Thursday, May 07, 2020

Covid-19 and Museum

As we are all making adjustments to living through a global pandemic I've tried to reach out more. As a Historic Interpreter for Telfair Museums, I would lead visitors through the Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters on a 45 minute guided tour of antebellum Savannah history discussing politics and urban slavery.  When the Museum closed I was expecting the next few weeks to be different.  
When my institution first closed I decided to reach out to twitter for interaction. Normally I use twitter to follow to network and learn about how others are making changes in the field, expanding audiences, and the history we interpret.  Twitter is how I first learned about the #museumsarenotneutral and #museumsrespondtofurgusion (from Aleia Brown and Adrianne Russell) and ongoing conversations about transparency in hiring practices.  I knew that I would miss the social aspects of my job. As an interpreter, research and tours dominate my professional time, in this time of transition I’m eager to learn from this moment and what better way than by talking with people.
In my initial calls, I was interested in learning how others were coping. I was hoping to chat, discuss our emotions during this moment, vent if need be but mostly, be there for each other.  I felt like these connections would help us grow in this moment and if people were doing good work we wanted to share.  I felt like one on one of these conversations could be honest, supportive, and genuine in our feelings.  These created communities allows many of us to process this moment with each other.  
I set up digital lunches. I hoped, at this moment of many museum professionals working at home, that I could have some digital lunches.  I had these digital meetings with historians and museum professionals at various levels, specialties, and locations. Previously I had become interested in public history in Baltimore, a graduate student in North Carolina, and a professional in Savannah but my conversations expanded to NY, New Jersey, South Carolina, California and Tennessee.  We discussed our passion for history, art, and education. We mourned each other’s furloughs (mine arrived halfway into April), our different state’s response to this moment, and missing our favorite coworkers. We traded working at-home methods, streaming recommendations, and self-care tactics. When I talked to Sierra deGroot of the Poster House in NY, we did a full deep dive into cartoons from the 90s and early 2000s and where they are currently streaming.  We gave each other the minor assignments to watch a movie from our childhood (me Space Jam and her A Goofy Movie) to relax.  I saw and still see this ongoing need to connect as an opportunity to create a community to grieve with during this moment but to also help each other chill.  
Twitter, like all social media, allows me to curate my view of the outside world. I’ve been interested in how other institutions are handling this. Working in museums is a constant learning opportunity thus it is important to see who is being inventive at this moment. Who is taking risks in finding new and inventive ways to serve audiences? Who is serving the community’s needs? Who is explaining the complicated museum finances of what museums can and cannot do at this moment? The twitter account and collective art + museum transparency has been tracking in twitter thread and spreadsheet.  Seeing what museums are furloughing pro-union professionals, what museums are determined to keep going, and who is not planning on reopening.   These conversations have been bubbling up for a few years but this moment we’re looking at priorities of institutions.  Many of us find joy in the social media account of the National Cowboy Museum but isn’t also an example of bringing new voices to the table.  This moment leaves us open to connect through our love of this field and less serious things like cartoons This moment can be learning opportunity for many of us learning how good work can occur, how staff can be protected, and how history and art both soothes and protects us during national tragedies. But maybe more important we can learn is how to connect with each other.  With that connection, we can focus on each other.  So for other professionals working in museums, historic sites, national parks, and other places for public humanities I urge you to reach out to each other to strengthen the communities you are a part of.  

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