only ideas that may help museums move forward but also on their needs as individuals.

To learn more about the Leadership Matters post, check out the link below.  

What is your opinion on leadership? Can museums figure out a way to have effective leadership that have their staff’s best interest in mind?  

Links:

Flat Hierarchies versus the Corner Office But What Matters is People

Museum Leadership: What We Need To Do To Develop Our Skills in the Museum Field

Where You Lead, I Will Follow: The Importance of the Leader-Follower Relationship in Museums

Museums’ Role in Activism

July 9, 2020

Activism in the United States, especially in the past few months, expresses the need for change and museums have been participating in many ways. It is important for museum staff on all levels to recognize their role in activism in order to effectively understand their role within the communities they serve as well as engage in. In one of my previous blog posts Reaction: Museum Values in Times of Crises, I pointed out that: If we do not get involved in the community and listen to what the members of the community need, then we cannot claim we are having any influence or involvement in our communities. I believe that this certainly applies to museums and activism.

Earlier tonight I participated in the #MuseumEdChat on Twitter to discuss museums and activism facilitated with the question and answer format. The first question that participants addressed within the conversation was:

Q1 How do you define museum activism? #MuseumEdChat

Among the many possible definitions, they all have one thing in common: museum activism is not limited to one location and one medium. For example, I pointed out that I define museum activism as museum professionals either individually or the whole museum spreading the word and taking action to make changes. Museum activism can come in all sorts of formatting from museum professionals participating in the Black Lives Matter movement to supporting museum unions fighting against inequitable workplace practices.  Communication is an important tool in museum activism, and without maintaining communication within and outside the museum walls we would not be able to go far in our activism to effect great change.

Another question that participants in the #MuseumEdChat addressed in the discussion was: Q2. Should museums consider themselves activist spaces? Why/why not? #MuseumEdChat. While I do believe that museums should consider themselves activist spaces, I think it is important that museums are not solely activist spaces because museums should be considered for multi-purposes that both serve and contribute to the community. If we use the museum space for one sole purpose, then we not only limit ourselves, but an imbalance would be created and therefore we would not be considered relevant in the activist role or in any role. Activism is a continuous series of actions that all museum professionals do and should take seriously if we want to effectively make significant changes within our society.

I have included links to relevant blog posts and resources in the list below.

What do you think the museums’ roles in activism should be?

Links:

Reaction: Museum Values in Times of Crises

Museums Are Not Neutral: A Discussion on Why There is No Museum Neutrality in Museum Education

Michelle Obama, “Activism”, and Museum Employment: Part I

Your neutral is not our neutral

Advocacy and Lobbying Without Fear: What Is Allowed within a 501(c)(3) Charitable Organization

Oppression: A Museum Primer

Brooklyn Museum’s The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America

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