We’re all in unique little bubbles at the moment, learning how to navigate this continually shifting stay-at-home environment. It’s impacted different people in very different ways. But one thing has been consistent from day one—in spite of their doors closing, the museums of the world have stepped up to fill the void. It was stunning to see the speed in which thousands of museums pivoted to bring valuable cultural opportunities to the homes of millions.
Behind the scenes, museum pros aren’t just working from home in meetings with their own teams. The cultural sector has been organizing cross-institutionally to achieve our missions. The goal is to be efficient in our collaborations with other museums, disperse new learnings and best practices, and amplify one another’s efforts as quickly as possible.
The result are eight essential elements that museums have provided us for weathering the storm, and impressive examples of new initiatives created in the past weeks to get us through.
With all of the uncertainty in our daily lives, bringing a sense of calm seemed the obvious choice for museums. Many are retreats to take a deep breath and spend time slow-looking at your favorite artwork. Others hold special memories or objects that bring you peace and calm. Enter #MuseumMomentofZen, one of the first cross-institutional hashtags to hit the ground running. It’s simple. Museums share a beautiful moment on their social channels and encourage you to relax.
- MVP Campaign: #MuseumMomentofZen
- Led by: Museum of the City of New York
- In the news: Hyperallergic “Despite Anxious Times, Museums ‘Offer Moment of Zen’“
To the general public, museum folk seem serious. We’re anything but. When your life revolves around fossilized poop, tying a bonnet, or mundane requests from contemporary artists, you must have a sense of humor. Many museum social media managers jumped at the chance to bring levity to the moment by sharing some of our more ludicrous scenarios. In Chicago, penguins need to stretch their legs at the Shedd. Then the Field’s T. rex got in on the action. (And the Adler followed with…Chris?)
But no one stole the world’s heart more than Tim, the National Cowboy Museum’s security guard. Left to his own devices, he was asked by “Seth in Marketing” (who is really Seth in Marketing) to share his experiences on the museum’s social channels. His pure-hearted efforts have us all sending him a “cheers” beer emoji. It also has an international audience excited to visit a museum they’ve never heard of thanks to a simple, well-executed idea.
- MVP Campaign: Tim the Security Guard Manages National Cowboy Museum’s Social
- Top Tweet: Tim’s Selfie Station Attempt
- In the news: CNN “Museum Gives Its Security Chief a New Job…“
In the early days of quarantine, museums quickly began featuring existing virtual tours, 360-degree videos, and Google Arts and Culture partnerships to bring exhibits directly to our living rooms. The news media was quick to compile lists of these resources as a way to escape the day-to-day. But museum staff took it one step further, creating new, live tours on the spot or documenting behind-the-scenes moments. The Castello di Rivoli in Italy was an early example of a curator who went to great lengths to bring the cultural treasures of her institution to online audiences. In the US, the National Gallery of Art is doing extremely in-depth #MuseumFromHome tours of each gallery in order to keep a behemoth institution accessible for the public.
- MVP Campaign: NGA #MuseumFromHome Tours
- How’d they do it?: AAM Interview with Isabella Bulkeley
- In the News: Barron’s “Museums Around the World Offer Virtual Opportunities to Explore“
Even as museums face furloughs and layoffs of their own, giving back is top of mind. With PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) shortages reaching crisis levels, museums around the world are sharing their materials. Beyond basic cleaning supplies, museums have something many companies don’t—conservation departments (and their impressive protective gear.) To take it one step further, museums are now organizing their own campaign to thank the health heroes who are on the frontlines of the crisis. #MuseumsThankHealthHeroes takes place April 1 at 11 a.m. ETD.
- MVP Campaign: #MuseumsThankHealthHeroes
- Led by: National Museum of Women in the Arts
- In the news: Artnews “As Hospitals Face Critical Shortages, Museums Step In…“
For those who find themselves with more time while staying in, it’s the perfect opportunity to get creative. Museums have answered the call for all ages and across many mediums. For antsy kids, children’s museums are providing at-home DIY activities tied to art and science. Others have quickly turned freely available collections images into printable coloring pages—an easy way to relieve stress. The Rjiksmuseum discovered and shared a Dutch Instagram account with a genius Stay-at-Home Challenge: choose your favorite artwork, then recreate it with objects from around your home. The result will leave you amazed, laughing, and inspired.
- MVP Campaign: “Between Art and Quarantine”
- Led by: @tussenkunstenquarantaine
- In the news: (Dutch) The Telegraph “Instagram Laughs at Between Art and Quarantine.”
The mission of nearly every museum is focused on learning. It only made sense to bring that learning online when the doors closed, if it wasn’t already. For those who already had e-learning resources, this meant updating the focus of their website to put these tools at parents’ and educators’ fingertips. The breadth and depth of online learning that’s possible through museum websites and social media is mind-boggling, you can “Spy From Home” with the International Spy Museum, go on a virtual spring break at the Museum of the American Revolution, or binge-watch the Brain Scoop for an ample dose of natural science knowledge. The world’s largest children’s museum in Indianapolis, which includes a STEM Lab, paleontology lab, Chihuly sculpture, train, carousel, and a sports complex to-boot, is creating an impressive amount of new educational resources with their staff experts and sharing them on their social channels.
- MVP Campaign: Museum at Home
DIY Science | Create a Collection | Experts Live | Warm-Up Activities
- Led by: The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
- In the news: Midwest Living “#MuseumFromHome Trend Brings Exhibits to You“
Museums are stepping up to remedy the feelings of isolation that come with social distancing by creating unique ways to connect us. In online spaces, museum staff are cleverly tying their missions and collections to familiar activities for digital audiences. In one example, President Lincoln’s Cottage is hosting a Virtual Game Night for families (the first one sold out in a couple of hours!) The MERL (Museum of English Rural Life), known for always being a step ahead of the latest meme, has found its niche with the popular Animal Crossing gaming community. Within the game, users can intricately design their own smocks, which is a direct tie to the MERL’s collection. And so, #AniMERLCrossing was born.
- MVP Campaign: #AniMERLCrossing
- Led by: The MERL
- In the news: Polygon “Animal Crossing fans are contributing to a real museum, too“
Above all else, what the museum technology and museum social media communities do best is collaborate. And boy have we been. We’ve been out-ed before for our “secret society of museum social media managers” that must exist somewhere (shhhh…). This community is churning out the campaigns, for sure. From #MuseumAlphabet to #MuseumBouquet, we’re banding together to amplify content across our institutions–small and large–in ways that resonate with audiences. Likely the most logistically ambitious, #MuseumGames is a broader hashtag with a uniquely interactive campaign embedded within it—a weekly Sunday cross-institutional crossword puzzle.
- MVP Campaign: #MuseumGames Collaborative Crossword Puzzle
- Led by: Akron Art Museum
- How’d they do it? AAM Interview with Seema Rao
Sorry, not sorry. I have two…
- MVP Campaign: #MuseumBouquet
- Led by: New York Historical Society
- In the news: CBS “Museums closed due to coronavirus send each other virtual flowers to spread joy on social media.“
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Participate and amplify
Join in the virtual conversations and activities. Share the content with others. Engagement numbers matter now to us more than ever. A Facebook “Share”, a Twitter “RT”, a Blog shoutout all are important forms of support.
Keep your membership
It’s understandable that everyone is pinching pennies. Museums are too, and thousands in the cultural sector are losing their jobs as well. At the very least, you can support us by not cancelling your membership. The dollars matter. But also, the morale that comes from the additional member family on our roster matters. Your support is more valuable now than at any other time.
Help us advocate
We were lucky that museums were included in the recent economic relief legislation. It took tireless effort from our professional networks and support systems to ensure this, and it won’t be the last time we’ll need support. Help us advocate at every opportunity. We rally around AAM’s advocacy initiatives.
Donate if you can
If you are comfortable doing so at this time, donations to your community museum will go far in making an impact…not only in the lives of the staff whose jobs you’ll save, but in the programs that you’ll be continuing to support.