Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Reflections on Reopening from Nick Pioppi, Senior Educator at the New England Aquarium

The New England Aquarium, along with many of Boston’s other cultural institutions, reopened on July 16th with pandemic-specific precautions. The Aquarium now has a one way path throughout the building, reduced capacity, additional sanitation stations, and requires visitors to wear masks. Now that the Aquarium has been open for almost a month, I checked in with Nick Pioppi, Supervisor and Senior Educator at the New England Aquarium, about the process of reopening.

Nick Pioppi conducting a virtual visit to the New England Aquarium.

How have things been at the Aquarium since reopening?

“Things have been very good. We feel very confident that we have established a safe, fun, and engaging experience for visitors. That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been some things that we’ve worked on or refined in terms of our process. We always come up with ways to become more efficient or make the process run a little bit more smoothly so we’ve definitely tweaked things as we’ve gone along.”

When the aquarium was closed, what were some strategies you used to reach your audience?

“We took a look at what we offered virtually and came up with some strategies to create new virtual content that was fun and engaging and kept people feeling connected to the aquarium, but also continued to foster and promote our mission. I think that was really important because we wanted people to understand that there were a lot of things that were still going on, like animal care and research efforts. We wanted to work hard to put those out front and use those as a way of connecting with visitors.”

With reopening, what are some challenges you’ve found with running educational programming?

A California sea lion reminds visitors to social distance.

“We are not leading any of our normal presentations on microphone. We are trying to avoid elements of an experience that might cause people to crowd and have difficulty maintaining physical distance from each other. Any sort of educational content or interpretation is happening on a one-on-one basis. We have staff that are stationed throughout the building with the primary goal of providing a logistically smooth and safe experience for visitors, but we’re slowly starting to integrate points of interpretation.”

“We’ve really had to just be a little bit more selective about that and focus more on safety and logistics and making sure the one way path is being followed. We’ve even had to close down elements of the aquarium, like the touch tanks or one particular exhibit called “The Science of Sharks” that is very interactive, just out of an abundance of caution.”

Speaking to the animals, how are they adjusting to having visitors again?

“For the most part, we are not noticing significant differences in behavior of the animals. Most of their daily routines were still going on during the closure. They were still getting fed regularly and the life support systems that keep them comfortable were being maintained. If they aren’t particularly reactive to our presence outside of their tank, then things are the same for them. There are a few exhibits that we’re noticing some subtle differences. To prepare the penguins, a week ahead of time we placed speakers around the exhibit and played crowd noise to get them accustomed to visitors again.”

Do you have any advice for museum educators during the pandemic?

“From my own experience, now is the time where it’s important to remember a lot of the basics of education, such as the customer service element and providing a nice alternate experience for visitors than what they’re having any given day. But this is also a time where innovation and trying new things out can be really beneficial. Trying to think of new ways to connect to people.”

“I think for institutions, it’s probably really scary to innovate and experiment because you’re worried about losing what little you have right now. But I think now is just a good a time as any to be innovative and stand out. Provide something that other museums and institutions aren’t necessarily providing.”

The New England Aquarium highlighted the work of the aquarists and researchers during the closure.

Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share?

“I think the community of educators is so important right now. I think it’s important right now to think about ways to connect. Connect with teachers that are struggling with virtual learning in the fall. Connect with people who may have been laid off from an institution because of budget cuts. Connect with people who might be educators but are doing a type of interpretation that’s really different from you. We can all learn from each other and support each other.”

Thank you so much, Nick, for meeting with me to chat about the Aquarium’s reopening. Follow the New England Aquarium’s Facebook and Instagram accounts for tons virtual content and updates. Also, the Aquarium is still fighting for COVID-19 relief funding, so use this link to contact your representative about providing crucial funding for both animal care and operating costs.

Week 5 – “Pivotal life event”

This week’s theme was kindly proposed by Fidan Amrakhly who sent her response to the previous week’s topic.  

Pivotal events happen in the lives of individuals on daily basis. I believe there are materials objects which can often serve as reminiscent of those occasions. The outbreak of the global health crisis, the raise of the racial justice movement are just a few of such events on a larger scale. Last week’s explosion in Beirut is one of those events which unexpectedly affected the lives of millions of unsuspecting people. In these critical times, I think we can try to find some a source of positive energy. I think the objects which embody the memories of the pivotal life events can provide that serve the purpose of becoming an encouraging, comforting and inspiring.

Let me remind you how to respond.

  • Choose an object what fits the theme
  • Take 1-3 pictures of the object
  • How does the object exemplify what matters to you?
  • What experience in your life made this object matter to you?

Please include the answers to the following information when submitting your entry:

  • What it your name?
  • Where do you live?
  • What do you do?

P.S. Please note that by submitting your response for this project you give permission to share it later on the blog.

Submissions for the theme “Secrets from childhood “

I am happy to present secrets that the lovely readers of the blog submitted for the theme of Childhood Secrets. I have to say that one response was particularly thrilling. 

Charlotte Benoit

Student

Medford, MA

“This object is a fairy house that I decorated a long time ago. Inside the house, you can see little trinkets for the fairies to enjoy. I was fascinated by them and often hoped to catch a glimpse of one flying by. This fits the theme of Secrets from the Childhood because fairies are like secret visitors, especially to young children.”

2 images of a colorful wooden fairy house which contains trinkets.

Fidan Amrakhly

Psychologist

Baku, Azerbaijan

“I remember a little boy from the time when I was attending the kindergarten. Every time when his father came to pick him up, he would stick pliers inside the child’s mouth and take out his tongue. I watched this scene happen continuously but didn’t know what to do. Was I supposed to tell my parents? What was happening with the child when he went home? Was he in danger?”

An image of red pliers. 

 

Week 4 – New theme alert!

The theme for Week 4 of My Home is a Museum project is “Secrets from Childhood”. This topic is in line with some of the controversial thoughts of our modern world, specifically those concerning the origin of Covid 19. Some theories assert it as a biological weapon, others refer to it as a result of political collisions there are also people believing that it is a sign of an alien invasion. As the society is still debating over the genuine emerge of this virus, we can look at this situation from a different perspective. Namely, let’s use the aspect of mystery as a point of departure to think about our childhood secrets. As always we will need to find an object/s in our living environments which can tell the unveil those secrets. This prompt was kindly offered by Olga Seleznyova who responded to the theme of Week 3. 

How to respond?

  • Choose an object what fits the theme
  • Take 1-3 pictures of the object
  • How does the object exemplify what matters to you?
  • What experience in your life made this object matter to you?

Please include the answers to the following information when submitting your entry:

  • What it your name?
  • Where do you live?
  • What do you do?

P.S. Please note that by submitting your response for this project you give permission to share it later on the blog.

Submission for the “Masks” theme

The theme for week 3 was “Masks”. I was excited about this theme as it refers to one of the most common items in our daily lives during these tumultuous times. 

I am pleased to share a thrilling response to the aforementioned prompt below.

Olga Seleznyova
Baku,Azerbaijan
Artist Manager at Faig Ahmed Studio

“This mask was made by my grandfather in the early 80s. In addition to the talent for creating beautiful things from wood and plaster, grandpa has a talent for finding beautiful things on the street. He still brings some little treasures from the Boulevard and stores them carefully. One of these windfalls was a brooch that completed the look of this wooden mask.

 

 

 

 

 

A wooden mask with a brooch on the forehead.

When I was a little girl, I thought it was the Snow Queen and she comes alive at night. The fears in my childish conscious were strengthened on the day grandpa showed me the secret of this mask. If you turn the mask over, you will see special stands for small candles. At night, under the cover of darkness and the action of the magical flickering light of candles, she revived. I never slept in that room again 🙂 “
What a story! Do you also have mysterious found objects in your homes? Share your finds in the comment section.

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