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

Reaction: Museum Values in Times of Crises

June 18, 2020

While we have been facing a pandemic, this month has seen an increase of peaceful protests in response to the murders of people in the Black community including but not limited to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. In the United States, there has been continuous racist thoughts and actions that should not have been excused for the past hundreds of years. The recent peaceful protests show that we are no longer tolerating the social injustice and are urging for real change. Joan Baldwin’s post on Leadership Matters, called “The Chickens Come Home to Roost: Museum Values in Times of Crises”, addressed what the museums’ roles should be in all of this. Museums have been working towards becoming more visitor and community focused for years, and it is important for museums to actually show their leaders and staff being involved within the community.

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. One of the statements Baldwin has pointed out in her post captured my attention:

A mission statement tells the public what you do; a vision statement spells out who you want to be, but a values statement tells your staff, your trustees, your volunteers and your community how your organization behaves. And it affirms the behavior your organization expects at your site.

All museums should have a values statement that will not only help job seekers determine if they want to work at the museum but it will show all diverse members in the community, especially the Black community, what to expect in the museum’s conduct and what standards they should set when visiting the museum. We do not have an excuse to not release a values statement. To follow the values statement, we need to practice what we state in the museum values.

In other words, we should take action to show we care about the community, especially show that we understand that black lives matter. Baldwin also pointed out a few things on museums having a values statement:

Is a values statement a panacea in connecting a white, privileged museum or heritage organization to its wider community? No. Would it help? Maybe. Crafting a values statement asks your organization to focus not only on mission, but on engagement. Maybe mission statements aren’t enough any more? Perhaps museums need to be good citizens as well as good stewards.

A values statement alone is not the solution, but it should be used as a tool to guide engagement with visitors and the community. I will also reiterate the point I made in my blog post “Diversity and Inclusion in Museums During COVID-19 and Beyond”:  

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.

Museums should focus on maintaining communication within the community to incorporate diversity and inclusion. It is important for museums to not only be a part of the community but be good citizens within their communities. Directors and board members should also recognize the importance of engagement in the community not just within the museum walls. Baldwin also listed questions in her post that I believe should be addressed within conversations between museum leaders and staff members:  

If your organization sees itself as apolitical, what does that look like in action, and most importantly, what does it look like for someone in your community? Does being neutral mean in times of community crisis a museum or heritage organization’s role is essentially unchanged? Or is there a civic role for your museum? And if yes, what might that look like? If your organization already has an active community role, can it be enhanced? And how can museums gently and explicitly let visitors know their sites are places hallmarked by kindness?

By having these conversations and answering the questions previously listed, museum directors, board members, museum educators, curators, volunteers, and more staff members will have a better understanding of what they represent as members of the community. We should also keep the conversation going within and outside our museums not just have one discussion so the museums could evolve with the community and continue to learn from the community.

I myself will continue to open up to listen, strengthen my empathy and compassion, and make sure my actions reflect what I have learned to help others understand that Black Lives Matter.

Links:

https://leadershipmatters1213.wordpress.com/2020/06/08/the-chickens-come-home-to-roost-museum-values-in-times-of-crises/

Diversity and Inclusion in Museums During COVID-19 and Beyond

Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, Inclusion page from Blogs by Topic

Virtual Conferences: New Format in Professional Development in Museums

June 11, 2020

Last week I participated in the American Alliance of Museums’ (AAM) first virtual conference, and I began describing my experience in last week’s blog post. I thought that this week I will not only continue to describe my experience at #AAMvirtual but will discuss the virtual conferences in general. After the first day of #AAMvirtual, I attended more sessions from June 2nd to June 4th with an additional session added to address the Black Lives Matter movement.

On June 2nd, in addition to the general session, I attended the sessions: Engagement Strategies During Times of Low (or no) Attendance, Museum-Goers & The Pandemic: New Research, and Pivoting Your Programming: Virtual and Other Unique Options for Small Museums. Also, there were virtual networking events that were divided into four groups: Career Management,  Creativity and Innovation, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (which was cancelled since the format of the happy hour did not fit the needs of the field), and Emerging Museum Professionals. The general session featured a keynote from Lonnie G. Bunch III, the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian, and a discussion with representatives from the Ford Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Their discussion explored how museums can contribute to a prosperous, just and equitable future as society struggles with intractable social, environmental and economic problems; what priorities and issues are most important to the funders of museums today and into the future; and how will philanthropy become more equitable and inclusive and how will this affect the funding for all types of museums?

In the Engagement Strategies During Times of Low (or no) Attendance session, the speakers took a closer look at how museums can engage with their audience during times of low, no, or altered attendance. This session had speakers Cara Seitcheck (Smithsonian Institution), Rebecca Peterson (Vizcaya Museum & Gardens), and Zachary Wnek (Latah County Historical Society) leading the discussion with participants. The discussion focused on three major ideas which are audience outreach and engagement through digital and virtual means; a crash course on digitization and digital preservation policy as a way of engaging your audience through sharing collections; and an abbreviated guide to hosting awesome outdoor events to put your audience at ease (and allow them physical distance). Also, the discussion took a closer look at the challenges and opportunities involved through the lens of historic sites.

Meanwhile in the Museum-Goers & The Pandemic: New Research session, Susie Wilkening of Wilkening Consulting has been conducting ongoing qualitative research with museum-goers and snap polling the broader U.S. population to assess attitudes toward museums, their value, and their support. Wilkening Consulting is conducting an ongoing qualitative research with museum-goers and snap polling the broader U.S. population to assess attitudes toward museums, their value, and their support. During the session, Wilkening shared the latest results from the research and discussed with the rest of the participants on how these findings can inform how our museums engage our audience virtually and how to reopen with museum-goers’ interests in mind. In the Pivoting Your Programming: Virtual and Other Unique Options for Small Museums session, participants listened to examples of how small museums are continuing to connect with their audiences, even when COVID-19 forces museums to shut their doors, from the session speakers; the speakers were Ann Bennett (Laurel Historical Society), Lin Nelson-Mayson (Goldstein Museum of Design), Marjory O’Toole (Little Compton Historical Society), Rachel Regelein (Log House Museum), and the discussion was moderated by Janice Klein of EightSixSix Consulting. Since in the last blog post I mentioned that I had previous plans before receiving my email that I had the reduced conference fee, I was not able to attend morning sessions in the next couple of days.

On June 3rd, the sessions I attended were The Future of Museum Evaluation after COVID-19 and Racism, Unrest, and the Role of the Museum Field. The Future of Museum Evaluation after COVID-19 session included a discussion addressing the question: How will the COVID-19 pandemic impact the ways we conduct research and evaluation? Also, they discussed about how we may need to change our data collection efforts at our museums after our doors reopen. A recently added session, Racism, Unrest, and the Role of the Museum Field session was led by Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole (National Council of Negro Women, Inc. and Baltimore Museum of Art), Lonnie G. Bunch III (14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution), and Lori Fogarty (Oakland Museum of California). A number of questions were addressed during this serious discussion such as: As museums set their sights on financial recovery and reopening, how do we ensure that we are centering equity and prioritizing the needs of our country’s black and brown communities and colleagues? How do we create a space for healing, and building authentic relationships across difference? How do we use what is an unbearable time for many, to come together in solidarity and use the strength of the museum field to fight racism across the country?

On June 4th, I attended the following sessions: Small Museum Boot Camp: Organizational Management and International Hot Topics: Discussions from Kyoto. In the Small Museum Boot Camp: Organizational Management session, they pointed out that it is especially important to understand the basics of organizational management to help prepare for and guide your institution through a crisis. Since the session was created to meet the needs of small museums, it provided a fast-paced introduction to the main areas of management, including long-range and emergency planning, best practices, and legal requirements. The International Hot Topics: Discussions from Kyoto session introduced issues that were raised at the 2019 International Council of Museums (ICOM) general conference in Kyoto, Japan such as climate change, disaster resilience, and cultural heritage preservation; inclusion, diversity, and decolonization; and immigration, and ethical dilemmas. Each of them was amplified by the pandemic and the search for the new definition of museum. Once the virtual conference had concluded, I thought about each of my experiences at the conferences on the virtual platform and how museum associations have numerous considerations when working on transferring on-site to online.

They need to consider what platforms they would use to host speakers, sponsors, and attendees. The New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) decided to use the Hopin conference platform which I shared in the blog post the demo on how to use the platform. We were encouraged as participants to watch the demo ahead of the NYCMER conference to learn how it worked. Navigating the NYCMER conference felt easier to interact with, and it made me wonder if the conference were on more than one day would the experience feel the same way as it did on a one-day conference. The American Alliance of Museums’ conference, since it is a multi-day conference, had a different experience; it is easy for many museum professionals to get Zoom fatigued after a while. AAM decided to use a virtual platform through CommPartners, which helps organizations conceive, develop and fulfill their education strategy by providing a wide range of online education services including curriculum design, instructional design, webinars, webcasts, livestream programs and virtual conferences . The main learning platform they developed is Elevate Learning Management System (LMS) that helps enable, empower and engage users with contextual learning opportunities enriched by peer collaboration to form dynamic experiences.

Both AAM and NYCMER dealt with various things that they worked on once they learned about attendees experiences throughout the conferences. NYCMER conference committee members made sure that they extended the networking timed one on one sessions up to five minutes when attendees had raised concerns that the initial two minutes was too quick to have a full conversation with other attendees. I myself have begun conversations with museum professionals, and have all of the sudden the conversation ended abruptly leaving conversation topics incomplete. During the AAM conference, I heard about some attendees having hard times logging into sessions and not having a place outside of moderated open-ended chats and networking events to talk with more museum professionals. The staff worked hard to help attendees with technical issues and created a networking tab towards the later half of the conference.

The American Alliance of Museums and the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable conferences were the only virtual conferences I have attended so far since many museum associations have decided to move their on-site conferences online. I received an email from the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) earlier this month which stated,

Due to the ongoing uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, AASLH will hold its 2020 Annual Meeting this fall online instead of gathering in person in Las Vegas…

…We appreciate the hard work of the 2020 Host and Program committees, and we hope to carry as much of that forward as possible. The conference theme, even more relevant now than when it was selected, remains the same: “What Kind of Ancestor Will You Be?” Although it is disappointing not to gather in person this fall, the flexibility of an online format gives us the chance to offer greater relevancy. The conference will address questions that are emerging from the pandemic, such as defining what history institutions will look like and how they will operate in and after the recovery. We will also continue to examine the unique roles that history museums, historic sites, historical societies, and other history organizations, including AASLH, must play in combating racism, among the nation’s most deep-seated societal challenges.

The AASLH Annual Meeting is usually held in August or September each year, and this year it was originally going to be in Las Vegas, Nevada before moving the Annual Meeting online. The New England Museum Association (NEMA) also made an announcement that they were moving their onsite conference that was planned to be in Newport, Rhode Island to online. Also, NEMA decided to change the conference theme to Who Do We Think We Are Now? By updating the conference theme, they stated that it is an opportunity for our field to come together and share lessons learned, emerging best practices, and think tank solutions for the challenges ahead. I look forward to finding out how they will engage attendees in discussions about the museum and history fields and how they will address the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement in their sessions.

If you have experienced virtual conferences or any online professional development program, what are your impressions of the experiences?

Links:

CommPartners’ Elevate LMS

Hopin

Hopin Demo

AAM Virtual Conference 2020 Experience

NYCMER 2020: A Virtual Conference Experience

NEMA 2020

AASLH Annual Meeting 2020

For blog posts on more topics in museums, museum education, and public history, check out this page: Blog Posts by Topic

Museum Education Challenges: Why We Need Museum Educators

May 21, 2020

While museums figure out plans to reopen their doors, museums should consider making sure our education missions remain intact by taking care of their museum educators. Museums have been moving towards becoming more accessible, inclusive, and diverse by focusing on engaging visitors and engaging with the community. Museum professionals are concerned about keeping out museums functioning financially, and we should not lay off or let go of educators and other front-line museum workers (museum professionals who directly interact with the public). In the past week, I shared previous blog posts I wrote on how important museum educators are to supporting museums’ education missions and engagement with their communities.

As a museum educator myself I sympathize with my colleagues in the museum education field while figuring out how to work and find work during this pandemic. Museum educators are the first ones to be let go when something goes wrong in the museum financially. In this day in age especially it does not make any sense to do so when museums are education sources for the community. Now that we are going through a pandemic, museum educators are needed to help visitors continue to use museum resources from a safe distance while the museums are closed, and we have the ability to be flexible when unexpected things happen. In the post “Education Programming: How Important Flexibility is in School Programs”, I pointed out examples of flexibility they face while implementing school programs:

Each museum educator understands very well that timing is important to be sure to effectively give an educational and a memorable experience. It is important to figure out how to be flexible when challenges arise. School buses, for various reasons, arriving late to the museum. School groups needing to leave early from the program. Teachers not sharing pre-visit materials to help students understand the experience they would be participating in before the visit.

Museum educators now are either considering or planning education programs to be implemented on the internet. 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.

This past month I came across posts from Brian Hogarth and Jason Porter on museum education and the current crisis. Brian Hogarth, Director of the Leadership in Museum Education at Bank Street College in New York, wrote the post “Code Red for Museum Education Profession” which described concerns the museum education profession has faced before and during the coronavirus pandemic. Jason Porter, the Director of Education and Programs at MoPOP (the Museum of Pop Culture) in Seattle, wrote “Making the Case for Museum Education in the Midst of a Crisis” in which he discussed the importance of museum education and his experiences during the pandemic. Hogarth pointed out that while museums made some progress in terms of diversity and inclusivity, they have not made progress in retaining museum educators in the field:

Museums had been making serious efforts to diversify the field and make it more equitable and inclusive. But at the same time, there has been an inflation of degree requirements and required experience levels, even for entry level and junior positions. In addition, as a “caring” profession, like nursing and teaching, the museum education field is largely made up of women. Cuts to these jobs will exacerbate the feeling that what is perceived to be women’s work is undervalued and underpaid, especially in the nonprofit/cultural sector.

This was a small profession to begin with. An even tighter job market for museum educators will be filled by people with additional resources at their disposal, those in positions with higher salaries, or who have partners with more secure jobs that can cover gaps or drops in income.

Not everyone in the museum education field has additional resources to fall back on and increasing requirements for the positions will continue to alienate individuals from entering and contributing to the museum education field. Another excellent point that Hogarth made was: Without new measures to restore and sustain the field, the current situation will deter many talented and interested people from seriously considering the profession as a valid career choice now and in the foreseeable future. I will also add that it will and already has deterred current museum education professionals from staying in the profession if new measures are not introduced to maintain talented individuals in the museums. Jason Porter continued the museum education discussion in his post.

In my blog post “The Importance of Education Management in Museums”, I pointed out that Education management is a continuous task museum professionals are aware of, and when we are able to form a solid foundation for the museum education management system museums can successfully fulfill their educational missions. Porter shared his experience as the head of the education department of his own museum while describing the current problems managers are facing in museum education during the crisis. He stated in “Making the Case for Museum Education in the Midst of a Crisis” that:

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, managers and directors of interpretation or education and programming have been left with fewer staff members (or dwindling numbers), holding out hope that soon we will return to normal in time to execute the programs we planned for the fall, and facing a future in which digital engagement — long the “extra” component of our interpretive work —  is now the primary way in which we’ll connect with our visitors and communities.

It is harder to maintain a functioning education department when the number of museum educators in the department continuously fluctuates, and we need to figure out how we need to face this new reality. All museum education professionals faced the impact of cancelling, postponing, and rescheduling programs they anticipated in implementing for schools, scouts, adult groups, senior groups, homeschools, and many more members in the community. As a result of so many changes happening all at once, including but not limited to changing programs and working from home, museum educators have become even less secure about the roles they will be able to fulfill and leaders need to recognize the need to maintain a healthy work relationship while we are staying at home. Porter recognized the need for stronger connections between leadership and staff:

All around in the museum field, we’re witnessing the kind of leadership decisions that reflect hastily considered responses and panic instead of vision and progressive thinking, leaders following the prevailing winds instead of charting new courses. I believe that educators and interpreters will be key to the survival of our institutions (and current and future sources of revenue). Of course, I also acknowledge that my institution has found a way to afford to respond in this way and that not every organization is privileged to have the option of retaining all staff members. But if you have the forum (and the time) to make a compelling case for why educators, teaching artists, interpreters, and evaluators will be essential to your work whether visitors can walk into your galleries or only have access to you through Zoom and Youtube, I say you should do it. It may help to show your leadership the way forward.

It is important to take advantage during this unprecedented time, if possible, to use leadership roles to prove educators are essential for museums. If we recognize that museum educators are essential, then we will be able to figure out the next steps in improving the museum education field.

Links:

Code Red for Museum Education Profession

Making the Case for Museum Education in the Midst of a Crisis

Education Programming: How Important Flexibility is in School Programs

The Importance of Education Management in Museums

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

Museum Staff and Boards: How We Are Adapting Our Museum Practices

April 2, 2020

In addition to providing museum virtual experiences for visitors, staff, directors, and boards need to figure out how to adapt their operations to the virtual world under fast changing circumstances caused by the pandemic. This past week I participated in a couple of American Association State and Local History Conversation webinar series focusing on what next steps museum staff and boards could do to keep their museums running. I attended AASLH Conversations: Leadership, Boards, and the COVID-19 Crisis that focuses on how leadership should respond as the pandemic continues to effect the world, and I attended AASLH Conversations: Planning for an Uncertain Financial Future to figure out how to develop a financial plan for our museums as we face this unprecedented situation. The information I will share in this post are developing resources and are important takeaways from each one I participated in. What all museum professionals should remember is that, like many of us in and out of the museum field, we are all still learning and adapting to the ever-changing circumstances around the world.

There are many considerations museum professionals have to make decisions when facing this pandemic including keeping communication clear between museum leaders, staff, and board members. During the AASLH Conversations: Leadership, Boards, and the COVID-19 Crisis, some of the most important points made was that it is important to be transparent about the realities with your board and team, be compassionate to others and yourself by stepping back when needed, and be creative as well as flexible to figure out the solutions. The speakers Christy S. Coleman (the CEO at the American Civil War Museum) and Katherine Kane (the former Executive Director at Harriet Beecher Stowe Center) emphasized that: business as usual will not work. It is important to acknowledge that museum leaders have to operate differently and find out how to serve the community. Also, both staff and boards are scared about the pandemic on both the professional and personal level, and as leaders we have to address the hard stuff and explain what we are planning to keep communication open to all. Museum leaders need to recognize that they should adjust their time to virtually meet with board members since they have their own work and families they need to take care of on top of dealing with the pandemic; meanwhile, staff members need to know whether or not they will be laid off, furloughed, or pay/hour reductions.  Museum professionals also need to consider their museum financial plans and figure out what their next steps are based on their past and current financial reports.

Becky Beaulieu, the director of the Florence Griswold Museum and author of Financial Fundamentals for Historic House Museums (2017), was the speaker for the AASLH Conversations: Planning for an Uncertain Financial Future in which she shared her insights and advice. Beaulieu pointed out that we are facing an unprecedented time, and because of this the webinar like the previous one was focused on creating a discussion in which she will share her thoughts and answers to participants’ questions based on her expertise. She described in detail about business interruption plans (emergency plans for when something unexpected happens especially a pandemic), and shared three important things that need to be clear when developing a business interruption plan: what is your team and their responsibilities (i.e. who is writing the checks, contacting vendors and sponsors for events, etc.), what is your recovery time, and what are your core operations. Also, she stressed that it is important during this unprecedented time to create a source for all staff members to access resources from the museum community to inspire your own plans. Another important takeaway is to make sure to figure out what your plans A, B, and C are when considering cuts and funding options (i.e. insurance, grants, and for only the last resort-endowments). Museum professionals have difficult decisions to make during this time to make sure we continue to serve our communities, and having these conversations on a regular basis with other museum professionals within the field will help all of us during the pandemic.

If you want to learn more about these webinars, the link to the AASLH Conversations series is here: https://learn.aaslh.org/covid19response

Website Examination: Museum Savvy

March 19, 2020

With recent events allowing many individuals to work remotely, there are numerous online resources that are being shared for educational and entertainment purposes. Online resources are also available for museum professionals to explore. For instance, last week I heard about a new website called Museum Savvy which is a resource for museum, archive, conservation, cultural heritage, public history professionals, emerging professionals, and students. I explored the website and thought it was interesting not only because there were numerous resources available for museums and museum professionals, but I admired the pictures displayed on the site. Also, I think it is important to find out more about what is going on in the museum field around the world, especially during this pandemic, so it is great to see websites that have information and associations from international museums. The following is what I saw the website offers as of the date I wrote this post.

Museum Savvy features a blog that covers varying topics going on in the museum, cultural heritage, and public history field. One of the most recent blog posts shared information gathered about the coronavirus and resources available for museums. Other blog posts include museum jobs of the week and Museum Listservs (electronic mailing lists to allow sender to send one email to the lists). The blog has at least 100 categories on varying topics in alphabetical order from archaeology and archives to graduate school programs and museum studies. Also, their archive section included posts from October 2019, January 2020, February 2020, and March 2020.

The website also has a museum jobs page that is a free job board and links to websites that list museum jobs, internships and opportunities in the United States and abroad. This page has three links to relevant posts for opportunities. One of the links leads to the most recent blog post on museum jobs of the week. The other links leads to museum job websites and Canadian museum job websites. Museum Job Websites features links to national and regional job listings, state museum association job listings, and one link to international listings for The International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. A list of Canadian museum job websites, that was complied by the Museum Studies Collective (a networking and publishing site for students and emerging art/museum professionals based in Canada), included links to the Canadian Museum Association, the Ontario Museum Association, and the St. Lawrence Parks Commission.

Museum Savvy provides a museum studies page which lists topics and programs offered for museum studies that are in person and online located in the United States and throughout the world. There are twelve links on the page that lead to list of programs on the following topics: art programs, arts administration, history, anthropology, art & artifact conservation, cultural heritage, exhibits, collections management, education, historic preservation, digital humanities, and online programs. The page includes long lists of schools by state that offer museum studies programs specifically Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree and certificate programs on varying concentrations. Museum Savvy has a list of online programs that originate in schools in the United States. Also, the page has lists of museum studies program from around the world in person and online. Museum Career Development is another page on Museum Savvy that lists professional networks, online courses, webinars, workshops, conferences, and career mentoring. Museum Professional Resources is a page on Museum Savvy that continuously update the list of resources on archival supplies, collections management, exhibits, education, artifact conservation, and Listservs & discussion groups.

If interested in learning more about this site, I included links below.

Links:

http://museumsavvy.com/index.html

http://museumsavvy.com/museum-savvy-blog/covid-19-resources-for-museums

http://museumsavvy.com/museum-jobs.html

Museum Studies Collective: http://www.musesc.ca/

Note: Stay tuned for my next blog post that will focus more on virtual museum experiences that are being offered during this time. Stay safe out there and be good to one another!

How are Museums Dealing with the Coronavirus?

March 12, 2020

Since the coronavirus cases emerged in the past couple of weeks in the United States, there have been many questions people had about the coronavirus and what we should be doing to help prevent the spread. Museums are dedicated to both serving and being a part of the community as trustworthy resources. To do so, museum professionals need to make decisions to protect the staff, volunteers, and visitors especially from spread of diseases and viruses such as the coronavirus. Museums and non-profits are working hard to find out what decisions they need to make that will help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Because there have been concerns expressed by many individuals, museum professionals need to take many things into considerations especially the health and safety of their visitors while figuring out how to financially support their museum operations. As the staff and board meet to figure out how they will move forward, they are listening to health experts and making decisions based on what the state policy is put in place for the state they are located in. There are museums that decided to take precautions and cancel public programs because of escalating health concerns relating to the spread of the coronavirus; they also point out their priorities are the health and safety of their visitors, and recommend their visitors to follow the guidance of the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which includes watching for the symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Also, the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) stated that they are collecting recommendations and resources more specific to historic sites and other history organizations and will share these as they become available. The New England Museum Association (NEMA) stated on their Twitter account: We’re keeping track of our region’s responses to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation. We will be adding updates on this thread of how our area museums are responding.

The American Alliance of Museums released resources and information for the museum field to help individual museums prepare both internally and externally for outbreaks in their communities. Some of the information they shared include educating the public on COVID-19, reviewing staff policies and administrative concerns, reviewing cleaning and collections care policies, preparing for closures, preparing for COVID-19 as an individual, and using digital platforms to remain connected to audiences during quarantines.

Tonight’s MuseumEdChat on Twitter was about sharing information about what our museums response are to COVID-19. Also, a Google Doc was released to share resources as well as museum/programming cancellations that will be continually updated. Some of the questions discussed were: did your museum have an emergency plan in place prior to COVID-19, or are you developing or modifying one as the situation develops? Bonus: did you consult with anyone on your plan? Our discussion reinforces the point that museum professionals have a lot of considerations when trying to figure out plans as our country faces the coronavirus pandemic.

Museums are also making decisions based on the safety of their staff and volunteers by postponing or cancelling professional development programs while most are waiting to see if new developments in the spread occurred when it gets closer to the programs. The New York City Museum Educators, for instance, postponed their professional development program and would re-open registration for the program once they confirm a new date. Also, the Museum Association of New York’s (MANY), as of the date this blog post will be released, Board of Directors are meeting and have contacted the venues and legislative representatives to help gauge their response to let members know what is happening with the annual conference. It is hard to not let fear take over our senses, but we should learn the facts and take the appropriate precautions.

The most responsible thing we could do is to educate ourselves on not only what it is, but we should understand how to properly take care ourselves. I included a number of resources to help provide knowledge on the coronavirus. Also, I discovered a course offered by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (which is a world leader in research and postgraduate education in public and global health, and its mission is to improve health and health equity worldwide) through FutureLearn, and in the course you could learn the latest of what we know about COVID-19, presented by international experts. I implore you all to take care of yourselves, and be good to one another.

*As of March 13, 2020, AASLH released a blog post on four steps that can be taken if feeling overwhelmed by COVID-19 preparations: https://aaslh.org/covid-prep-4-steps/

Resources:

Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention-treatment.html

World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses

Daily Updates: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

Links:

#MuseumEdChat COVID-19 Response Resource List

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/uk-museums-coronavirus-1795818

https://www.npr.org/2020/03/08/813396080/coronavirus-italy-orders-massive-shutdown-amid-spread

https://advisor.museumsandheritage.com/news/museums-around-the-world-respond-to-coronavirus-fears/

https://nonprofitquarterly.org/coronavirus-brings-nonprofits-unexpected-costs-even-at-its-earliest-stages/

https://nonprofitaf.com/2020/03/a-few-things-for-nonprofits-and-foundations-to-consider-in-light-of-the-coronavirus/

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/rome-raphael-coronavirus-quarantine-1797390

https://observer.com/2020/03/museums-prepare-for-coronavirus-us-outbreak/

https://www.aam-us.org/programs/resource-library/human-resource-resources/health-in-the-workplace/

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/03/05/information-for-the-museum-field-on-the-covid-19-coronavirus/

Course: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/covid19-novel-coronavirus?utm_campaign=fl_march_2020&utm_medium=futurelearn_organic_email&utm_source=newsletter_broadcast&utm_term=200310_GNL__0030_&utm_content=course05_cta

https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/02/28/809580453/just-for-kids-a-comic-exploring-the-new-coronavirus?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social