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Read original articles written by MANY's staff about Resources, Community, and Exhibits/Collections. Check out the Letters From Erika to learn about what is going on here at MANY!

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  • August 27, 2020 11:15 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Opening day at the Central Park Children’s Zoo, September 28, 1961. Photo courtesy of Parks Photo Archive.

    Dear Members of MANY’s Museum Community,

    Memory deceives me into believing that as a child, I spent all my Sunday afternoons at the Central Park Zoo watching zookeepers toss fish to sea lions, peering into the whale’s mouth at the children’s zoo, and counting hours to the spinning animals on the Delacorte Clock. On one visit, the hippopotamus swam towards my father and me, stopping at the glass wall of its enclosure close enough for us to see the drops of water on its skin. My father didn’t notice a wide gap between the upper glass sections and accidently stuck his hand into the hippo’s mouth. When he jumped back in fear that the animal would attack in retaliation for the intrusion, I was knocked to the floor. This minor disruption transformed our zoo routine. Subsequent visits excluded the hippopotamus tank and I learned to look more closely at the built environment. 

    As we negotiate ways through COVID-19’s major disruption to our lives and our jobs, we need to face the many inequities and injustices exacerbated by the federal government’s insufficient response to the pandemic. The pandemic also revealed to those with privileged assumptions, the myth that we live in an equitable and civil society. Some museums have been operating under the assumption that they are accessible to everyone in their communities, that they promote an unbiased work environment, and that they are inclusive storytellers. Those myths are now being revealed in mainstream and social media by those who have been harmed. They are also being acknowledged by progressive leaders.

    We are fortunate that in NY that we have been able to limit infection rates and move slowly to reopening. It is now time for our museums to also move from disruption to transformation and rebuild our institutions with greater inclusivity, empathy, and open doors. Perhaps now more than any other time in our generation, our history museums, historical societies, and town historians are critically needed, to retell the story of our nation more completely. We need our science centers to share their knowledge of corona viruses in ways that inspire people to behave safely and responsibly. We need to sustain our art museums that offer inspiration and respite in difficult times, and value the lessons learned when a child comes face to face with a hippopotamus. 

    How do we begin to transform museums? A place I’d like to propose we start is to encourage museums to once again embrace the value of visitor and community engagement studies. MANY’s 2019 State of NYS Museums Survey (in the distant, pre-COVID past) revealed that of the 160 museums who responded to the question, 65% had not conducted a visitor survey in the past five years. The 35% that conducted surveys leveraged their findings to improve visitor services and amenities, physical accessibility, wayfinding, and readability of wall text in galleries. Responding museums took newsletters from print to electronic distribution, invested marketing budgets in social media, and updated their websites. They changed the times and types of classes offered and exhibitions in development to address requested subjects and themes. 

    In these rapidly changing times, it is critical for museums to uphold and expand their roles as community anchors and to share all of our history, art, culture, and values. If you know more about a silver tea service in your vault than you know about a person who visits your museum only when you offer free admission, you are strongly positioned to transform your museum. Working with other non-profit organizations, libraries, and community centers to gather data collectively would reveal far more than single source data collection. By learning more about the people you serve now, how you can serve them better in the future, and make your collections and spaces an open and welcoming place for more people, museums can help promote and sustain a more equitable and civil society. 

    With hope, 

    Erika Sanger

  • August 26, 2020 4:45 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    The Matilda Joslyn Gage Center honors her life by preserving and maintaining her home where people can learn about her values, her family and her life as a 19th century activist.

    Visitors reflect on their own values when exploring Gage’s home in Fayetteville, NY. It is a place that values ideas, not artifacts. Visitors explore the house at their own pace, invited to interact with each room. Rather than focus on artifacts or spaces decorated as they would have been when Gage lived there, the Center concentrates on her ideas and commitments to freedom, justice, and equality.

    Matilda Joslyn Gage is an important figure in the story of women’s suffrage in the United States. Gage did not ask for the vote, she criticized the federal government for not protecting women in their right as citizens from a state that made it illegal for women to vote. A staunch abolitionist, Gage offered her home to people escaping slavey. She admired and supported the people of the Haudenosaunee nations where she witnessed the liberties and equal status of Haudenosaunee women. Gage supported their efforts to remain independent nations and their right to self-rule. More radical than her suffragist colleagues Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Gage is referred to as “the woman who was ahead of the women who were ahead of their time.” 

    Gage directed the women’s suffrage movement from her home in Central New York and lived there until 1898. In 2002, the house was purchased by Dr. Sally Rosech Wagner who renovated it from a multi-occupant building into a center for dialogue and exchange. 

    Center Interpretation

    Founded twenty years ago, the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation celebrates and promotes Gage’s legacy, her ideas, writings, and inspiration. The mission of the foundation is to continue to educate people about the goals that Gage had, including equality, not just for women but for all people. 

    “As a foundation we want to continue to let people know Matilda’s views and encourage people to think for themselves,” said Melissa Almeyda, Deputy Director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation. “The biggest thing we want people to take away and to continue to think about is to not accept everything at face value but to gather as much information as they can about a topic, to think through it and then decide how they feel,” said Almeyda. Part of this process includes a different form of interpretation at Gage’s home. Dr. Wagner was determined to create a different kind of museum. “We actually don’t use the term historic home when we talk about ourselves. We are not celebrating Matilda’s items and her life per say, but we are celebrating her ideas and we want people to feel welcomed.”

    The Center invites visitors to touch artifacts, sit on furniture, take photographs, and to leave a note for Matilda at her actual desk in the Women’s Rights room. “We don’t hold that this place was so precious because Matilda used it and put it behind a chain and you can’t touch it. We have her actual writing desk where people can sit down and write a note to Matilda on how she’s inspired them. We want there to be a constant interaction and exchange of ideas.” 

    The house is divided into eight public rooms: the Ruth Putter Welcome Center, the Women’s Rights  Room, the Family Parlor Oz Room, the Haudenosaunee Room, Local History Room, Underground Railroad Room, Religious Freedom Room, and the Teachers Room. Each room highlights a social justice issue that Gage supported. It is not a historic house museum where rooms are staged to reflect a certain moment in time, but are designed to teach one of Gage’s commitments to freedom, justice, and equality. The Museum includes a whiteboard for visitors to leave their thoughts.

    Another important part of the interpretation is not to shy away from uncomfortable history. “We want to make sure that the less attractive stories get out. We don’t hide any of the negatives,” said Almeyda. The Family Parlor Oz Room shares the story of L Frank Baum and his relationship with his Mother in Law Matilda (her youngest daughter Maude married Baum in 1882) and her influence and encouragement to write The Wonderful World of Oz. Despite the spiritual and political female leadership that is illustrated in the book, the Museum also shares the fact that Baum wrote editorials calling for the genicide of native peoples in South Dakota. 

    Engaging the Community

    “Until recently, we didn’t have a huge interaction with the community,” said Almeyda. “It was strong in the beginning and then faded and now it is starting to come back.” Pre-COVID, this included regular potluck dinners where neighbors and supporters were invited and discussed the future. “We wanted to hear their ideas and for them to take an ownership position in the Center.”

    Part of the resurgence in community engagement came from the Center’s willingness to try new things. The relevance of Matilda’s fight for social activism naturally increased in 2020 alongside the current political climate. “As an interactive space, we naturally increased our social activism which is something that we always wanted but never had as much of an opportunity.”

    Fayetteville for Black Lives Matter at the Matilda Joslyn Gage Center. Photo by Michelle Gabel

    During the recent Black Lives Matter protest, an intern working with Dr. Wagner was inspired by Matilda's views, especially in her 1862 flag presentation speech to the 122nd regiment before they went to fight in the Civil War. Gage said, “until liberty is attained—the broadest, deepest, highest liberty for all–there can be no permanent peace.” In her presentation, Gage opposed President Lincoln who said the war was being fought to preserve the Union. Gage told soldiers they were fighting for an end to slavery and freedom for all citizens.

    “This intern believed that Matilda would really support and believe in the Black Lives Matter movement and so she asked us if she could make a sign in support and stand outside the Gage Center,” said Almeyda.

    On the first day, the intern stood alone. The Museum contacted supporters and more people arrived the next day. Over the next three weeks, there were regularly between 20 and 40 people protesting. By the end of July, it culminated in a rally of 120 people. “And this was in the suburbs of Fayetteville where it is more conservative and less diverse. It was incredibly gratifying to see that number of people who were willing to come out and support our initiative,” said Almeyda. “It was continuing our ideas of social activism. A lot of the things that Matilda Joslyn Gage believed in are important ideas today.”

    Fayetteville for Black Lives Matter at the Matilda Joslyn Gage Center. Photo by Michelle Gabel

    Today’s Suffragette

    “Matilda is the suffragette that people now can relate to. If you could pick her up from the 1880s and put her down in 2020, she is still talking about the same issues that we’re talking about then,” siad Almeyda. Gage was one of the first to discuss human trafficking, women’s property rights, equal rights for all, and more. “A lot of younger women look back at the early suffragettes and think, ‘yes, they got us the right to vote but that doesn’t apply to me now and they’re from a different world’ but Matilda was different. She was so far ahead of those women that she is with the forward thinkers of today and she is still relevant.”

    Where to learn more 


    Follow the Matilda Joslyn Gage Center 



  • August 26, 2020 4:42 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    The Shaker Museum’s temporary exhibition Shakers: In Community examines the different ways in which the Shakers forged equitable and inclusive communal bonds. This exhibition was one of many ideas generated during  an 18-month exploration into the Shaker Museum and its 18,000 items in its collection (considered to be one of the world’s most comprehensive holdings of Shaker objects and archives). The Shaker Museum’s collections have been without a permanent home since its galleries closed in 2009. 

    In a Press Release, Shaker Museum Director Lacy Schutz stated, “Shakers: In Community is a reflection of the Museum’s mission to present the important and timely values of Shaker culture—community, inclusion, and equality—through objects from its collection. We are excited that this exhibition can serve as a small preview of how the Shaker Museum will be able to engage and contribute to our community in Chatham.” 

    Who Were the Shakers?

    Shakers were early advocates of gender equality, welcomed African Americans, practiced pacifism, and put community needs above those of the individuals. Shakers believed that society could be perfected through communal living, gender, and racial equality, pacifism, confession of sin, and separation from the world.

    “When we think about Shakerism, we often think about these broadly practiced systems of belief and work ethic where you really have this diligence and real commitment to living in a perfect way,” said Maggie Taft, Curator of Shakers: In Community. But Taft notes that Shakers are still people and people aren’t always so perfect. “One of the goals of this temporary exhibition is to show not only how Shakerism was a lived practice but that people struggled and strayed within the lack of an individual identity.”

    Elder Daniel Offord addressing the Salvation Army Band who were visiting the Shakers. Among the Shakers is a person of color. “We know that Shakers all over the country had members of color, there were not many of them nor not a lot known about them, but to see this photographic evidence of this multiracial shaker community is fantastic,” Maggie Taft, Curator. From the Shaker Museum Collection

    Shaker Museum and Community

    “This pop up exhibition was designed to be a way to reintroduce the Shaker Museum Mount Lebanon to the community, to introduce the community to Shakerism, and give the community a first look and reacquaint people with the museum’s collection,” said Taft. “Before this, the collection has not been widely available to the public, only through private appointments.” The idea for this exhibition began during an 18 month project funded by the Henry Luce Foundation’s Theology Program to explore Shaker art, design, and religion in partnership with the Shaker Museum. Artists, scholars, and museum professionals gathered to investigate these intersections within the Shaker context. “This exhibition is just a sliver of one of the ideas that emerged from this project that was possible and potentially uniquely productive given the current circumstances,” said Taft. 

    During these 18 months, the group explored the Museum collection and spent time thinking about and discussing how to incorporate the values and spirit of the Shakers into the Museum’s mission and programming. “There was a lot of talk about what a Shaker Museum could be,” said Taft. “This questions emerged from the fact that the Shaker Museum is an institution that has existed for a long time, has an incredible collection of Shaker objects, artifacts, and archives which in some ways is the best in the country not only because of its volume but the Shaker Museum has objects from Shaker communities all over the country, not just one specific site.”

    Another goal for this exhibition was to start the conversation about what a museum can and should be in the 21st century. “How can a museum be not only a place to be educated but a place to develop connections to really interact with and learn from and teach to,” said Taft. 

    (left) Wheelchair made from a modified rocking chair. From an iconic object, the Shaker rocking chair, you can see the wheels that have been added in order to make space in the Shaker community for people with different abilities.

    Museum for the Future

    The Shakers were constantly working towards the idea of an equitable community and since Shakerism was something that people were not born into but rather opted in, there were always new people entering the community. “The Shaker community needed to navigate how you produce and operate and sustain this kind of community, and one way was constantly inviting people in,” said Taft. “As we are thinking about what a museum can be- an equitable space that anybody can participate in, which is what we wish and hope for, the reality is that there are lots of people who do not necessarily feel comfortable in those spaces.”

    As the museum opens this temporary exhibition and looks toward the future with its new permanent building, staff is thinking about how a museum can reconsider how it operates so that it has more equitable and inclusive spaces. “This is happening not only in the kinds of objects that are on view but also the kinds of voices that are participating in public programs, in gallery tours, and all the activity that makes up a museum,” said Taft.

    Taft and Shaker Museum Director Schutz asked what it would look like if you brought in other voices, not just experts outside of museums, but children or people who collect Shaker objects or people who were interested in alternative ways of living, similar to the Shakers. What if you brought them into the collection to look at the objects and asked them to identify what was interesting to them. What different kinds of thematic ideas would you find and what if you got these people talk to each other. “It’s an opportunity to see these historical objects in new ways,” said Taft. 

    This idea was part of the original discussion about programming around this exhibition pre-COVID, and now with social distancing in place, will have to be altered. “We are now asking what does the community look like when people cannot be close to each other and cannot share indoor space with each other. How do we still have these conversations? More work needs to be done.”

    “The one thing that I hope this exhibition emphasizes is the way in which history is not simply something that is in the past, but history is something that was lived,” said Taft. “When we are talking about the Shakers, we are talking about people who were wrestling with the world as it was and how to be in that world...committing and struggling with what it meant to be a Shaker. It can be hard to access when we are thinking about historical periods or people or religious groups and even harder to access the individuals who made up these groups.”

    The Shaker Museum is currently creating a new permanent home in Chatham, NY. The Museum expects renovations to be completed by 2023. A $1,569,000 grant from the Empire State Development through New York State’s Regional Economic Development Council initiative will help support the building’s transformation into a museum and community cultural center. 

    Shakers: In Community is on view Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays 11 AM to 6 PM until October 4. Tickets must be purchased in advance.

    Learn more: https://shakerml.org/

    Explore the exhibition onlinehttps://shakerml.org/collection/shakers-community-opens-july-17/

  • August 26, 2020 4:39 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Back in mid-March, museums across New York State closed their doors for an uncertain amount of time to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. At the end of August, Governor Cuomo gave NYC museums permission to reopen, the last region to be granted that permission. As museums follow the mandated and recommended best practices to safely welcome  staff and visitors, the museum experience is fundamentally changed. In July, MANY hosted a virtual meet-up with colleagues located in regions that had  reopened who shared their strategies, policies, and procedures. 

    New Visitor Experiences and Expectations

    “The biggest challenge we had in reopening was keeping up with some of the changes that were coming from the state,” said Brian Lee Whisenhunt, Executive Director of The Rockwell Museum. Guidelines implemented by the state for Phase 4 reopening were not released until two days before museums were permitted to reopen. “It was important for us to have someone on staff who was dedicated to pay attention to what was coming from the Governor’s office because there were so many changes day to day.” Many museums who were located in regions that were among the first to enter Phase 4 decided to wait. “We didn’t have the guidelines from the state as we made our plans to reopen,” said Whisenhunt. “We got them a few days before but luckily we were right on track in our considerations to reopen.”

    In preparing to reopen, many museums wanted to address visitor expectations and demonstrate a positive  visitor experience under these new guidelines. Museums updated their website with new hours, described the precautions staff were taking, outlined visitor expectations from requiring masks, to thermal screenings, social distancing, and limited access to exhibitions. New signage outside and inside the museum was also important. “We make sure that we are communicating everything as far as new signage,”  said Whisenhunt. “Thinking about how you can message some of the [new visitor expectations] in different ways is important.” 

    Advance Ticketing

    Part of the new visitor experience is purchasing tickets in advance. Many museums have moved to an online ticketing system including the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “Like many museums, the Hall of Fame implemented a timed ticketing system where people can reserve a particular time and date for their visit up to 30 days in advance,” said Ken Meifert, VP for Sponsorship and Development at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Using this system has also provided data on popular entry times to the museum and allowed the museum to make changes. “It was interesting to see to note that more people were purchasing tickets to enter the museum at the top of the hour rather than on the half hour and so we made adjustments to be able to accomodate more within our reduced capacity,” said Meifert. 80% of visitors to the Hall of Fame are taking advantage of the pre-booking system. But not everyone has access to a computer or high speed internet or they prefer to use cash. Meifert said that the Museum is committed to not turn anyone away and are still taking walk-ups and people using cash. 

    Reduced Capacity

    Under Phase 4 guidelines, museums may operate at 25% capacity. “Before we opened we thought we would be reduced to 50% capacity,” said Meifert. “And then the guidelines were released about 48 hours before we would be able to reopen and we were capped at 25% but we are not seeing those kinds of visitor demand yet. Comparing year over year, we are 90% lower in visitor admissions compared to July 2019. In some of our opening time slots we are reaching capacity, but not overall.”

    The Rochester Museum and Science Center in the Finger Lakes Region was one of the first to reopen to the public on June 27 and coordinated their opening with other local museums. “We are looking at between 13% and 14% of our budgeted capacity,” said Hillary Olson, President and CEO of the Rochester Museum and Science Center. “When we originally estimated our capacity we anticipated 30% but we looked to other science museums who were reopening and saw that it was closer to 10 to 15% capacity. My recommendation is to not overestimate who is coming to your museum. People are not interested in gathering in indoor spaces.” Despite lower visitor numbers those who are visiting are enthusiastic about visiting a museum. 

    Rochester Museum and Science Center Staff pose outside the museum to announce their reopening on June 27. Photo by Jess Kamens.

    Other museums who have seen a decrease in visitors but have seen an increase in digital programming. “Before COVID, most of our visitors came from programs, which not we cannot offer safely,” said Mary Zawacki, Executive Director of the Schenectady County Historical Society. “Being closed allowed us to engage with audiences that we normally would not be reaching. In the spring and summer we are hyper focused on our school and public programming that we are not able to do any digital outreach, but now the pandemic has forced us to do digital outreach which has resulted in a whole new group of people that are engaged with the historical society. It’s been an opportunity to put energy into an area that normally we wouldn’t be able to do.”

    Not all museums have decided to reopen. The Dyer Arts Center in Rochester made the decision to remain closed for the fall. “Cases were on the rise, and the funding required to reopen safely did not make sense for our budget so we are hosting everything online,” said Tabitha Jacques, Dyer Arts Center Director. 

    Masks in the Museum

    Perhaps the largest unease for museums on reopening has been the mandate of wearing masks inside public spaces. “People are happy to see staff and other visitors wearing masks,” said Olsen. “We haven’t had an issue with it...even our summer camp with 200 kids all wore masks.”

    The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is able to supply complementary masks to visitors, but 97% of visitors arrive with their own masks. “People seem to understand what the protocol is in our COVID world and are compiling which has been a big relief to our staff,” said Meifert.

    New signage from the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The Baseball Hall of Fame kept true to their brand and kept new health and safety messaging fun for visitors like the “on deck” circle to promote social distancing that is a term familiar to baseball fans. Photo by Milo Stewart Jr.

    The Rockwell Museum also has not had a lot of problems with mask wearing. “We have a bison that looks like it is protruding out of our building called Artemis and he is now wearing a mask. The mask is a shower curtain and it is a fun reminder to wear a mask when visiting. We’ve gotten great community feedback.”

    Artemis, the bison sculpture, outside The Rockwell Museum wears a mask made from a shower curtain. Photo courtesy of The Rockwell Museum.

    Keeping Accessibility in the Forefront of Reopening

    It is important for museums to remember to keep visitors with disabilities in mind when reopening. “As a deaf person I need to access information ahead of time,” said Jacques. “I need something to interpret the audio recordings, etc. Whatever the museum decides to do for the deaf, they need to make sure that the technology is available and to make sure that technology is cleaned after every use. It’s important to communicate the options. Wearing a mask makes it difficult to communicate with a deaf person so be okay to use a pen and paper to write back and forth.” Using pen and paper to help communicate with the deaf community is something that the Rochester Museum and Science Center and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum have incorporated into their reopening strategies. (You can read more about Tabitha Jacque’s recommendations for accommodating people with disabilities as part of museums reopening plans here)

    “We also supply wheelchairs to our visitors and we are making sure that there are dedicated people to sanitizing them after every use,” said Meifert about the Baseball Hall of Fame. “We are also restricting elevators to only those who really need them and asking others to use the stairs.”

    New Strategies for Interactive Exhibitions

    At the Rockwell Museum, interactive exhibitions are an important part of the museum. “We believe it is a great way to connect people with our artwork to experience and have tactile opportunities,” said Whisenhunt. There are interactives throughout the museum, but reopening under new guidelines allowed the museum to get creative. “Our education team did a great job in developing a single use visitors pack. This is a bag that each visitor gets that includes a gallery guide, a building history guide,  and an I spy book.” The Rockwell Museum was able to extend some of their exhibitions for the public and have also reopened with “Kara Walker: Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War” an exhibition on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “People have been excited to return. We’ve extended some of our exhibitions and have reopened with exhibitions with works by women of color,” said Whisenhunt. 

    From The Rockwell Museum website, visitors can leave comments about the exhibitions on view to interact with other visitors.

    The Rockwell has also created new responsive opportunities for their exhibitions. “We developed a program using Padlet, which is a tool that people can use to respond to exhibitions as well as using QR codes. When you come into the museum there are QR codes to help visitors respond to our exhibitions to let other visitors know what they think and engage in conversation.” Rockwell staff is also writing new interpretations for some of the artwork through the lens of the pandemic and the protests against systematic racism. “It asks how these works of art are different to us today because of what we’ve experienced for the last few months  and we hope that it gives our visitors something to think about and to help process some of the same things that they are feeling as they go through the museum.” Whisenhunt said that these new interpretations will be used in an online publication that anyone can use at home as well as part of a virtual program where staff will have discussion groups around these works of art and ideas to help people in their community. 

    At the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, most of their interactives are touch screens or buttons that play audio and video clips. “We purchased inexpensive styluses that we provide complimentary to our visitors to use on the screens and buttons,” said Meifert. “It wasn’t a huge investment for us but was a great way to keep our computer interactives safe.”

    Moving Forward

    “When this began, we were at the start of a five year plan and now we are looking at a 3 month plan,” said Olson. “We’re moving forward with trying to figure out how to budget but we are not sure what 2021 will look like. Our budget is expected to be 25% lower than where we were planning to be at the end of 2021.” Olson stressed that during this time, it is important for everyone to be on the same page, especially when it comes to planning for the future. “It is all about flexibility and the ability to turn on a dime and be creative about how to make things happen.” Museums must be responsive to what is happening around them. 

    “Improvise, adapt, and overcome has been our motto,” said Meifert. “I think it's created a stronger team feeling in the organization than we had pre-COVID because everyone realizes that we are in together. It requires everyone’s input to make it work.”

  • August 05, 2020 11:19 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Pomeroy Fund for NYS History Pledges Up to $50,000 in Matching Grants 

    TROY, N.Y. – The Pomeroy Fund for NYS History has announced that 21 history-related organizations have been selected to participate in a matching grant program geared toward raising funds to support safely reopening under New York State guidelines. Up to $50,000 in matching grants in total will be awarded. 

    This is the third round of funding disbursed through the Pomeroy Fund since it was established in April 2020 through a partnership between the William G. Pomeroy Foundation and the Museum Association of New York. 

    History organizations selected for this grant round submitted proposals that outline plans for reopening, identifying multiple funding sources, creative ways to grow donors, and collaborative partnerships to find new avenues of support. This grant round was open to history-related organizations in New York State with operating budgets of $150,000 or less.

    “Our hope is that these matching grants will give history organizations an added financial boost as they take the necessary steps to reopen safely and plan for the future,” said Deryn Pomeroy, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Pomeroy Foundation. “They are assets to our communities and stepping up to support them during these challenging times will make a tangible difference.”

    “Community support is essential to the financial well being of a museum. This matching fund opportunity will help museums face the challenges of reopening after NY on Pause,” said Erika Sanger, Executive Director of the Museum Association of New York. “MANY is pleased to continue our work with Pomeroy Foundation to support our smallest museums, raise community awareness of their needs, and help build relationships that can yield benefits into the future.”

    Participating organizations will have until October 1 to raise funds that will be matched 2:1 by the Pomeroy Fund for NYS History.

    Grantees in the third round of the Pomeroy Fund are as follows (listed alphabetically):

    Amagansett Life-Saving and Coast Guard Station Society

    Bundy Museum of History and Art

    Canal Society of New York State, Inc.

    Chenango County Historical Society & Museum

    Cincinnatus Area Heritage Society

    Cobblestone Museum

    Douglaston and Little Neck Historical Society

    East Bloomfield Historical Society

    Freeport Historical Society

    Gates Historical Society

    Half-Shire Historical Society

    Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands

    Irish American Heritage Museum

    John Brown Lives

    Robert Jenkins House and Museum

    Russian History Museum

    Seneca Museum of Waterways and Industry

    Slate Valley Museum Foundation

    Sodus Bay Historical Society

    The Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation

    The Steel Plant Museum of Western New York

    #  #  #

    About the Pomeroy Foundation 

    The William G. Pomeroy Foundation is a private, grant-making foundation established in 2005. The Foundation is committed to supporting the celebration and preservation of community history; and to raising awareness, supporting research and improving the quality of care for patients and their families who are facing a blood cancer diagnosis. To date, the Foundation has awarded over 1,100 roadside markers and plaques nationwide. 

    Visit: https://www.wgpfoundation.org/

    Twitter: @wgpfoundation

    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WGPFoundation

    YouTube: William G. Pomeroy Foundation

    About MANY

    The Museum Association of New York inspires, connects, and strengthens New York’s cultural community statewide by advocating, educating, collaborating, and supporting professional standards and organizational development. MANY ensures that New York State museums operate at their full potential as economic drivers and essential components of their communities.

    Visit: https://www.nysmuseums.org

    Twitter: @nysmuseums

    Instagram: @nysmuseums

    Facebook: www.facebook.com/nysmuseums

    LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/company/museum-association-of-new-york

  • July 30, 2020 10:32 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    At the end June 2019, MANY staff traveled to the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse along with a dozen museum staff and volunteers from around the state to kick off their participation in the NYS Tour of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street (MoMS) Program Traveling Exhibition Water/Ways. Carol Harsh, the Director of the Museum on Main Street Program joined us for the introductory training. Our goal was to help the Erie Canal Museum uncrate and install the Water/Ways exhibition for its New York State debut, the first time New York State has participated in the 25-year history of the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program. As the exhibition ends its tour at the East Hampton Historical Society on Long Island, we reflect on its journey across the state.

    Host museums traveled to the Erie Canal Museum in June 2019 to learn about how to install the Smithsonian’s Water/Ways exhibition

    The Smithsonian’s traveling exhibitions are designed for small-town museums, libraries and cultural organizations to serve as a gathering place and catalyst for conversations about American history, art, and culture. Six museums were chosen to host Water/Ways: the Erie Canal Museum, Aurora Masonic Center, Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village, Chapman Historical Museum, Hudson River Maritime Museum, and the East Hampton Historical Society. While the exhibition, which featured interactive panels and kiosks exploring the endless motion of the water cycle, water’s effect on landscape, settlement and migration, and its impact on culture and spirituality, was installed similarly at each museum, museums added to the visitor experience by curating their own water-hemed exhibitions based on local histories and relevance to their communities.Grants from state agencies, industry partners, and private foundations helped MANY leverage program and material purchases for each site including frames from Gaylord Archival, an app developed by OnCell, and coloring books created by artist Carol Coogan. 

    Host museums leveraged the Smithsonian’s Water/Ways to invite local, state and federal representatives to attend the opening of the exhibition and accompanying programming. Pictured NY-19 Congressman Antonio Delgado (center) attended the Hudson River Maritime Museum Water/Ways opening. MANY Executive Director Erika Sanger (left) and Hudson River Maritime Museum Executive Director Lisa Cline (right)

    Same Exhibit, Different Spaces

    The Water/Ways exhibition is contained and transported in twenty large crates. The panels (manufactured by MANY Industry Partner Hadley Exhibits) are curved, mimicking the rippling movement of water. Each host site displayed the exhibition in a unique way that best fit their space. The Erie Canal Museum used their large rectangular room with high ceilings that was separate from the main museum exhibitions. The room overlooks Erie Boulevard where once, instead of asphalt, water that carried goods and people from Albany to Buffalo on the Erie Canal that helped to make New York State the Empire State. The Aurora Masonic Center partnered with Wells College where there was room for the exhibition in the college library that was easily accessible for students. The Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village (BNHV) utilized their exhibition space that provided additional room between the panels as well as their corresponding local exhibition. In contrast, the Chapman Historical Museum used a smaller space and the exhibition felt like a more intimate experience. The Hudson River Maritime Museum was able to place Water/Ways in the middle of its main exhibition space surrounded by its maritime collection that seemingly blended into the Smithsonian’s exhibition itself. The final host site, the East Hampton Historical Society had the Water/Ways exhibition opened to the public for two weeks until the COVID-19 pandemic forced the museum to close its physical doors and shift all programming online.

    The Chapman Historical Museum

    The exhibition took a new form in each space without altering physically. While the order of the panels and locations of the interactive kiosks remained the same, each space provided a different perspective of the exhibition itself.

    Strengthening Community Participation and Partnerships

    The Smithsonian’s traveling exhibitions are designed for small town museums who are encouraged to develop partnerships within their community, such as libraries or other cultural organizations to create complementary exhibits, help host public programs, and facilitate educational discussions. Partnerships like between the Aurora Masonic Center, Aurora Historical Society, and Wells College strengthened community relationships and in Aurora’s case made the Water/Ways exhibition possible by providing a physical space. 

    Other host museums strengthened their partnerships with their local libraries like the Erie Canal Museum partnering with the Baldwinsville Public Library which hosted historic photos of Syracuse and the Erie Canal.

    The Chapman Historical Museum partnered with the Crandell Library that hosted “Two Canoes: Water in Abenaki Stories,” “The Lake George on the Water” video project, and hosted a local exhibition on the story of the Champlain Canal and water quality in the Hudson River watershed. 

    Despite having a limited physical opening, the East Hampton Historical Society shifted their community partnerships and collaborative programming online. They partnered with the American Lore Theatre to present a dramatic reading of the play Salt Water People. The reading happened over Zoom and felt like a classic radio broadcast of a story based on the real folklore of East Hampton Society. Over 80 people joined. 

    An upcoming presentation by Daniel Rinn (who presented in Aurora, Syracuse, Kingston, and Albany) “What is a Waterway, Anyway?” will also present his lecture virtually for the East Hampton Historical Society. Rinn’s research focuses on the history of the American environmental movement. 

    NY Folklore 

    The other large partnership throughout the Water/Ways exhibition was with the NY Folklore who helped forge partnerships with folklorists to develop programming. 

    NY Folklore helped coordinate two Water/Ways programs for the Erie Canal Museum Adrian John of the Seneca Nation Hawk Clan demonstrated making a traditional Haudenosaunee water drum and Chris Thomas and His Smoke Dancers performed Haudenosaunee Song and Social Dance.

    BNHV hosted an Indigenous Peoples Weekend. Folklorist Christine Zinni helped connect BNHV to the Tonawanda and Tuscororan Nations who helped plan various programs including a wampum belt demonstration, significance of the water drum and horn rattles, and a beadwork workshop. The weekend-long event was the highest attended Water/Ways program for BNHV.

    The Niagara River Dancers at theBuffalo Niagara Heritage Village’s Indignenous Peoples Weekend

    NY Folklore also led an instructive video production workshops under the Smithsonian’s Stories: YES initiative to help students connect to local history and understand its significance by building skills in interviewing, research, and creating non-fiction narratives that are shared with the community through exhibitions, social media, and digital video exhibition kiosks. Students from the Amsterdam Environmental Study Team Program were instructed by NY Folklore Executive Director Dr. Ellen McHale on how to conduct an interview, and Media Consultant and Communications Lecturer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Dr. Lillian Spina-Caza provided helpful resources for the students. The students created several videos about Water/Ways in their own communities which you can see on our YouTube Channel here

    The Arts Center of the Capital Region hosted a Water/Ways camp that created a digital lab for students to also create their own Water/Ways videos for Stories: YES! The week long camp included local site visits with the NYS Canal Corporation that provided filming site locations. The camp taught students skills and techniques of digital filmmaking and editing, how to conduct an interview, and how to tell a visual story of their local water way systems.

    Lasting Impact

    Water/Ways traveled almost 800 miles, engaged 24,000 people and nearly 1,000 students throughout its NYS tour. Beyond the numbers, it created new community partnerships and strengthened existing ones, helped the museums reach new audiences with new programs, and brought a national Smithsonian exhibition to a community that otherwise might not have had the opportunity.

    “Visitors repeatedly said the Water/Ways exhibit was great, but what they often mentioned was the supplemental local exhibits about the history of the Champlain canal and the regional environmental political cartoons of Mark Wilson,” said Timothy Weidner, Executive Director of the Chapman Historical Museum in his closeout report. “Connecting the broad themes of Water/Ways to local content really helped engage our audience.”

    “This was the first time that our three organizations had worked together on something this size,” wrote Tiffany Raymond, Reference, Outreach, and Special Collections Librarian at Wells College in her closeout report. “It was great to access parts of the community that we hadn’t served before.” 

    Water/Ways Sponsors

    The New York tour of the Water/Ways exhibition was made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, Hadley Exhibits, Inc., the New York State Canal Corporation, the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Corridor. 

    Folk Art programming was sponsored by NY Folklore, and supported by the New York State Regional Economic Development Initiative, a program of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

    What’s Next?

    MANY is excited to announce that we will be bringing the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program back to New York State in 2023 and 2024 with Voice and Votes: Democracy in America. Voices and Votes is based on a major exhibition that is currently on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The MoMS adaptation will have many of the same dynamic features (historical and contemporary photos, educational and archival videos, engaging multimedia interactives with short games and additional footage, photos, and historical objects like campaign souvenirs, voter memorabilia, and protest material. This exhibition will travel to twelve host sites across New York State and will culminate in a New York State specific traveling exhibition with contributions from New York State museums.  

    Learn more about the next MoMS Traveling Exhibition here: Voices and Votes: American Democracy

  • July 29, 2020 2:20 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Dear Members of the MANY Museum Community,

    We are fortunate that New York State is represented in the US Congress by members of the House of Representatives and Senate whose steadfast support of our museum sector has historically helped sustain our federal funding agencies. New York Congressional Representatives were also instrumental in passing the CARES Act, which included provisions that helped many of us through this worldwide health crisis caused by COVID-19.

    The charts below detail how federal funds included in the CARES Act have been distributed in New York.

    Those funds include distributions to Humanities NY and NYSCA.

    However, as the charts illustrate, the funding was inadequate. If you look at funding that was allocated from the CARES Act to corporations, such as the airline industry, which employs the same number of people as our museums, the response was also disproportionate. New York's museums have an economic impact of $5.4 billion a year; nationally museums contribute $50 billion to our economy.

    Now the federal government has another shot at helping our nation through this crisis. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act on May 15th. The Senate’s counter proposals have yet to take shape and come to a vote. We know the bill has the support of our New York delegation. Please take a moment today to reach out to friends and family in other states and ask them to contact their Senators to express their support for the Heroes Act.

    Americans for the Arts has created an easy way to reach out to US Senators to support the arts in the next COVID-19 relief bill. You can use their resources to contact your Senators today.

    July 20th report from the office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand estimates that nearly 850,000 New Yorkers are out of work as our nation approaches the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Although museum professionals are a small percentage of those unemployed, we are essential partners whose work is woven into the social, educational, spiritual, and economic fabric of our communities.

    In aJune survey conducted by the AAM, 16% of museum directors responded that there is a high risk their museums could close within 16 months without additional funding. We have heard from museums who have laid off staff, cut back hours, won’t be opening in 2020, and might not be able to reopen again. We need your help to determine how New York’s numbers compare. Please take two minutes to answer ten questions in this New York-specific survey. We will keep the survey open for the next ten days; please share it widely among colleagues. The report will help make our critical needs clearer to our state and federal representatives.

    We will share the data gathered, the final distribution of funding to Museums from the IMLS, and other insights on Friday, August 21 at noon during our next Virtual Meet Up. Please register here, include any questions that you have relevant to the state of our field now, and join us on August 21.

    One last but important request, tomorrow, Thursday July 20, the New York Council of Nonprofits is leading a Day of Action to reach out to State Legislators and Governor Cuomo to make nonprofit voices heard to make sure that State agencies pay nonprofit contracts fully and on time. Learn how to participate by clicking here.

    Thank you for speaking out for all of our museums.



    Erika Sanger, Executive Director

  • July 29, 2020 2:17 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Under a new strategic plan implemented in 2019, Fort Ticonderoga began to increase access to its collections by expanding its digital impact. The goal was to grow their digital footprint to reach a broader audience across New York State as well as on a national and international level. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced Fort Ticonderoga to postpone its opening for the 2020 season, staff took the opportunity to shift time and resources from its front-line on-site experiences and invest heavily in developing online program content. Fort Ticonderoga was awarded $285,358 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) CARES Act to expand its virtual public programming to engage a broad, multi-generational audience. The grant also supported staff positions and allowed the museum to sustain and develop educational programs to serve their audiences as well as reach new audiences.

    Promotional image for Fort Ticonderoga’s Center for Digital History, photo courtesy Fort Ticonderoga

    Increasing Digital Capacity

    “Fort Ticonderoga’s approach isn’t simply digital or on-site,” said Stuart Lillie, Fort Ticonderoga’s Vice President of Public History. “It’s an integration of all we have to offer which will continue far into the future beyond the current constraints. In fact, a site visit is an extension of our digital engagement which has tremendously expanded this year.” Before the pandemic, Fort Ticonderoga invested in creating a new website and made its collections accessible online for the first time, the Center for Digital History, brought the museum’s educational programs into homes and classrooms through live programming and through thousands of museum artifacts. “Due to our rural location in the Adirondacks, providing remote access to our national and internationally significant resources is vital to leveraging the power of our collection and our potential to serve as an educational resource.”

    Fort Ticonderoga’s Center for Digital History 

    With this increase in its digital capacity, Fort Ticonderoga staff responsibilities shifted to contribute their time and resources to help build the Center for Digital History. “Our work as a staff is integrated and multi-departmental,” said Lillie. “They [the staff] have incredible capacity to embrace new opportunities, learn new ways and methods to engage, and do it fearlessly to test concepts to better serve our audiences.” Staff’s work plans were adjusted due to COVID-19 but the work remained consistent with the museum’s strategic plan goals and framework of their institutional long-term plans. “When we began working from home back in March, we looked at our strategic plan and decided how we could best meet these goals in a virtual environment,” said Lillie.

    As the open date for the 2020 season approached, Fort Ticonderoga announced its “Digital Campaign” Virtual Opening” in April when staff knew that the physical reopening of the site would be postponed. The digital campaign played on the 18th century military campaign concept. “Like armies of the 18th century, reality on the ground forced our team to be nimble and adjust our programming based on the limitation of in-person engagement due to COVID-19,” said Lillie. “The increased digital capacity helped us continue to engage our audience and, in fact, increased engagement, while building excitement for when we were able to open the gates once again to visitors.” 

    New Virtual Opportunities

    Investing more into its digital programs and experiences allowed staff to rethink how Fort Ticonderoga used their resources in new ways. The museum’s collection storage space is small and can only accommodate a limited number of people at one time. New reopening guidelines from the state further limits access to this space. Staff set digital programming experiences like “Ticonderoga’s Treasurers” and “Collections Speed Dating” in the museum storage space which enabled broader accessibility to these normally restricted and limited spaces. “Digital program attendees for programs like A Soldier’s Life get to see museum staff and reproductions up-close in a way that would be challenging in a large classroom in-person lecture,” said Lillie. “With online programming, viewers get a front row seat every time.” Fort Ticonderoga saves and records this virtual programming to allow for even more people to share the experience from the comfort and safety of their homes. 

    Image from Fort Ticonderoga’s Facebook Live with Assistant Registrar Tabitha Hubbard who highlighted the museum storage transformation of Fort Ticonderoga’s 17th - 19th century headgear collection. 

    Social Media

    Fort Ticonderoga uses both Facebook Live and pre-recorded videos that are shared on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Staff created a private Facebook page to practice live streams in advance and solve any technical issues. “This was especially vital as we practiced going live while sharing PowerPoint presentations or when testing out new locations where we weren’t sure of the internet quality,” said Lillie. Staff created a schedule for digital programming to be shared on the website and on Facebook. Scheduling content on a consistent basis helped increase engagement and developed an online following for these programs. “Testing out new concepts is what is so exciting about this moment in time,” said Lillie on creating digital content. “We have a talented team and supportive administration that encourages trying out new ideas and constantly pushing the envelope.” Fort Ticonderoga tested out numerous digital programs over the course of four months. The ones that are successful are refined and continue to develop.

    Hands-on Engagement to Digital Engagement

    “Ticonderoga Tuesdays” is a series of free webinars for educators beginning this October. Each webinar will include a presentation by a visiting scholar on a topic related to the French & Indian War or the American Revolution followed by time with Fort Ticonderoga’s Curatorial and Education staff using objects and documents from their collection.

    Fort Ticonderoga launched the Center for Digital History with fewer resources than planned because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s negative impact on their budget.  The NEH CARES Act grant allowed this project to continue into 2020 and provided a strong foundation for the Center to bring Fort Ticonderoga’s digital programming and educational resources into homes and classrooms on a global scale. It also provided resources to develop new digital outreach classroom programs, publish free k-12 lesson plans, work directly with educators through a series of professional development workshops, expand Ticonderoga Collections Online, update computer equipment, develop a studio for creating an editing digital programming, support museum staff salaries, and share lessons learned about the whole process with museum colleagues and community in a webinar that will be conducted later this year. “The keystone of this project is digital programming,” said Lillie. “Our museum staff will not only expand our virtual public programming, but also take this opportunity to make sure that our staff are trained and supported as we transition from a very hands-on model of engagement to a digital one.”

    Reaching New Audiences

    One of the primary goals of Fort Ticonderoga’s NEH grant to support this digital transformation was to engage a broad, multi-generational audience and according to Lillie, the reach of these digital programs has been the biggest positive takeaway. “Among our first virtual classroom programs was a series of A Soldier’s Life programs for a school in Wisconsin,” said Lillie. “Through this new digital medium, it felt as if we were present with these students in the same room. After a moment of reflection, we realized we were actually live, engaging students in many states, and a full time-zone away. It’s one thing to imagine national reach, it’s another to experience that in real-time.”

    Through the Center for Digital History and the latest NEH funding support for From Fort to Screen: Ticonderoga’s Virtual Public Programming, the museum will support twelve lessons that target multiple grades and topics. Fort Ticonderoga will offer a series of webinars for teachers nationwide that will be led by scholars and a teacher moderator and will include primary source documents and objects from the museum collection and connect teachers to the historic landscape and to history experts from across the country. 

    Fort Ticonderoga reopened to the public on June 30th,but will continue it’s online programming. “Our virtual programming will extend far beyond 2020 and we are excited to find ways to continue to blend digital and in-person experiences in the future.”

    Learn more about Fort Ticonderoga’s digital initiative’s here.

  • July 29, 2020 2:14 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Museums have changed their visitor expectations to reopen safely under NYS guidelines. Under these new guidelines, it is even more important to include access and resources for people with disabilities to reopen as inclusive as possible. July marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In commemoration of this important anniversary we are grateful to Tabitha Jacques, Director for the Dyer Arts Center at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf who shared important insight on how museums can accommodate people with disabilities as part of their reopening strategies. 

    Tabitha Jacques, Director for the Dyer Arts Center at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf



    Remain Creative 

    “I think it’s important during these times to be very creative and somewhat flexible,” said Jacques. “COVID-19 precautions are so important, but it also takes away many things such as emotional connection (like a smile) or being able to touch or feel things.” While “Reopen New York” guidelines are critical for museums to follow as they reopen safely for staff and visitors, these same precautions can be harder for people with disabilities. “This is especially harder because on top of a world that is not universally designed, they [people with disabilities] have to deal with even more barriers due to safety protocols,” said Jacques. However, with the challenges that this pandemic creates for museums, it also presents an opportunity for museums to be creative while accommodating people with disabilities. 

    “There’s a good opportunity right now to be creative in opening doors to specific groups at specific times (such as Deaf/Blind visitors), providing the option to pay for their tickets online, and to make sure as much information is available online.”


    Tabitha Jacques leads a tour in the Dyer Arts Center


    Eliminating Barriers

    Whether in person or virtual programming, there are certain barriers for people with disabilities that can deter their visit or from engaging with that museum at all. Videos that are not captioned are immediately inaccessible for deaf or hard of hearing people. “Or if there’s audio tours everywhere, but no printed labels,” said Jacques. “I enjoy learning, and I want to feel welcomed and encouraged to learn. If an environment doesn’t support that, then it’s highly likely that I won’t return, and I will share my experience with my friends who are also deaf, and they probably will not visit.”

    Providing captions is a great way to make your content more inclusive. While some social media platforms need to improve how they offer closed captioning on live videos (such as Facebook Live), there are live captioning apps that will caption speech in real time that can be recorded and shared later. For iOS and Android users, “Clipomatic” is a free app with customizable caption features. 

    For physical spaces, there are ways to keep accessibility costs affordable. “Low cost happens when first designing an exhibition or a visitor experience,” said Jacques. “The cost increases the more the accommodations become an afterthought.”

    To keep accessibility in the forefront when planning an exhibition and to eliminate barriers, Jacques recommends to identify what their needs are in advance. “Set up a committee with people who have various types of disabilities and learn what they need and what they recommend.”

    By planning and designing exhibitions in advance with input from these communities, not only will it help keep costs low but will create a positive visitor experience for people with disabilities. “If you plan or design an exhibition or an event, make sure everything is thought out in the very beginning, and it’s embedded in the whole experience without any add-ons.”


    Tactile Barriers 

    Reopening NY discourages touching objects in order to decrease the spread of the virus, but it creates an access barrier for people who are blind. In a recent article for the American Alliance of Museums, museums are turning to tactile handouts to use as reference as they tour an exhibition or the use of 3-D printed replicas of objects. Others are using disposable gloves for blind visitors to touch things and then easily discarded. For more information we recommend reading AAM’s article here.


    Face Coverings and Accessibility

    Museum staff and visitors are now required to wear face coverings, but when traditional face masks are worn, miscommunication may increase with people who rely on visual communications such as deaf and hard of hearing individuals. To help with this communication obstacle, clear facemasks can allow people to see people’s faces and facial expressions that allow for lip reading. “Basically don’t be afraid to try new things with communicating,” said Jacques. Museums can use pen and paper, or use text on their phones to help with communication. Museums should also use printed signage that answers basic questions such as where the restrooms are located or other visitor expectations. “An added bonus is to have a volunteer who knows ASL [American Sign Language] or who knows how to communicate with the deaf or hard of hearing visitors and have them wear a badge so that visitors can feel comfortable asking for help,” said Jacques.


    Accessibility Online

     MANY’s COVID-19 Impact Report revealed that 81% of museums increased their online presence since closing their doors to the public. More museums are engaging with their followers on social media, and are increasing their museum content by using live tours and online exhibitions. This trend is expected to continue after museums reopen. But not all websites or even social media are friendly nor accommodating for those who are blind or low-vision. “When working on websites or digital offerings we need to make sure that they are accessible for blind or low-vision [users],” said Jacques. “We also want to be sure that webinars and live tours are captioned and if possible, offer ASL interpretation upon request.” Zoom has an option to assign someone as the captionist for a live zoom meeting, if you have an upgraded membership. Providing ASL interpretation for virtual meetings upon request is another way to ensure that these programs remain accessible. Zoom users can pin the interpreter under “Speaker View” so that the interpreter is always visible on their screen. 

    “For social media content, I’ve had our followers request that we provide image and video descriptions so that blind and low vision visitors can access information on graphics that are not accessible through screen readers,” said Jacques. Providing image and video descriptions (also known as “alt text”) is a simple and easy way to do this. “The more museums that do this, the more it becomes a part of our practice when it comes to posting on social media.”


    Final Thoughts 

    “For the deaf community, the basic rule of thumb is: Don’t make the deaf visitor try to communicate through speaking and/or listening. Don’t make assumptions that they can lip-read. Don’t deny the deaf person communication access,” said Jacques. 


    Further Reading/Resources

    Staying in Touch: Addressing Concerns to Allow Tactile Exploration at Museums

    4 Tips for Effectively Reaching Visitors with Disabilities 

    Social Media Accessibility Toolkit

    Enabling for ASL Interpreters on Zoom

    Four Things I Learned When I Started Thinking about Museum Accessibility

    Making Museum Accessible to Those With Disabilities

    Tabitha Jacques is the Director of the Dyer Arts Center and Meeting Planning Services in the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. Jacques previously worked as an assistive communication technology program manager at the Office of Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Washington State and as an admissions counselor at Gallaudet University. Prior to that, she worked as an exhibit curator, director and producer for the Gallaudet University Museum Project and as an adjunct professor. She was also the special projects coordinator for the National Postal Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. 

    The Dyer Arts Center at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf provides a better understanding and appreciation of those who identify as, and are allied with, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities by preserving and sharing its world-renowned collection of art. The Center showcases artworks by current students, alumni, and artists who are nationally and internationally renowned. All of these artists are deaf, hard of hearing, and/or allies of the Deaf community.

    The Dyer Arts Center remains closed but is open virtually with webinar presentations and discussions, interesting online art exhibitions about the various aspects of the Deaf community, and engaging social media posts.

  • July 29, 2020 2:12 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    A picture containing drawing Description automatically generated

    The year 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

    It’s a historic year, and a good time for museums and other cultural venues to refocus efforts on meeting the legal, moral, and curatorial challenges of providing access and inclusion for all people, especially people with vision loss. One important tool is the accessible audio tour – to use in your museum or on your website. We’re going to explore that in a little depth here and review the accessible tour vs. the inclusive accessible tour.

    A picture containing drawing, clock, plate Description automatically generated

    An accessible audio tour weaves together language for the ear, the emotional power of sound, friendly narration, and audio description (AD)Audio description uses words to represent the visual world and helps people who are blind or have low vision participate in visual culture.  Venues have discovered that audio tours written with AD can make exhibitions accessible to people who are blind or have low vision.

    Having written and produced accessible tours with AD for more than 10 years, during that time I have seen changes in their design and use. Traditionally, museums created separate AD tours for visitors with sight loss. Museums still successfully use these AD tours. For instance, I have written such tours for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, Grand Central Terminal, and the World Trade Center’s One World Observatory. 

    But in the past few years, some venues have explored creating Inclusive accessible tours that serve both visitors with sight and visitors with vision loss. It’s a design that integrates audio description with curatorial or historical information -- an approach that supports inclusiveness, not just accessibility. All visitors share common experiences and are not separated by ability. And producing one tour instead of two is cost effective for a museum.  

    The New-York Historical Society has both types of tours. In the past, the Inclusive tours I wrote were accessible to all visitors whether sighted or blind. The key to a successful Inclusive tour is finding the correct balance of artistic or historical context and audio description, in a length that won’t bore the visitor. A skilled writer, working with the client, needs to determine how much audio description is adequate for a person who can’t see the artwork or artifact and how to integrate it with the other information. Sighted visitors usually appreciate the added level of description because it sharpens their viewing experience (“Oh, I didn’t see that.”) and affirms their perceptions (“Ah yes, I knew that was blue.”) 

    The best thing any audio tour can do, for sighted or blind visitors, is to help them look more closely and carefully. An Inclusive accessible audio tour can focus attention, making for a richer experience, especially for sighted visitors who choose not to read wall labels. 

    That was the result of working with Orpheo recently on audio tours for the new National Museum of the US Army opening later this year in Virginia. We created three Inclusive tours for the museum that integrate historical facts, music, sound effects, narration, and audio description. Both sighted and blind visitors to the museum will be able to enjoy the tours. 

    If there is a downside to an integrated approach, it is that some people with vision loss may want more detailed audio description, and that is a valid criticism. In that case, a museum might add an optional "layer" of AD to a tour. For example, the narrator could prompt a visitor to "press 5 for a detailed audio description of this work." But I have found that in most cases, Inclusive audio tours provide experiences that can be shared by both audiences, whether in a museum or on a website.

    And speaking of websites, a museum can also add recorded audio description to virtual exhibits on its website, for existing exhibits or for new exhibits specifically targeted to visitors who cannot physically visit the museum. Using smartphones, tablets, or computers website visitors can listen to audio description of artworks or objects along with curatorial information. An example is the website American Art, which I wrote for the national advocacy organization Art Beyond Sight. Visitors can hear recordings that combine creative use of sound with audio description to describe works from the Brooklyn Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art. 

    Your museum probably long ago followed ADA guidelines and widened the entrance or installed a wheelchair ramp. Now, make sure visitors with sight loss can not only enter your venue but can have programmatic access to your museum with an accessible audio tour.

    For more on the design of accessible tours and how museum educators or curators can learn the art and craft of audio description writing, visit the website -- www.writingad.org

    A person smiling for the camera Description automatically generated

    Lou Giansante is award-winning writer, producer, and narrator of audio tours for all audiences, with special expertise in writing for children and for people with vision loss. Lou partners with Orpheo creating PWA apps, standard apps and audio guide tours.

    www.lougiansante.org     www.orpheogroup.com/us

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