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.
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
Make sure to have enough supplies to keep things clean and for safety
Planning and logistics
Communication between staff, board, community
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:
Work with all levels of government to facilitate a smooth transition
Take measures to ensure the safety of your staff and visitors
Implement a phased or gradual transition, and develop contingency plans
Continue to offer digital experiences
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:
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.
Seeding a large “Victory Garden” whose produce we’ll donate in partnership with area food banks.
Launching an emergency response online marketplace to help local artists sell their work and keep 100 percent of the proceeds.
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:
Prioritize investment in small organizations embedded in local communities
Adapt digital to the needs and culture of specific communities
Create smaller, more authentic opportunities for connection
Engage with equity and access in mind
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.
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:
Why do you want to initiate or activate a diversity and inclusion lens?
Are your spaces encouraging staff to be brave and representative of the diversity of your community?
Are leaders and staff modeling the behaviors of an inclusive organization?
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.
We are already seeing how we are affected by this pandemic, and museums as well as historical societies are reaching out to the community to contribute photos, videos, stories, et cetera about their experience in quarantine. While it is not appropriate for museums to collect equipment that are needed now to help those with the virus, all of us are wondering what the future will be like once the pandemic is over and should understand that one day this will become a part of our global historical narrative. Museum professionals and historians especially know that the more we preserve from this time the more people in the future will understand the how and why the pandemic occurred. Historians researched and museum professionals developed exhibits on the epidemic that occurred in 1918 (also known as the Spanish flu) to help readers and visitors comprehend the impact it had on the world. This will most likely happen to help future generations understand the impact of the coronavirus and learn the lessons we are learning now to help move modern medicine forward. In the meantime, we will figure out how we will get through the pandemic, and how to express our emotions with and support one another.
Our healing as a community, state, country, and as a global community could begin by learning from what we experienced, talking with one another, and preserving our memories for future generations to learn about these experiences. One of the ways we can figure out how people in the world are affected by being in quarantine, limiting physical contact with others, and traveling for only essentials is to develop the relationship between museums and the community further so we would be able to preserve these memories.
It is hard to think about this pandemic in the historical context perspective while we all are still emotionally, mentally, and physically involved. The important thing in maintaining a museum-community partnership is to learn what the community needs during this time, and to provide resources and activities to help individuals cope with changes in our society caused by the pandemic. When we keep communication open between our community and our institutions, virtual visitors are able to continue to trust museums to be the safe space to express concerns they have on current events. The more visitors trust museums to help them through the tough times, the more likely they are to share with museums and historical societies that decided to preserve community memories of their pandemic experiences.
We are seeing historical societies contacting their communities to encourage them to share what they are doing in their quarantines. The Connecticut Historical Society, located in Hartford, Connecticut, released a message through their member contact lists and social media outlets asking them to reach out to their staff with photos to preserve this part of Connecticut history. Another example is the Rhode Island Historical Society which shared its call for stories on social media. On their Twitter page, the Rhode Island Historical Society stated
Help make history by contributing to the new online Rhode Island COVID-19 Archive. This is a collaboration of RIHS and Providence Public Library. Stay safe! As the song goes, Rhode Island is Famous for You.
RIHS reach out to virtual visitors with a survey to make sure they produce content the audience would benefit from. Also, they created a website that offers a space to contribute to the online collections and to browse through the collections individuals already contributed. There is also a section on the website that provided individuals with a guide to personal archiving, and it gives advice for individuals on how to back up as well as share their records.
The next example is the Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket, New York. In a Facebook post, they asked
Please consider sharing your thoughts and experiences, for the archives, as we learn how to get through each day in our new normal. Most importantly, stay paused and stay healthy.
April 17 at 10:48 AM
The post also stated that community members in the Three Village district should send an email to submit their story, video, or image. In addition to sharing on social media, they released a blog post describing the importance of preserving this history to remember the anniversary of the town’s founding 365 years ago. According to the Town of Brookhaven Historian Barbara Russell,
This worldwide pandemic becomes part of our local history as it affects our residents as well as those across the globe. Historians in New York State have been asked to record this event in their local municipalities, so I ask you all in the days, weeks and months ahead to share your experiences with me. You can write, video, create visual art, even clip your local newspaper articles. Let your neighbors and family and friends know they are welcome to contribute. Let us turn our town’s anniversary into an opportunity to record an unprecedented moment of time for future generations to know and understand.
Russell stressed the importance of community through these difficult and unprecedented times, and to encourage the community to become involved in preserving their history.
Do you know a museum or a historical society that is asking about preserving pandemic experiences? Let me know in the comments.
As always, stay safe out there and be good to one another.
After last week’s American Association for State and Local History’s Conversation series on Empathetic Audience Engagement During a Crisis which focused on how museums should be addressing the needs of and helping the members in the community, I decided to take a look at what is happening with education outside of the museum field. I wanted to see what education experts are discussing and sharing with the public on addressing learning during this pandemic, and to see what else museums are doing as well as what museums could do for our communities. The following is some information I have been gathering on the current state of our education system.
Our educational system was especially affected by the pandemic when the school buildings closed for the rest of the school year, and left students, parents, and teachers with the task of attempting to continue education from their homes. Museum professionals do what they can to reach out to the community with resources on coping with the stress, anxiety, and many emotions we are feeling while living in a pandemic; they also provide education programs for varying audiences including students, teachers, and families. We have seen varying types of museum programs and activities released on their websites and social media platforms. We are also seeing reactions to and a lot of discussion about the current state of our education system.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution released an opinion piece earlier this month that was guest written by two University of Georgia professors in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice, Stephanie Jones and Hilary Hughes. Hughes and Jones discussed in Opinion:This is not home schooling, distance learning or online schooling on how learning has changed during this pandemic and that it is different from the learning mediums we are used to under normal circumstances. They made these points in their piece:
So, let’s call this what it is: Covid-19 Schooling; or better yet, Teaching and Learning in Covid-19. What we’re doing today is teaching and learning to be in Covid-19.
This is not business as usual and it is unethical to act as if it could be. No one can (or should) expect the Covid-19 schooling happening at home to be anything close to usual, and perhaps this moment is providing all of us a chance to do something different: learn to be.
We continue to figure out each day how to proceed teaching and learning while we are facing this pandemic. It is most likely hard at first to figure out a new routine for education especially for parents and guardians who are suddenly have to deal with finding ways to educate their children; for students who have to adjust to not being able to interact with their peers and teachers as they are used to; and for educators who have to figure out quickly how to transition their lessons into an online format.
Hughes and Jones’ article was included in a reading list from a recorded podcast on WBUR-FM (Boston’s NPR News Station)’s website. They were also guests on the podcast with Luvelle Brown (superintendent of the Ithaca City School District in New York) and Henry Bucher (7th Grader at Deerpark Middle School in Austin, Texas) whose school district moved asynchronous learning via Google Classroom. All of the guest speakers on the podcast episode called COVID-19 Learning: How Parents, Teachers And Professors Are Adapting Their Approach To Education shared their insights on what is happening with education during the crisis and how they are coping with the transitions. They also stressed that what is important right now for education is for students to learn how to be, and this is an opportunity to take a moment to learn how to live in this new reality. The reading list also includes advice from a homeschool teacher and an article from the Washington Post about education leaders conclusions on the effect the crisis has on children’s learning.
The NWEA, a research-based, not-for-profit organization that supports students and educators worldwide by creating assessment solutions that precisely measure growth and proficiency as well as providing insights to help tailor instruction, released possible outcomes of the coronavirus closures in article on their site (their information can be found in the resources list below). They pointed out some cautions while sharing the projections:
While the COVID-19 school closures have some characteristics in common with a summer break, many school systems and families across the country are implementing various online curriculum, instruction, and progress monitoring resources to offset the disruption. However, trauma, joblessness, and an increase in the number of families facing food insecurity, homelessness, domestic violence, and even the illness or death of a loved one could make academic projections even bleaker for our most vulnerable populations.
We need to remember that the families and educators are going through a lot in their personal lives while trying to figure out how to keep education going during this pandemic, and find a way to support them not just by promoting educational opportunities. The authors of the article continued by sharing what must be done to start supporting educators and families during this time:
Policymakers and the education community should further their work to provide support, especially in math, to students while school is disrupted.
Educators will need data now more than ever to guide curriculum and instruction to support students.
Researchers, policymakers, and schools should work together to understand potential policies and practices for recovery.
In the meantime, we should connect with our communities more than we previously have in the museum field to learn what they need from us.
There are a number of places that are contributing to provide assistance to help parents, guardians, students, and educators through this unpredictable time. For example, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center shared an online Care Package which is a collection of creative offerings by artists, writers, and scholars who they have collaborated with in recent years. The care package includes varying approaches to addressing uncertainty, anxiety, and grief through vision, reflection, and healing. Also, Google provided a hub of information and tools for teachers to help them during the crisis to help make teaching online easier.
As museum professionals, we should remember to take care of the human needs of our audiences as well as provide virtual education resources. Stay safe out there, and remember to be good to one another.
While I was sharing previous blog posts about my impressions of museums I visited, I thought about the museums I have not visited in the past and decided to make a virtual trip to one of them. I remember as a child I visited Monticello, the home of the third president of the United States Thomas Jefferson. My family and I were not able to visit Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington the first president of the United States, while we were in Virginia. Therefore, I decided to virtually visit Mount Vernon and its grounds for today’s blog post. My whole visit was overwhelmingly impressive, and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association’s efforts have proven its significance in our nation’s history will never be overlooked.
I visited every part of George Washington’s house and property including but not limited to his farms, gardens, hired and enslaved living quarters, and a gristmill. Even though I aimed to see everything in one visit, there is a ton of information to soak in so as if I was visiting Mount Vernon in person I would need to plan to make more than one visit to potentially see everything and learn all I could about the mansion. Within the tour, there are videos from both Mount Vernon staff and characters of George Washington, Martha Washington, and the enslaved servants discussing what it was like to live and work on the Mount Vernon property. At each point of the virtual tour, there are cursors that once clicked on it will share more information about an item in the collections and about the historic preservation process.
The Mansion has approximately fourteen rooms that were set up and preserved as if the Washingtons were still living in their home. On the first floor, it contains the more formal parts of the Mansion, including the dining rooms, parlors, central hall, and Washington’s study. Inside the Mansion, there is an entryway called the Central Passage which is the place where visitors who came by carriage through the west front drive (the front of the house) were greeted. The Mansion also has a two-story piazza located on the east front (facing the Potomac River); it was treated as an outdoor room, serving afternoon tea to visitors and family members seated in simple Windsor chairs. Not only there is a view of the Potomac River, there is also a view of the wooded area that was originally an 18-acre deer park. On the second floor, there are six bedrooms and one of them is the Washingtons’ bedroom. On the third floor, includes a number of rooms that were used for storage and living space, and provides access to the cupola. The cupola was added to the Mansion to help cool the house, as it draws hot air out through open windows; by providing a strong vertical axis, the cupola also helps disguise the asymmetry of the west facade, facing the bowling green (the grounds in front of the Mansion). Washington’s home is not the only building on the property.
Washington’s estate also includes more than a dozen outbuildings where more than fifty enslaved men and women learned trades to make tools and textiles, care for livestock, process food, and construct and repair many of Mount Vernon’s buildings, including the Mansion itself. Some of the buildings include the blacksmith shop, smokehouse, stable, spinning house, and many more. There were also four gardens: the upper garden, lower garden, botanical garden, and a flower garden and nursery. Each garden served different purposes including providing food for the Mansion and experimenting with new plants. Washington also had a farm called the Pioneer Farm where enslaved workers put Washington’s innovative farming and fishing practices, hoe fields, cook over a fire, sheer sheep, and harvest crops into practice. Also, on the estate there was a distillery and a gristmill; today, the property has fully functioning reconstructions of the distillery and gristmill where George Washington’s whiskey, flour, and cornmeal were made.
The estate is also the location of the tombs and memorial where the Washingtons and enslaved individuals were buried and are remembered. There are two tombs: the old tomb where the Washington family were originally buried and the new tomb that was constructed under George Washington’s request; then the whole family located in the tomb were relocated to the new one. Also, there is a slave cemetery where the Mount Vernon staff is conducting an ongoing archaeological survey of the Slave Cemetery on the estate. According to their website, they stated about the slave cemetery:
From an archaeological standpoint, the best way to commemorate the lives of those free and enslaved individuals who lived and died at Mount Vernon is to thoroughly document the locations of individual burials on the landscape.
Mount Vernon also has a memorial dedicated to the enslaved individuals which is located about 50 yards southwest of George and Martha Washington’s tomb, on a bluff above the Potomac River.
The previous information I learned about Mount Vernon is only some of what I have learned in virtual tour. I recommend learning more about George Washington and Mount Vernon through not only the virtual tour but also through the education resources available on the official website. What I learned from this tour is the staff at Mount Vernon are continuously dedicating their efforts to preserve its history as well as investigate the untold stories the estate holds.
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.