And happy grand opening day to the National Museum of the United States Army! Here’s the link to watch the opening ceremony, which will be livestreamed this afternoon at 1 p.m.
There are various exhibits set up, including a soldiers’ gallery, which has the stories of men and women from many historic periods. Other exhibits seem broadly organized by period, covering the colonial era and Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Army’s role in WWI, and all the way up to modern warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq. The individual soldier seems to be of particular focus, giving voice to their particular narratives and experiences.
The museum is also in the process of preparing an experiential learning lab, in which visitors must work collaboratively to help the Army solve a humanitarian crisis; this experience helps reinforce geography and STEM skills.
The museum is also ensuring the health and safety of staff and visitors, with efforts such as timed tickets and contactless ordering from the cafe.
The National Army Museum is also offering virtual events, for those visitors who are unable or uncomfortable to visit in person. There are two upcoming (free!) virtual book talks:
Personally, I’m super interested in the Curator’s Corner episodes, which feature artifacts of interest in each episode. The first episode features Sgt. Gary Uchida’s canvas travel bag during WWII. Here’s that episode:
It is certainly interesting to see how the museum is diversifying and offering these events, and the efforts that are being made to ensure that museum visitors and staff can still enjoy the museum safely. It is certainly some good news to see a new museum opening up, and a great way to celebrate Veterans Day. Thank you to all who served, and are serving now!
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.
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.
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!
For many years, issues of the deaccessioning of works in museums’ permanent collections have garnered much attention. Since the pandemic, these concerns have only increased as museums struggle to stay open. In recognition of these struggles, the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) – an organization which offers guidance on museum best-practices to its members – decided to make changes to their regulations regarding museums’ usage of restricted funds. According to Olga Symeonoglou – an attorney in the Washington D.C. office of Cultural Heritage Partners – in her article, “Will AAMD’s New Guidelines on Deaccessioning and the Use of Restricted Funds Change the Way Museums Handle Their Collections?,” these purportedly temporary changes were made in order “to give museums flexibility to withstand the financial distress caused by closures and continuing uncertainty.” Such a decision begs the question: how temporary will this change turn out to be and what precedent will it set for future concerns regarding deaccessioning?
According to Azmina Jasani – a partner in Constantine Cannon’s Art and Cultural Property Law Group – in her article, “The Art of Deaccessioning by Museums,” deaccessioning means “the removal of an object via sale or otherwise, from a museum’s collection.” Jasani goes on, explaining that “it’s a practical way for museums to manage their collections, as it affords them the opportunity to purchase newer or more relevant works and change directions.” One of the concerns regarding deaccessioning is often a question of ethics. In order to help museums conduct themselves appropriately, specific guidelines have been put in place. This includes the AAMD’s Code of Ethics. This code stated, according to Jasani’s article, that “a museum director shall not dispose of accessioned works of art in order to provide funds for purposes other than acquisitions of works of art for the museum’s collection” (1).
Despite such regulations, there have been some instances where museums have had to rely on funds garnered from deaccessioning in order to survive economic hardships. One such case involved the sale of a Norman Rockwell painting by the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. According to an article published for The Boston Globe, “Berkshire Museum sells Norman Rockwell painting to George Lucas’s museum,” the Berkshire Museum was facing closure without an increase in funds. In order to avoid closing, the museum selected forty pieces to sell, including Norman Rockwell’s “Shuffleton’s Barbershop.” The article states that the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art claimed to have purchased the Rockwell piece. It goes on, articulating that the museum announced its goal “to raise $55 million so it could stay open and refocus its mission.”
The Berkshire Museum succeed in deaccessioning some of its works, however, it also stirred up controversy and concerns regarding the museum’s stewardship of its collection. In fact, the very mention of the word “deaccession” tends to harbor negative connotations. There are those who would argue that this generally negative perspective on deaccessioning needs to be reevaluated in order to allow museums to evolve. For example, Andrew McClellan – a professor of art history at Tufts University – argues that “the selective deaccessioning of objects no longer deemed essential to a museum’s mission, in order to acquire new objects that are, may make good sense,” in his article, “Museums need to move with the times – that’s why deaccessioning isn’t always bad news.” McClellan goes on, arguing that such changes could help increase diversity within museums, making them more reflective of their respective communities (2). However, this usage of funds from deaccessioning which McClellan describes would still function within the original guidelines established by the AAMD.
The recent change in the AAMD’s guidelines which allows museums to utilize funds garnered from deaccessioning for operational costs seems to have punctured a hole in the ethical standards which previously shadowed cases such as that of the Berkshire Museum. Not only will this change in code make it difficult, if not impossible, to pass judgement on museums’ actions against future threats, it also raises questions as to what other uses such funds may be applied. Mark Gold – a partner in the law firm of Smith, Green, and Gold – and Stefanie Jandl – a former curator – discuss these concerns in their article, “Why the Association of Art Museum Directors’s move on deaccessioning matters so much.” They explain that “according to the AAMD’s statement, the new resolutions ‘were proposed in recognition of the extensive negative effects of the current crisis on the operations and balance sheets of many art museums.” Afterwards, the authors cannot help but refer to the case of the Berkshire Museum, described above, and recall that the situation described by the AAMD is exactly what occurred at the Berkshire Museum. In response, they ask the question: “Should it matter what is causing the existential threat? [..] Should it matter if the cause of the crisis is a pandemic or the loss of major employers in the region, a declining demographic and donor base, or a series of unfortunate decision by staff or board?”
Deeper into the article, the answer to the above question begins to unfold as the authors return to the question of ethics. Gold and Jandl state that “ethics inform behavior not just when it’s easy or convenient, but when it’s hard. And if it’s ethical to use income from the proceeds of deaccessioning for operating expenses, why not the proceeds themselves?” They go on, arguing that museum professionals should seize this moment as an opportunity to reevaluate previous sentiments regarding best-practices. They also add that these professionals “can be more openminded about what can be removed from the collection without affecting a museum’s mission and be advocates for converting those objects into resources to keep the museum open and to support and advance the mission by treating museum employees and programmes as assets worthy of investment-pandemic or not.” Doing so could reshape individuals’ perceptions of collections and how they can function in a reciprocal relationship of support with their museums.