As some museums are either considering or planning to reopen their doors, there is some discussion about charging admission to visit both virtually and in-person. The pandemic has caused numerous financial hardships for many people, museums, nonprofits, theaters, stores, et. cetera. Museums charging admission is not a new topic in the field, but it has especially been relevant within the last months as museums consider re-opening their doors. In order to figure out how to keep museums running financially, museum professionals have been talking about whether or not to charge admission for some virtual experiences.
A conclusive answer for all museums would be hard to reach since each museum have their own budgets and their own limitations, and the pandemic created even more limitations for museums. In the blog post I wrote a couple of years ago What We Can Do About Admission Fees to Our Museums? I pointed out that
Many museums have different admission policies based on their operation budgets and funding they may or may not receive from donors and sometimes the government. The decision on what the admission prices to museums is not an easy one to make. Many museum professionals and visitors debate over what would be an appropriate amount to pay admission to museums.
With the pandemic continuing to financially effect museums among other recreational, educational, and businesses, the previous statement I made in that post is still true now but with more things to consider. It is not only museums, schools, businesses, et. cetera that are struggling but families and individuals are also struggling, and for many spending money on trips to museums (that have re-opened their physical sites to certain extents) is not a priority.
Museums are considering varying options to address the admissions issue. The Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket, New York, for instance, decided on suggested donations for their virtual events. One museum in Germany decided to do an experiment with a different way of charging admissions. In the post shared on the American Alliance of Museums website, they shared information from the experiment by the Weserburg Museum of Modern Art in Bremen, Germany when they decided to change their admission policy to a “pay as you stay” model; there were two test phases that occurred in December 2019 and March 2020 when visitors paid one Euro per ten minutes, and in their results they revealed that while changing the admission to exist prices was a challenge the efforts had exceeded their expectations. Some of their findings include
The results of our experiment show that this pricing approach, which so far only existed in theory, not only worked in museum practice, but produced positive results. We must, of course, gather more data to understand the effects better, and it is in no way obvious that the system would work in other museums. It is also unclear what the effects would be in the long run. Available studies suggest that prices are rarely the decisive factor in the decision about whether or not to visit the arts, at least in Europe. We must also assume that the promotional effects wear off over time. But even if it is only a minor contribution – if a novel pricing model such as this can support our mission to be accessible, visitor oriented and open to new audiences, we should not leave this stone unturned.
When I read the article, I thought that “pay as you stay” model is an interesting option that museum professionals should examine to see if it would work for their museums. Since the United States especially has many museums of varying types, sizes (physical and budget), et. cetera, one model would not work for all of them. Colleen Dilenschneider released some information on her study on admissions to cultural institutions in the post Still Worth It? Admission Cost During the Pandemic for Cultural Entities (DATA). In the post, Dilenschneider pointed out a few things, including but not limited to, that people believe cultural entities are not less worthy of admission costs and that leaders should take a thoughtful approach to the decisions that need to be made about admissions rather than a reactive action. She also described value-for-cost perceptions which is a metric to help professionals understand how much perceptual value derived from an experience relative to its admission price unique to their institutions. For instance, the data informs three conditions as perceptions are being examined keeping data factors in mind:
Value of 100 = Optimally priced. This is the goal! This value means that the organization is priced and perceived such that the cost is not a significant barrier to engagement… while also not leaving money on the table!
Value less than 100 = Value disadvantaged. The lower the value, the proportionately greater the potential barrier to attendance the price point poses. For some organizations, this also represents an opportunity to improve the experience so it’s perceived as more worthy of one’s time and money.
Value greater than 100 = Value advantaged. The higher the value, the more money the organization proportionately risks “leaving on the table.” People would pay more for this experience without it jeopardizing attendance numbers.
In the end, the decision to charge admission is what all museums face but factors such as budgets and funding influences their decision to charge or not charge admission.
I recommend taking a closer look at the resources I mentioned in the list below.
What are your views on admissions to museums, cultural institutions, et. cetera during this pandemic (either virtually, in-person, or a hybrid)?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
This past week I was able to attend the American Alliance of Museums’ (AAM) conference. Like the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable, AAM decided to hold the conference online to present content that will help move the museum field forward. The AAM virtual conference took place on May 18th, and June 1st through June 4th. Its’ theme this year was: Radical Reimagining. Since this is the first-time museum associations in the United States are holding conferences on the internet, there are bugs they would go through as multiple museum professionals interact with one another from the comfort and safety of their homes. I liked that in response to the murders, protests, and police brutality, AAM responded not only with a statement but made sure the sessions we attended continued the discussion of racism in this country. One of the sessions I attended today was the PSA of the Future with speakers from Poster House (the first museum about the history of posters) and Isometric Studio (a visual identity and graphic design consultancy based in New York City).
The PSA of the Future session, including a brief history of posters and PSAs, had an interactive workshop in which participants were encouraged to design our own posters. We were introduced to elements of poster design, have the opportunity to exchange ideas about the subject matter, and design our own posters in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. I shared the design I worked on in the social media platforms Twitter and Instagram after the session concluded:
When registration first opened for the conference, there have been concerns expressed across social media by museum professionals because of the fees AAM charged while many museum professionals are facing furloughs, layoffs, job hunting halts, et. cetera. They also made arguments that charging high fees contradicts not only the theme of the conference but also contradicts its efforts for a more diverse, inclusive, equitable, and accessible museum field. According to AAM’s website: Registration for the virtual conference is $235 for all AAM members and $345 for non-members. In addition to releasing a statement for their losing revenue reasoning, they also encouraged registrants to make donations in addition to the registration fees and sponsors were able to provide for a number of deeply discounted ($25) registrations. Even though I was one of the lucky individuals who was able to register for $25, I wonder how many people were actually able to receive it or were able to even pay that much.
Since I have not been to the AAM conference before this year, I was curious as to not only what the conference was like but how they would be able to handle operating a virtual conference. I enjoyed the sessions I was able to attend live while connecting with other conference participants was limited to sending messages during sessions, an open chat, and a few virtual networking events. A networking section was later added by the last day of the conference.
Because I did not receive an email that I was able to register for the conference at $25 until the Friday before the full conference began on June 1st, I missed the General Session due to previous engagements but attended the sessions for the rest of the day. Instead of attending the last few minutes of the General Session, I went to the MuseumExpo, as well as throughout the day, which includes various links to conference sponsors, booths with external links to services they have, tech talks, and virtual poster sessions. The virtual poster sessions were about twelve downloads of PowerPoint presentations on relevant topics in the museum field. I attended the following sessions on June 1st: Rethinking Experience Design for a New Reality — With Early Glimpses from National Audience Research, Moderated Open Chat, Choose Your Own Adventure: Providing Engaging Experiences at a Distance, and Planning for Success: Fundraising Management in a Changing Museum World.
The Rethinking Experience Design for a New Reality — With Early Glimpses from National Audience Research session had the following speakers: Elizabeth Kunz Kollmann, Museum of Science, Boston; Jen Benoit-Bryan, Slover Linett; Madeline Smith, Slover Linett; Peter Linett, Slover Linett; and Tim Hallman, Asian Art Museum. Slover Linett uses tools of research, evaluation, community dialogue, and experience design to help cultural organizations become more inclusive, innovative, and relevant. The speakers discussed the 6 Ps of Experience Design, which is a framework for the cultural sector from Slover Linett. The 6 Ps of Experience Design are: Programming, People, Place, Policies, Promises, Personality, and a Bonus “P”: Purpose. I have included a link to the framework in the resource section below for more details about the 6 Ps of Experience Design.
The Choose Your Own Adventure: Providing Engaging Experiences at a Distance session had Camille Tewell, North Carolina Museum of Art; Jacqueline Benitez, California Academy of Sciences; Matt Schullek, Ohio History Connection; and Tami Moehring, CILC – Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration as its speakers. In the session, participants discovered how distance learning can help museums increase their reach. Also, we joined small group discussions led by the speakers to talk about developing content, infrastructure requirements, marketing, and making museums more accessible. In the Planning for Success: Fundraising Management in a Changing Museum World session, we heard Kate Brueggemann (Adler Planetarium) and Donna McGinnis (Naples Botanical Garden) share information about building a fundraising management plan that can leverage our institutions as we are preparing for re-opening our institutions.
I also attended a part of the Virtual Reception which was led by Songdivision, in which we were all in the Zoom calls (much like the ones we were in for the sessions) watching the group as they engaged us with live performances and a rock-and-roll game show. Because I have not experienced a reception on the virtual platform for a conference before, I decided to check it out and enjoyed the music they played.
The rest of the conference was a similar experience I had on the first day with some changes including a new moving and significant session that was added to take part in the discussion on racism, unrest, and the role of the museum field led by Lonnie Bunch (14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution), Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole (National Council of Negro Women, Inc. and Baltimore Museum of Art), and Lori Fogarty (Oakland Museum of California). I have included the link to where I logged in for the conference for an overview and specific details of the sessions that were offered throughout the four days.
Next week I am continuing the discussion about AAM and virtual conferences since there was a lot of detail to put into one blog post.
If you have attended virtual conferences, please share your experiences and impressions. Also, if you have any questions about the conferences I have attended please visit the contact page where my contact information is located.
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 Porteron 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.