Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Category: Museum Topics (page 2 of 28)

A date with Mrs. Isabella Steward Gardner

I decided to visit Isabella Steward Gardner Museum, as soon as I found out about its reopening.
The museum announced reopening on July 15th after nearly four months of the closure due to Covid-19. I missed going to the museums so much, that neither the long commute nor the rainy weather was able to stop me on the day of my intended visit 

New guidelines have been put in place to ensure the health and safety of the staff and the visitors. The museum visitors were required to prepare for the visit way before arriving to the sight firstly by reserving admission tickets online for a given time slot. A contactless scanning of the digital tickets took place at the admission desk which was shielded with a transparent plexiglas. All members of the staff and visitors were wearing facial covering. Arrow marks on the floors and stairs made socially distanced movement in the spaces much easier. The visitor capacity of the ISG was reduced to 25%. Overall, the museum felt safe and protected.

The visit to Isabella Steward Gardner even in this time of Covid-19, was extremely delightful. There were a few aspects of the visits which made the experience so unique. The first reason of a pleasant experience was that the museum was well prepared to receive visitors in terms of ensuring everyone’s safety.

As a result of the reduced visitor capacity, there was a prevailing atmosphere of peace and calmness, which is the second aspect which made this visit particularly memorable. Instead of feeling like a regular visitor much like how I felt being in these spaces during my previous visits, this time I felt like a special guest of Mrs. Gardner. The quietness around me allowed to free flight my imagination and ability to hear my internal dialogue. I pretended to be walking around the palace alongside the hostess. We talked about the artworks, debated about their meanings and even made fun of some. There was no rush, no distraction by other people or side sounds. I was so deeply engaged in my own world that I didn’t even notice the few other visitors who occasionally passed by me. 

The experience of being in nearly empty gallery spaces of ISG was so immersive that I didn’t notice how two hours have passed by and I had to head out. As I was walking back to exit the museum, I wondered about the experience of other visitors during in these strange circumstances. I stopped to question of the guides to find some answers. The guide was nice and answered my questions enthusiastically. They said that most people described their experience with such words like personal and intimate. I thought those words accurately described my experience as well. Further, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to compare pre and post pandemic visitor experiences in the museum. How did the visitor experiences change pre and post pandemic, if they did at all? What were the visitor motivations to visit the museum in the time when public spaces provoke anxiety? 

Week 8 – The first day of school

Happy First Week of School!

In the time when there is still no vaccine for Covid 19, academic year is nearing a start for everyone from elementary to higher education students. According to my observations many teachers, students and their parents alongside institution managers are still conversing over matters of safe ways to return to school while maintaining provision of qualitative educational experience. 

This week I want to encourage everyone to share stories of the objects which are related to the first day of school this year (Fall 2020). If you are out of school, please feel free to share stories of someone you know, friends, neighbors or family members. Let’s see how different it will be from the previous years. 

Let me remind you how to participate.

  • Choose an object what fits the theme
  • Take 1-3 pictures of the object
  • Please describe how your object reflects the theme of the week. This is your chance to make your object shine and share its story 🙂

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

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

Email your pictures and descriptions to Sayyara.huseynli@tufts.edu

P.S. Please note that by submitting your response to this project you agree to its public display.

Week 7 – Submissions – Theme “Death”

Abigail Epplett

Uxbridge, MA

M.A. Museum Studies, Office Manager at Fairlawn Christian Reformed Church

This bone is from a domesticated cow (Bos taurus) that lived and died on a beef cattle farm in Dudley, Massachusetts, which is about a thirty-minute drive from my house. It is an axis or C2 vertebra, which means it was the second vertebra in the cow’s neck. It connected to the atlas vertebra at the base of the cow’s skull and allowed the cow to turn its head. The main hole in the center of the bone protected the cow’s spinal cord, while smaller holes around the bone allowed nerves to connect to the main cord. The bone sustained some postmortem damage, perhaps nibbled by mice and deer as a calcium supplement before I found it in the woods.

The bone reminded me of Georgia O’Keeffe‘s paintings, which often feature cattle bones and other western motifs. Her art balances death and life, as longhorn skulls and arid landscapes are juxtaposed vibrant desert flowers.

The same balance of death and life can be seen in local farming, in which the cow played a small part. While agriculture in Massachusetts and the rest of New England had been in decline for several decades since the Industrial Revolution, it is fortunately no longer dying. According to the Massachusetts Agriculture Census, conducted by UMass Amherst’s Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environmentin 2017, there are more than 7000 farms in my little state– up from around 4500 in 1974, the first year the census was held. While small farms were expected to disappear after the advent of genetically modified crops and enormous factory farms, they have instead evolved to find a niche in the slow food and organic movements.

The average person no longer farms and may not have a deep connection to their food, but there are still plenty of opportunities for agritourism in the region where the cow lived. Some of my local favorites are Wojcik Farm in BlackstoneDouglas Orchard & Farm in DouglasWest End Creamery & Farm in Whitinsville, and Foppema’s Farm in Northbridge. These are great places to see how local agriculture contributes to our food system, and how the cycle of life and death affects every season, from planting to growing to harvest.

Sayyara Huseynli

Medford, MA

M.A. Museum Education

I was getting frustrated in my search for an object which would fit the theme of “Death” when I noticed a door under the stairs. I have lived in this house for longer than a year but never paid attention to that door. As the door was located near to outside door and on the first floor, I imagined that it would be full of old or rarely used items, possibly old fashioned and dusty outwear.  When I opened that door, I did indeed see some old coats. One of the them was an old vintage fur coat. I asked my landlord about that coat. She told me that inherited it after her mother passed away. Her sisters suggested for her to take the coat with her when she moved to Boston from Germany, as in their opinion Boston had colder winters then their home town.

The coat was made of real fur, but my landlord didn’t know which animal’s fur was used to make it. Because of the cruelty involved in the production of fur clothing, the coat symbolized Death to me. 

 

Reimagining Museums During the Coronavirus Pandemic

According to Harriet Baskas, in her article “Museums are opening slowly – and differently – but one-third will likely shutter for good,” before COVID-19, “museums, zoos, science centers, and other historic and cultural attractions across the United States welcomed more than 850 million visitors a year, supported more than 726,000 jobs, and contributed more than $50 billion a year to the economy.” This is no longer the case. These same institutions are now having to make hard choices to try and stay afloat. In a national survey posted in July, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) reported that “one-third (33%) of museum directors surveyed confirmed there was a ‘significant risk’ of closing permanently by next fall, or they ‘didn’t know’ if they would survive.” More specifically, 87% of museums reported to have “twelve months or less of financial operating reserves remaining [and] 56% having less than six months left to cover operations.”

Many museums are eager to reopen; however, they are not going to be able to function as they did before. Of the institutions which are deciding to reopen, they are facing numerous challenges including reduced staff, increased safety protocols, and in some cases the repurposing of spaces. Leading the charge in reopening are the cultural institutions of the sate of New York. Mark Kennedy states, in his article, “Face masks amid the art: New York City’s museums to reopen,” museums that are opening this week include The Museum of Modern Art, opening Thursday, August 27; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, opening on Saturday, August 29. Kennedy goes on, explaining that in reopening, “city museums will institute a range of precautions, including reduced hours, reserved tickets, mandating masks, limiting attendance to a quarter of capacity, and closing movie theaters, coat rooms, and food courts.” Despite taking these protective measures, museum directors say the next concern is if patrons will actually come back. For museums which rely heavily on revenue from ticket sales, attendance is of great importance.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York City, New York, sourced from “New York’s Iconic Museum of Modern Art Reveals Its $450 Million Makeover,” Architecture and Design, October 2019.

Other institutions which have been greatly impacted by the effects of the pandemic are museums like the New York Hall of Science (also known as The Hall) in Queens, New York. Kennedy describes the museums as “a place where children engage with the exhibits – controlling mock space rovers, exploring digital environments and experimenting with circuits.” The Hall has yet to reopen its doors but plans to do so at some point in the spring of 2021. However, the fact that their doors are closed does not mean they have stopped contributing to their community. According to Kennedy, The Hall has “helped donate thousands of meals, turned a parking lot into a drive-in theater, encouraged research, and hosted a mobile testing site on campus.”

The Children’s Museum of Lowcountry in Charleston, South Carolina is another museum which advertised itself as a place of interactive exploration. In her article, “At SC children’s museums, ‘hands-on learning’ complicated reopening during pandemic,” Emily Williams explains that “the very same things that have made children’s museums unique and valuable are now making it highly complicated for them to reopen.” Williams quotes Laura Huerta Migus, the director of the Association of Children’s Museums, who stated that “175 children’s museums are still closed to any kind of physical visits. […] That means they’ve gone five months without any kind of revenue and have lost their most profitable spring and summer periods.” Therefore, in order to avoid permanent closure, these institutions have had to get creative with their spaces. The children’s museums of South Carolina have done just that. According to Williams, “the children’s museum will be running a ‘Schoolseum,” which will give about 30 local families the option of sending their children to the Ann Street museum to Complete their virtual school work in a small, in-person setting with the help of museum staff.” Other, larger institutions have been able to implement reopening plans which include reworking hands-on exhibitions and prioritizing space for distancing between families.

Brad Nettles, “Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry education specialist Kevin Powers reads a book to the younger campers during snack time,” sourced from “At SC children’s museums, ‘hand-on learning’ complicates reopening during pandemic,” The Post and Courier, August 2020.

Each institution is going to face different hardships as they work to maintain a presence in their communities during the coronavirus pandemic. Even as museums reopen their doors, it does not mean that the fight is over. In order to follow guidelines established by the CDC, many museums must reduce the number of visitors entering their spaces at a given time. In a report by Ken Budd, “What to Know About Visiting Museums During the Coronavirus Era,” museums have reduced their visitor numbers to anywhere from 25-80% of their normal capacity. Additionally, certain museums are requesting that visitors order their tickets ahead of time online and a number of those tickets are for scheduled visits.

Visitor experiences within the museum will be different as well. A number of museums have decided to close their restaurants and cafes. Others have informed visitors of the possibility of exhibition spaces being closed in order to accommodate individual room capacities. An additional hardship facing museums is how to follow both the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and CDC guidelines. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is currently not offering audio guides for tours. Related concerns regarding touched surfaces will likely force many museums to reevaluate their exhibitions, like those in the children’s museums discussed above.

If you want to visit a museum, it is important to educate yourself on their changes in regulations beforehand. A visit to their website or a call to the institution can provide interested patrons on their process for purchasing tickets, their regulations regarding masks, and what visitors can expect to see or experience when visiting the museum. For those working within the museum field, the AAM has created a COVID-19 Resources and Information page where guidelines and recommendations for museum practices will be updated in response to the current situation.

Patience and understanding from all sides is necessary during these unprecedented times. We must work together to support not only these cultural institutions but also the communities which they serve. Sharing our stories and experiences can help educate each other about best-practices and innovative programs that have been most successful in maintaining a presence during the pandemic.

Have you had an interesting experience visiting a museum during the pandemic? Do you work for a museum or other cultural institution which has implemented some note-worthy changes? We want to hear from you! Contact us through the Want to Guest Post on the Blog page to share your story!

Week 7 – “Death”

My Home is a Museum project which aims to create an ongoing conversation around the weekly prompts inspired by the events happening the globe. Everyone who sends submissions to  weekly prompts can suggest prompt ideas for the following weeks. The proposed themes are used in the order that they are received. 

Abigail Epplett, is the last week’s participant who suggested “Death” as a prompt for new – Week 7. This is how she explained her choice:

“I was inspired by the cow vertebrae I keep on the filing cabinet next to my desk. I got it from my aunt’s farm a few years ago– her family rents grazing land to the Boston Beef butchers. The vertebrae reminds me of Georgia O’Keeffe‘s western paintings, which often feature cattle bones. I know cultural perception of “death” is highly variable around the world, so I thought it would be interesting to see what mortuary objects other people had around their houses.”

Let me remind you how to participate.

  • Choose an object what fits the theme
  • Take 1-3 pictures of the object
  • Please describe how your object reflects the theme of the week. This is your chance to make your object shine and share its story 🙂

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

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

Email your pictures and descriptions to Sayyara.huseynli@tufts.edu

P.S. Please note that by submitting your response to this project you agree to its public display.

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