Outside The Rockwell Art Lab on Market Street in Downtown Corning, NY
Dear Friends, Members, and Supporters,
I write from Great Camp Sagamore on day two of the Museum Institute. It is sunny and cold by the lake. By the end of the week, most of the green leaves on the trees will turn red and gold. The remarkable presenters are challenging us to believe in our power to create positive change in partnership with our fellow arts, history, and cultural organizations and with our community.
The extraordinary historic structures, the fabulous food, and the collaborative nature of the Museum Institute makes coming here to learn together a unique experience. Twice a day we hear the shuffle of feet on the road and a Sagamore staff person talking about the Vanderbilt family, the architect Durant, and how this National Historic Site was created and maintained. The tours reminded me that Great Camp Sagamore is more than a site for learning and gathering. It is a tourist destination that helps fuel the Adirondack economy.
Many of our state’s museums are tourist destinations that continue to operate in the face of enormous challenges as we approach the end of the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Museums that before the pandemic created programs and spaces for interdisciplinary conversations, partnered with schools and libraries to promote civic education, and encouraged multi-generational learning through family programs were equally devastated, but are perhaps recovering a bit faster because of their deep roots in their communities.
Grants from federal and state agencies through the American Rescue Plan funds are helping museums on the road to recovery by funding programs and operations. I believe that the future financial sustainability of our organizations will go beyond tourism and destination marketing to capacity building programs that emphasize the ways in which museums engage with their community, steward their historic structures, and tell stories that reflect everyone who calls our state and our nation home. I also believe it is time to go beyond data, charts, and graphs and use images to show the ways that museums work with people who pass through our doors and interact with digital media.
Steve Seidel, the Director of the Arts in Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education once asked me to consider taking pictures as part of a program evaluation. He challenged me to photograph what learning looked like. With this letter I extend that challenge to you who work in and with museums. What does audience engagement look like in your museum?
Do you have images taken before March of 2020 of galleries filled with school students? University students? Do you have pictures that show docent training? Art making? Continuing education programs? A citizenship ceremony? A behind-the-scenes photograph that shows all the people it takes to produce an exhibition? An image of your cafe where visitors are finding respite? Volunteers helping at a festival? These are only suggestions - I know you know where to find the folder with your museum’s favorite images.
We will begin collecting these images on October 1 to share with the field, with funders, with stakeholders, and with municipal, state, and federal legislative representatives. We will share the images on MANY’s social media feeds that now reach more than 20,000 museum professionals. We want to remind everyone of the important role that museums played in our community before March of 2020 and how we can work together in the future to educate, to enrich lives, and to serve as places of healing.
Send your pictures to Megan Eves at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include a caption of 100 words or less with the name of your museum and text that describes the activity in the picture. We look forward to sharing the joy and the hope that these images will bring for the future of our state’s museums.
With thanks, e