Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Museum Work Today: All the Feels All the Time

I’m not trying to make each week a Covid diary, but, well, it feels all-consuming. And I bet, many of you, like me, need resources, comfort, validation, and guidance.

For the last, some help with the path forward, I was recently asked to speak on a webinar. Many people more qualified than I joined the call as listeners. When I agreed, I honestly did it because I like the people who asked me—they’re good guys. Once I realized what I’d said yes to, I thought, I don’t really have much guidance to give other than my truths. It feels like realness is a gift worth giving right now. I’m sitting in my pajamas trying not to break into the wine most days. But in a way, maybe that’s the guidance we need. That all of us, even the leaders, are muddling through this. We’ve been ripped from one reality and forced into a new one. The rules keep changing and the fear seems continuous. It’s hard. And it’s okay to admit you’re not always okay with it; I sure as heck am not. We’re trying to make ends meet and hope we’re not meeting our end. This is REALLY hard, and it has affected me to the core. And it’s okay to admit this. It’s okay to show your bruises. And we need more people who lead by being truthful and intrepid and scared and nervous; people who still go to work, virtually, the next day.

The best guidance I’ve seen is often "small act" guidance. It’s the person who answers your question about zoom or the person who passes on their work at home policy.

Our reserved sector is just telling truths these days. And that’s a form of guidance. It’s the way that people share their real feelings on social. I’ve seen a number of these, like a tweet reminding us it might be hard to fully pivot to digital while mourning the loss of society as we know it. Damn straight, it is. And another person stopping to share tough things on some crazy thread about movies. It’s pretty tough to speak up for your truth to the world and 48 people you don’t know. That’s the kind of ordinary bravery that will help us survive. And to the others who engaged with her, and didn’t ignore the feelings, that’s also bravery. Also, to all the people in that thread having some fun, that is another form of bravery. There are many ways we’ll survive this. And at the start, there is no need to say one is wrong or not. They’re probably all important.

Our collective has given me comfort, though it is interesting, our field hasn’t necessarily. Like so many in this work, I’ve seen the bootstrap to wedding rental dichotomy of budgeting. The last ten years saw our work move toward the service sector as rentals become a very real part of our business model. As with the service sector, so our fate. It was the choice we made with the best intentions. Diversifying income streams made sense, on a level. But that choice also exacerbated our situation. But hindsight and time turners are not useful now. What's useful is to keep going.

I’ve been thinking recently about a very late evening in grad school when a friend and I were arguing about the Renaissance that could have been if it were not for the Black Death. Sure, there could have been an earlier Renassaince. Sure, it could have looked different. We've morphed ourselves into an alternate history. The future of our past was something we will never know. We need to stand tall in this present and get to another future. The hypothetical is for graduate school; the actual is for now. I hope we are not in the Black Death, but our society will be fundamentally transformed, if not due to the economic factors alone. Eventually, we need to say to ourselves as a field, 'what is the Renaissance you’re planning?'

Maybe that’s not the question for today though. Because to go back to comfort, I’d say let that question wait for a few days. Let the tough days be. The days when you learn of loss. The days when an original future disappears. Let the anger and frustration come out. Attend to the loneliness and helplessness. Confront new emotions and situations. Make part of your work and life be about existing in the now and taking care of yourself. Be kind to yourself and to each other. Assume everyone is living in a blender of emotions. Expect they've had a challenge. Allow for their emotions. Listen and care. Be as human and humane as you can. Get to the real, because it's all we have.

The future will come. We will have time for the Renaissance, but only if we make it through. And, given how resilient our field is, I know we can.

Now what? Here are some actions that can keep us moving forward: 
1. Some fun and games:
Most of us in this field are insanely resourceful. We are hardworking to a fault, (maybe take that down a notch.) We’re as smart as our better paid friends in other professions. The work we do matters. While donations are going down, global interest in museums seem a boom industry. People need us to lead the much needed healing that will need to come. And we will be able to help guide that. But perhaps, we’ll find in our 40 days in our deserted places a different way out, a way that makes this work not so precarious and not so hard. Perhaps our future will be brighter. Luckily many of us now have the time to think that future into a reality.

For now we can only do this alone, together. Let’s find ways to connect. Ed Rodley (with Koven Smith) have a wonderful idea, a global drinking about museums. I’m leading #MuseumGames with Mar Dixon, and we’re here to help you do games and hope you’ll join our weekly games.

2. I invite you to take to every platform you have to advocate for financial resources for our sector and org. Be the look so many dads are on FB. Keep up the story and make it personal. I wrote something and I got scores of likes, but other people's shares of it had fewer. Why? Bc my own friends and family like me, and are liking the message bc of me. Your dad doesn’t know me and could care less about becoming a member of a museum in Ohio.

 3. Let’s start a thread of resource documents. I’m going to start with mine about closures, with a caveat...PLEASE update reopen dates and delete out of date info. It will help all of us understand what our peer's most recent communications on their plans is. These dates will be changing. Let’s make the doc a living document to help us make informed decisions. Then go to twitter and add other useful resources to the feed.

4. Finally, here is a call for submissions that can help everyone:
Call for Participants: Museum Digital COVID-19 Research Study
We are living through history. Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping society. When Americans began practicing "social distancing" and following orders to shelter-in-place, museums and cultural organizations moved quickly to cease public visitation. But even as our institutions closed their physical doors, we have opened digital windows. We have adopted online tools to continue delivering on our missions, serving our communities, and engaging our audiences.

To document the beginning of this new chapter, professionals from across the sector have begun collaborating on a cross-institutional study. The working title of this research is "Effects of COVID-19 on the social and digital media of American Museums." The objectives are to create a record of this moment to inform planning for future emergencies, and document emerging practices.

This research will collect and aggregate metrics from standard digital reporting tools, then report on the trends uncovered. We will examine a variety of interactions such as web traffic, searches, video views, downloads of learning resources and kids content, virtual tour visits, and social media sentiment. This project follows a previous cross-institutional study on the motivations of museum website visitors. (Link: http://martyspellerberg.com/vms-journal-request/)

Right now, we are building the cohort. We seek cultural institutions of all sizes, with collaborators of varied job titles across digital, social, education, curatorial, and marketing. While our focus will primarily be on US-based organizations, international organizations are welcome to contribute.

Express your interest in this research via the sign-up form. Please join us. (Link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeebHj3pQwSWrWmn8Oeja0WJtLAKTbYxSJaaGQ15nEGP7eohA/viewform)

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