Over and over again, zoos and aquariums around the world are making headlines for their same-sex penguin couplings. One of the most iconic couples was Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins who began performing mating rituals at the Central Park Zoo in 1998. After successfully incubating a rock and then a dummy egg, zookeepers decided to give the loving couple a real, fertilized egg. Roy and Silo hatched a baby, a female penguin named Tango. Tango then grew up to form a partnership with another female penguin named Tanuzi.
The list of gay penguin couples goes on and on and spans a wide range of species. Harry and Pepper were a pair of Magellenic penguins at the San Francisco Zoo. Sphen and Magic are a pair of male Gentoo penguins at SEA LIFE Aquarium in Sydney who hatched their first chick in 2018. Electra and Viola, also Gentoo penguins, are raising a chick at the L’Oceanogràfic in Valencia, Spain. At Zoo Berlin, two King penguins named Skipper and Ping have been trying to become fathers, unfortunately with no luck. Ronnie and Reggie are a pair of Humboldt penguins in London. In the Netherlands, a gay African penguin couple recently stole an egg from a lesbian penguin couple. The list goes on. Even in Parks and Rec, Leslie Knope hosts a wedding for two male penguins at the Pawnee Zoo.
The lives of male and female penguins are not as different from each other as we may expect. Regardless of sex, a parent’s responsibilities are similar—both invest equally in raising their chick. Aside from reproductive barriers, there is no reason why same-sex penguin couples cannot be successful parents. Penguins often lay more than one egg, though only one is likely to survive. In captivity, a same-sex penguin couple can adopt any extra eggs (though sometimes they steal eggs instead.) It’s likely that this happens in the wild too—though it’s harder to say. Visibly, male and female penguins really only differ in size, and not by much. That means it’s difficult to tell male and female penguins apart and even more difficult to identify any wild mating pairs as homosexual.
In late 2019, mothers Rocky and Marama hatched a baby Gentoo penguin at SEA LIFE Aquarium in London. This baby Gentoo made further waves after the aquarium announced that it would not be assigning the chick a gender. The chick is identified with a gender-neutral purple tag rather than the usual gendered name and color coded tag. Beyond that, the penguin’s life will be the same as any other penguin at the Aquarium. Gender means nothing to penguins, so why have we continuously assigned it to them? The General Manager of the aquarium, Graham McGrath comments that the decision to raise a genderless penguin is following an increase in conversations around human gender neutrality. I applaud SEA LIFE London for taking a look at their practices and making changes based on a more nuanced understanding of gender.
Besides, the animal kingdom is constantly subverting our expectations for both gender and sex. Male seahorses famously carry the young while they develop, and are the ones who eventually give birth. Bluehead wrasses all hatch as female. As they mature, some develop into males. These stories should be highlighted more. Most zoos and aquariums stick pretty exclusively to scripts around environmentalism and conservation. While those are incredibly important topics, I would like to see these institutions branch out. For example, a common argument against LGBTQIA+ rights is that “it’s not natural.” Zoos and aquariums have an opportunity to step in and say “actually, that’s not true.”
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.
National Museum of the United States Army
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.
Experiential Learning Center, National Museum of the United States Army
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.
COVID-19 safety measures, National Museum of the United States Army
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:
November 19, 7-8 pm EST. Book talk with Marc Gallicchio.
December 17, 7-8 pm EST. Book talk with Paula Tarnapol Whitacare.
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.
Jasani, Azmina. “The Art of Deaccessioning by Museums.” Wealth Management (February 23, 2018). https://global-factiva-com.ezproxy.library.tufts.edu/ha/default.aspx#./!?&_suid=159761333945104543291629816466
McClellan, Andrew. “Museums need to move with the times — That’s why deaccessioning isn’t always bad news.” Apollo (March, 14, 2019).
Summertime is often the season when I, as I am sure many of our readers as well, will go and explore various museums. Seeing as how I am from Virginia, this usually means going to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts or the (newly renamed) Virginia Museum of History & Culture. One of my absolute favorite hidden gems in Richmond, however, is Agecroft Hall. A beautiful Tudor-era English manor house that was brought over piece-by-piece in the early twentieth century from its original place in England, Agecroft Hall is a unique blend of early modern architecture with modern conveniences (such as closets and radiators).
The tours that visitors are treated to at Agecroft are likewise an interesting mix of early modern English history and the estate’s twentieth-century history of how it made its way from England to the US due to the popular desires to have European-style homes. T.C. Williams, Jr., the man who purchased Agecroft and had it brought over to Richmond, actually wanted to create a kind of Tudor-style neighborhood surrounding Agecroft Hall (although this didn’t ultimately happen, Agecroft’s neighbor is likewise an early modern English-style home). Some visitors, I think, will be unsure of how to feel about a very historic English home being taken from its original grounds and brought over and adapted to fit 1920s standards of living; I know I at least was not sure what to think of this initially. However, Agecroft Hall was on the verge of collapse due to mining in the surrounding English countryside and had fallen into disrepair. So while extra closet spaces and radiators are perhaps not quite what is usually done in the maintaining of an historic house – indeed, nor is changing the entire floor plan, as Williams chose to do – at least Agecroft Hall was given a kind of second life as the home-turned-museum in Richmond, Virginia. This choice was also not made without much thought and care – Agecroft Hall only left England with the approval of Parliament after a debate.
For me, it is also so interesting to think of how much conservation and preservation work has developed from the time when Agecroft Hall was brought over to the US to today. I think that while the methods perhaps are not what would have been done now, that the spirit of wanting to ensure the survival – at least in some capacity – of a historically significant building is something that is in common between past and present efforts.
Gardens at Agecroft Hall, modeled after the gardens of Hampton Court Palace
The museum also is such a wonderful opportunity to learn about and experience these kinds of historic houses that usually one would have to fly overseas to Europe in order to see. As my area of focus is early modern England, you can imagine my delight when I first went to Agecroft Hall. The majority of the museum is staged just as an early modern home would have been in its day, giving visitors an idea of what life in a manor house like Agecroft Hall would have been like for both servants and the family. Rich tapestries and wood furniture darkened with age; portraits of Elizabethan courtiers; a curiosity cabinet; herbals and King James I’s treatise on the evils of witchcraft; and, most exciting of all, a pardon with Elizabeth I’s own beeswax seal. These are only some of the wonderful artifacts on display at this fascinating historic house and I know I can’t wait to go visit again as soon as I can.