Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 34)

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. 

 

Agecroft Hall: A Tudor-Era American Home

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).

Agecroft Hall

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.

Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

July 26th, 2020 marked the thirty-year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which made it illegal to discriminate against people based on a disability in areas including, but not limited to, employment, transportation, and public services. In an article, called “A Brief History of The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” Jillian Abel provides some historical context about the passing of the law and how it has been influential in recent years. According to Abel, active support for those with disabilities had began as early as the 1960s and resulted in the passing of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act which banned discrimination based on disabilities for those receiving federal funding. Over the years, activism continued and would eventually lead to the passing of the ADA. Since then the ADA has continued to make updates to their regulations with the intent of providing as much participation and access of equal quality to all individuals.

Museums have gradually made changes to become more ADA compliant. In an article by NEA Director of Accessibility, Beth Bienvenu, “Museums and the Americans with Disabilities Act at 25: Progress and Looking Ahead,” some of the accommodations made by museums are discussed such as audio guides, tactile tours, captioned video, sign-language interpreted tours, and wheelchair access to all physical spaces. Despite these efforts, however, Bienvenu also explains that a 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts found that “21 percent of all adults visited an art museum or gallery, but only 11 percent of adults with disabilities made such a visit.” She goes on, explaining that there is still more work to be done in order to provide more involvement for those with disabilities.

Last year, Claire Voon wrote an article, “Museums Are Finally Taking Accessibility for Visitors with Disabilities Seriously,” in which she discussed changes made by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in order to better serve visitors with disabilities. One of the actions taken by MoMA was to invite ten individuals with different impairments to walk through their spaces. Voon discusses the MoMA’s decision in more detail, articulating that while museums attempt to be more accessible, they often fail to consider the various kinds of accommodations visitors might need. In many cases, it takes someone with a disability walking through a space to indicate that there is a problem with access or inclusion.

In many cases, museums have taken steps in the right direction to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and create more accessibility to their events and spaces. However, as many of the articles have stated above, there is still much work to be done. In my own experience, interactions I have had with individuals with different impairments has greatly increased my awareness of potential barriers within museum spaces. While my awareness has been increased, I do not always have ideas on how to solve the problem. This is where knowing what resources are available to you come in handy. Below are a few links which provide information on the Americans with Disabilities Act itself and ideas on how to create a more accessible institution.


Are there experiences you have from a visit to a museum you would like to share? Consider creating a guest post on our blog to further the discussion of accessibility and inclusivity. 

Do you know of other useful resources that both current and future museum professionals could utilize to create more accessible environments? Please leave a comment below or send us a message through the “contact us” option located in the sidebar at right.

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