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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!

  • October 28, 2020 11:38 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (NMRHoF) was uniquely situated when the COVID-19 pandemic forced museums across New York State to close their doors to the public back in March. The Museum had already closed to the public on December 29, 2019 to undertake a massive, multimillion dollar construction project to transform the Hall of Fame visitor experience. Despite a two month delay and the challenges of working remotely because of the pandemic, the Museum kept its audience engaged and utilized the entire staff to work on projects that reimagined the museum.

    Most visitors to the museum are horse racing enthusiasts, drawn to the trophy exhibits. There are also sporting arts aficionados who flock to the Martin Stainforth exhibit. Stainforth is a British-born artist who began his career as a wood engraver before turning to illustration. He moved to the United States in the mid-1920s and continued to capture the likenesses of some of the top racehorses of the era, including Hall of Fame legend Man o’ War and Triple Crown winner Omaha. Other visitors enjoy the interactive exhibitions and the racing footage. 

    The Museum’s last major renovation to its permanent collection was twenty years ago and the Hall of Fame had remained untouched since 1988. Back in August 2018, museum staff planned a $20 million renovation project for the Hall of Fame that would incorporate new technologies that would allow the museum to highlight its 459 inductees through a multimedia experience. An internal team of staff members from the development, curatorial, and Hall of Fame departments worked with the Board of Trustees on all aspects of the project. “When you undergo a closure and renovation, you want to make sure that everyone is on board with the changes being made and that it will benefit the institution for generations to come,” said Victoria Reisman, Museum Curator. That conversation started with a Sunday morning walk through the museum with Museum President John Hendrickson, Collections & Exhibits Committee Chair Sally Jeffords, and Director Cate Masterson. The Hall of Fame was quickly running out of space for plaques and the museum looked to switching to digital plaques. 

    “Our Hall of Fame is unique in that we sometimes have inductees (trainers, jockeys) that remain active in the sport after the time of their induction,” said Reisman. The Hall of Fame switched from physical plaques to digital screens. The digital plaques offer an in-depth multimedia look at the lives and careers of each member in the hall of fame. “By switching to digital plaques, it allows the Museum to update immediately the recent statistics and career milestones of our active Hall of Fame members and to upload photographs, artwork, and video footage to celebrate their achievements.”

    Just outside the Hall of Fame is the new Race Day Gallery. “Our goal was to build excitement for the Hall of Fame theatrical experience and celebrate the sport of Thoroughbred Racing from coast to coast,” said Reisman. New exhibition cases provide more room for the Museum to display the25,000 objects in its collection, including many artifacts that had never been exhibited to the public before. The gallery space is an immersive experience with sights and sounds that mimic a race day experience, from the paddock to the track in the winner’s circle. 

    Inside the new Race Day Gallery

    In addition to the Hall of Fame renovation project, staff also looked at other areas throughout the museum that could be renovated and improved while the museum was closed to the public. This laid the groundwork for the museum’s “Permanent Collection Galleries Refresh” project. “Many of my colleagues are avid museum-goers, so we brought all of our own experiences to the table when discussing how to transform the Hall of Fame and refresh the entire Museum for our reopening this year.” 

    The theatrical experience at the Kentucky Derby Museum, a 360-degree film, was a source of inspiration for the NMRHOF presentation, “What It Takes: Journey to the Hall of Fame.” The Museum worked with Donna Lawrence Productions, the same producers who made the Derby Museum’s film to create a unique, immersive movie experience. “The Baseball Hall of Fame and other Halls of Fame also provided inspiration on how to best document the history of the sport and celebrate those who achieve the pinnacle of success using technology and exhibit design strategies,” said Reisman. She also took time during closure to rewrite exhibit labels throughout the permanent collection galleries and repainted gallery spaces. “Personally, I’ve been a big fan of the recent museum trend of reintroducing color into exhibit galleries and moving away from the ‘white cube’ aesthetic and used this opportunities to embrace bold colors for our permanent collection galleries and make our art and artifacts stand out.” The colors also help define each gallery space. “Our goal was to improve wayfinding through increased signage and the addition of color to these exhibit spaces,” said Reisman. “Most of of the artwork and artifacts on display remained the same, but we used our temporary closure to add title signage and a bold wall color to make each galley space stand out from the next.” The Museum rebranded these spaces from “Colonial Through Twentieth Century galleries” to “Racing Through History” to emphasize the connection between the United States’ history and the history of Thoroughbred Racing. 

    Jockey uniforms on display in the new Race Day Gallery

    Working in a Pandemic

    While some projects were unaffected by the pandemic, like HVAC system upgrades, the temporary work shutdown delayed the construction project by two months. Travel restrictions impacted vendors, but the Museum was able to adjust the work schedule and switched to local vendors when out-of-state contractors were unable to return to New York.  Working with vendors remotely during construction wasn’t that much different than if staff had been on-site. “We had a team of professionals from across the country—from film producers to lighting specialists to exhibit fabricators and media designers—working on the Hall of Fame Education Experience, so we were already used to Zoom meetings and conference calls before our work-from-home period began,” said Reisman. “The necessity of working remotely due to the pandemic increased the importance of documentation and meeting minutes to make sure that everything was being addressed and that nothing was missed. Once we could get back on track and return to the Museum, our entire staff worked together to make sure we were ready to open on this year’s Kentucky Derby Day, September 5th.” The biggest challenge was adjusting the installation timeline in order to complete all of the exhibit projects safely and on time, while following COVID-19 protocols. 

    Keeping Public Engagement

    Throughout closure, the Museum embraced the #MuseumFromHome initiative across their social media channels. Reisman also started a new social media campaign, #HistoryThroughArt. “It highlights one work from the collection and pairs it with additional online resources to encourage our followers to learn more about the subject featured.” Collections Manager Stephanie Luce created a coloring book based on objects from the collection. Museum Educator Lindsay Doyle transitioned the annual student art show to a digital format and released downloadable educational resources, including a new STEM education kit for 3rd grade students. Membership and Development Officer Maureen Mahoney kept members and supporters updated throughout construction with a digital newsletter.”

    Staff returned to the Museum in late June and started hosting virtual programming on Zoom and Facebook including a behind the scenes sneak peek of the new exhibits and renovations. “Our virtual programming also included children’s educational activities, farm tours, racing previews, and more… we hope to expand these offerings to include virtual tours of the museum in the future, starting with a Secretariat-themed tour this month.”

    After Reopening

    Since reopening to the public, visitors have enjoyed the museum’s new signature film in the Hall of Fame as well as all of the new interactive experiences. Of course there is social distancing signage throughout the space as well as strategically placed hand sanitizers and small styluses on keychains with the Museum’s logo provided to guests free of charge to help safely interact with the new exhibitions.

    “People have enjoyed exploring the new Hall of Fame interactives and the artifacts relating to racetracks from across the country in our new Race Day Gallery, while our ‘Women in Racing’ exhibition remains a favorite amongst new and returning visitors,” said Reisman. 

    Reflecting on the Process

    “Don’t underestimate the time it takes to prepare your digital image and video assets for a new interactive exhibit,” said Reisman reflecting back on the last nine months. “One of the best things about our new Hall of Fame interactive plaques is that we can showcase more resources from our collection to illustrate the Hall of Fame careers of our inductees. However, the scanning, editing, formatting, and caption writing process to prepare these digital assets takes an incredible amount of time.” The museum’s curatorial team was able to scan most of the photographic prints before staff began working from home in March. Staff was also able to format the photos and captions while working remotely using their new Hall of Fame Content Management System. “It was a huge undertaking, but also a much-needed project that will increase the usability of collection resources for future exhibits.”

    Learn more about the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame:

  • September 29, 2020 12:32 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Dear Members, Friends, and Colleagues,

    MANY is pleased to open the call for participation in “Building Capacity, Creating Sustainability, Growing Accessibility” and extend our thanks to our congressional representatives for their support for the IMLS with CARES Act funding for Museums. 

    This project will support 100 museums in high needs locations in the state to help them respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by giving staff the tools and training to reach their communities virtually and raise their profiles with audiences beyond their physical locations. The project will provide museum professionals with hardware, software, and training to develop virtual programs focused on stories from their collections revealing cultural and racial diversity within their communities. Each museum selected to participate will partner with a local library to develop and implement programs that build on the assets of both organizations resulting in access to 200 new virtual programs for audiences - no matter their geographical location.

    No prior experience delivering virtual programs is required. A museum of any budget size is eligible to apply. Museum staff travel costs will be kept to a minimum by holding in-person trainings at hotels centrally located in each region that can offer a safe, socially distanced meeting room and food service. In addition to the training, museums will receive hardware and software equivalent to a $5,000 in-kind donation.

    To comply with the CARES act rapid implementation criteria, the application and notification process will be conducted as swiftly as possible. We will select ten museums in each region who will commit two staff members to 60 hours of training time (24 in-person/36 virtually) and 250 hours of program planning, development, and delivery over two years. MANY will use New York State Department of Education criteria to determine if a museum meets the high need location requirement. At the end of the project, New York will have a cohort of 200 highly trained museum professionals who can share their expertise and support the work of museum professionals across the state.

    The application deadline is Friday, October 16 at 5 PM. Notifications will be made on November 2.

    Please share this letter widely with colleagues.

    With thanks for your support,

  • September 29, 2020 11:47 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Museum Association of New York Awarded an IMLS CARES Act Grant

    $498,407 will be used to support 100 museums across New York State

    Troy, NY—The Museum Association of New York is thrilled to announce that it was awarded an Institute of Museum and Library Services CARES Act Grant to fund “Building Capacity, Creating Sustainability, Growing Accessibility.” This $498,407 award is the second highest in the nation out of 68 grants. This project will enable one hundred museums in high needs locations across New York State impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to share their collections beyond the walls of their museums. Two hundred staff will be trained to use new hardware and software to develop programs that will engage their communities and reach new audiences. 

    “As pillars of our communities, libraries, and museums bring people together by providing important programs, services, and collections. These institutions are trusted spaces where people can learn, explore and grow,” said IMLS Director Crosby Kemper. “IMLS is proud to support their initiatives through our grants as they educate and enhance their communities.”

    MANY is grateful to our congressional representatives for their support of the CARES Act and the work of our museums. 

    “Like so many small businesses and other community institutions across our nation, our museums are facing the threat of permanent closure as a result of this prolonged COVID-19 crisis, including right here in our Capital Region,” Congressman Paul Tonko (NY-20) said. “These educational, historical, and cultural pillars contribute directly to our economy and employ tens of thousands of workers in New York State alone. My congratulations to the Museum Association of New York for earning this well-deserved grant. My team and I work hard to make sure funding awards like this one come through for our region, but we must do more. Our House-passed Heroes Act provides direct and indirect support for our treasured museums and delivers the broader community rescue that we need right now. I will keep fighting for our museums and all of our Main Street institutions to ensure they can continue to educate and inspire students, scholars and all of us in the Capital Region and beyond.”

    “This is an amazing accomplishment for the Museum Association of New York to be one of the 68 projects funded,” said MANY Board President and President of the Long Island Children’s Museum, Suzanne LeBlanc. “What we are about to do for a hundred museums across the state, with this support from IMLS, is far reaching and will make a huge impact on museums and museum professionals in New York State. This will also take us to a new level both regionally and nationally with the museum field.”

    The project will provide partners with hardware, software, and training to develop virtual programs focused on stories from their collections revealing cultural and racial diversity within their communities. Each museum will develop, implement, assess, and revise at least two new programs, resulting in access to two hundred new virtual programs for museums—no matter their geographical location.

    The application for program participation can be found on the MANY website To comply with the need for a rapid response and implementation, the deadline for museums to apply is 5 PM Friday, October 16, 2020.

    # # #

    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. To learn more, visit and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

    About IMLS

    The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's approximately 120,000 libraries and 35,000 museums and related organizations. The agency’s mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Its grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit and follow us onFacebook and Twitter.

  • September 28, 2020 3:45 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Everson Museum of Art, designed by I.M. Pei in 1968

    In April of 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Association of Art Museum Directors relaxed their guidelines for a two year period that will allow museums to deaccession works of art in their collections as long as the proceeds directly support the care of their collections. The Everson Museum of Art relies on funds from its general operating budget to pay for acquisitions, collection care, and rent for two off-site storage facilities. Faced with an estimated 30% decrease in its general operating budget in 2020 due to cuts in funding, lost revenue, and deferred membership renewals, the Everson announced on September 3 that it would put up for auction Jackson Pollock’s Red Composition (1946, oil on Masonite). Funds from the auction of Pollock’s painting (which is estimated to generate between $12M and $18M) will support conservation and restoration of objects in the museum’s current collection and allow the museum to acquire works created by artists of color, women artists, and other underrepresented creators. Elizabeth Dunbar, Executive Director of the Everson Museum of Art stated that “by deaccessioning a single artwork, we can make enormous strides in building a collection that reflects the amazing diversity of our community and ensure that it remains accessible to all for generations to come.”

    The Collection 

    Permanent collection exhibition

    The most valuable and most visited piece of art is the museum building itself, I.M. Pei’s first museum design. Inside, the Everson has roughly 10,000 items in its collection including paintings, video, sculptures, and ceramics. The museum has one of the largest holdings of international ceramics in the nation. About half of the collection is dedicated to ceramics including Adelaide Alsop Robineau’s Scarab Vase, a visitor favorite and widely known as the “Mona Lisa” of ceramics. “In the history of ceramics...she [Robineau] was a pioneering figure and is in every textbook and looms large in the ceramic world,” said Dunbar. 

    Adelaide Alsop Robineau’s Scarab Vase

    The Everson also has nearly 700 American paintings that span two centuries in its collection. Barbara Kruger’s “Who Speaks? Who is Silent” is a monumental work in the Everson's collection that addresses the implication of silence and representation for women. It is highly requested for loans and recently traveled to the LA County Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Tate in London. The sculpture collection is comprised of over 200 works, primarily from the 20th century including Harmony Hammond’s Kong. “It has been in onsite storage and not shown for decades and was in very poor condition because it is so large, has a unique shape, and it hangs on the wall,” said Dunbar. The sculpture is made from cloth, wood, foam rubber, acrylic, gesso, glitter, wax, and charcoal powder. Hammond was a leading figure in the development of the feminist art movement in the early 1970s.

    “We had to send it off for conservation, it needed special mounting, a special crate, and climate control.” In total, the sculpture needed $10,000 of conservation work. The sculpture was recently included in a traveling exhibition organized by the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Connecticut. “Had we not invested in bringing this piece back to life, it would have never been included in this major traveling exhibition.”

    Harmony Hammond’s Kong

    Conservation Costs

    Historically, the Everson has had a very small endowment devoted to the conservation of its collection. “It takes years and years for us to save enough funds in order to do substantial work,” said Dunbar. Grants from Greater Hudson Heritage Network help cover some of the costs, like the conservation for Harmony Hammond’s sculpture, but a majority of the funds come out of the museum’s general operating budget. “We’ve paid for all the conservation, collections care materials, our off site all comes out of our general operating budget...and when general operating budgets are under pressure, especially now during COVID, being able to alleviate some of that pressure and have some funds available for direct care of the collection is huge.” 

    Jackson Pollock’s Red Composition

    Jackson Pollock's Red Composition (1946, oil on Masonite) is offered for sale for between $12 million and $18 million. Photo Courtesy of Christie's

    The decision to deaccession Jackson Pollock’s Red Composition was the result of a much longer process. In 2017, the museum began selecting items from the collection that do not fit the mission and are clearly outside the scope of the museum. “We’ve been looking at the collection holistically and we established our collections priorities plan,” said Dunbar. “Since then we have hired curators who are looking at our collection as a whole and are helping to identify strengths and weaknesses...areas that the museum can strengthen and areas that we are never going to have the capacity to fill or strengthen.” 

    While the museum has been developing this collection priorities plan and working on their exhibition plan, Elizabeth Dunbar had a conversation with Robert Falter, one of the trustees of the Reisman Foundation, a local Syracuse foundation (the Reismans donated the two Pollock’s to the Everson collection). “Bob [Robert] was doing some work on the Pollock paintings that are still in the Reisman Foundation and it got me thinking about doing a new appraisal on our pieces. I started thinking about the Pollock that we barely show because it is a bit of an outlier in terms of the art historical continuum that we have in our collection. We looked at the painting, had it appraised and it turned out to be much more valuable that we initially realized.” Dunbar and Falter began talking about what the Everson could do by deaccessioning this piece. Jackson Pollock’s Red Composition was last loaned for the “Pollock Matters” exhibition at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College and at the Everson in the mid-2000’s. Prior to that, the painting was at the Nassau County Museum of Art as part of a group show in 2000 and was also at the Pollock-Krasner House on Long Island. “We have so little funds for acquisitions and building a collection for our future,” said Dunbar. “This [the sale] would enable us to put some real momentum into collecting and establishing a legacy for the future. It would enable us to offset some of the costs that we were spending on caring for the collection. There have been years and years of delayed maintenance on certain objects in the collection just because the funds have not been available.”

    One of the objects in need of attention is the Henry Moore sculpture that is outside the Everson Museum and was part of I.M. Pei’s original design of the building. “It hasn’t been really cared for in 52 years and it will cost between $25,000 and $30,000 to conserve….if you don’t have deaccession funds available you either use general operating funds or do you want to keep someone employed?” said Dunbar.

    Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 3 by Henry Moore, outside the Everson Museum of Art

    Red Composition is an important painting, but the museum recognized the other factors that led to their decision to deaccession it. “One of which was the financial component to help keep the museum sustainable for the future, but also recognizing our value to the community in terms of equity, diversity, inclusivity, and access,” said Dunbar. “We have been thinking about how these funds could be used to diversify our collection.”

    Building a More Diverse Collection

    In addition to using the funds from the selling of Pollock’s painting, the proceeds will be used to establish a fund for acquiring works created by artists of color, women artists, and other under-represented contemporary and mid-career artists. In the press release to the public on September 3, the Everson stated that the sale of the Pollock will enable the museum to significantly intensify these efforts at a critical time in the nation’s history and when the museum is actively working to address inequality within the institution itself and the community it serves. 

    “When George Floyd was killed, there was outrage in our community. Marches were going by the museum. We’re located in the 15th Ward which is the historically Black neighborhood of Syrcause and over half of our city is non-white and for us not to take a stand seemed unconscionable,” said Dunbar. In June the museum created an Equity Task Force and developed an action statement with a list of goals and shared them publicly with the community to be held accountable. “It was a public way to show our commitment to making change.” Since 2014, the Everson has presented solo exhibitions that feature artists that are 60% white, 26% Black, and 14% people of color and has made acquisitions from 64% white artists, 28% people of color, and 9% Black. The museum curators are already making plans specific to their particular disciplines on works they plan to acquire with the proceeds from the sale. 

    Public Response 

    “There has been criticism in our own community but largely it’s come from a couple of critics on either coast who are not terribly familiar with Syracuse, our community, our museum or our collection and the kinds of programs and activities that we engage in,” said Dunbar reflecting on the national response to the selling of the Pollock painting. Some of the biggest pushback from outside critics is that the community should be funding and supporting diversity initiatives rather than deaccessioning and auctioning off collection items. “First and foremost it’s our community that comes to our museum,” said Dunbar. “They make up 80 to 90% of our audience and when you live in a community that is one of the poorest in New York State and is still recovering from an economic downturn, that’s really hard. That said, 35% of gifts made to the museum in 2019 came from our board of trustees. Our community is supporting the museum and they are stretching to support the museum.”

    Elizabeth Dunbar’s “Ask Elizabeth” email to members answers questions about the deaccessioning process

    Investing in the Future

    None of the funds generated from the sale will support general operations including salary, exhibitions, programming. The goal is to create two endowments for future preservation and for future sustainability of the museum. “To other museums that are contemplating these kinds of difficult decisions, it’s important to look at what is in the best interest in the people that you serve, the best interest of the collection that you maintain, and what’s the best for your staff...and if deaccessioning this painting can be used for the betterment of the museum and ensure that the museum collections were cared for into the future and allow us to continue to evolve and become more reflective of the community, then yes,” said Dunbar.

    To illustrate the importance of having funds designated for new acquisitions, Dunbar went back to the early 1970s to read board minutes following American painter Joan Mitchell’s first solo exhibition at the Everson. “She [Mitchell] offered the museum her painting at a very steep discount to the museum from that show, but the museum did not have the acquisition funds to acquire the piece. So we have no Joan Mitchell in our collection even though we organized her first solo show and we will never be able to buy one of her paintings because now they’re millions of dollars. We want to be able to buy the next Joan Mitchell when we host that exhibition and build our collection for the future. I think that is a testament to where we are today and if we have a little money in our pocket back then, what kind of collection would we have? We are looking forward.”

  • September 28, 2020 3:42 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Since the COVID-19 pandemic, 69% of museums who responded to MANY’s COVID-19 impact surveys located in the Southern Tier reported a loss in public funding and that they were reconsidering their visitor experience (MANY COVID-19 Impact Report Part 1). Facing staff layoffs and significant cuts to earned revenue, the Discovery Center and the Roberson Museum and Science Center in Binghamton are discussing affiliating to create a more sustainable organization and to better serve their community.

    The Roberson Museum and Science Center was founded in 1934 and focuses on art, local history, science and natural history. Contemporary exhibition space was added in the 1960s and 1980s to include a planetarium. 

    Inside the Roberson’s NatureTrek exhibition which opened in February 2018

    The Discovery Center is a 36 year old 22,500 square foot children’s museum with forty interactive exhibits inside and outside, including its award-winning Story Garden.

    The Approach

    Roberson and Discovery Center Board Presidents initially spoke with each other over Zoom to learn more about their  museum’s finances, and share their thoughts about nonprofits in the current landscape. “Despite a tight knit community, our boards did not know each other,” said Discovery Center Executive Director Jessie Stone He. “They had to learn about the inner workings of each positions, staffing, and programming.” The New York Council on Nonprofits was contracted by the museums to facilitate the discussions that will include affiliation models, governance, financials, human resources, real estate, insurances, and strategic communication. The museums then created a volunteer task force. “We have four trustees from each organization and each Executive Director that is meeting weekly and reviewing an agenda that has been set up by NYCON,” said Michael Grasso, Executive Director of the Roberson Museum and Science Center. “Each week the task force does the due diligence on behalf of each board on finances, personnel, governance, and what that would like when we reach a final decision.” Representatives from the task force will make final recommendations to both boards and then the boards will vote on whether to move forward with that recommendation. 

    Affiliation Discussion Timeline

    Weighing the Benefits

    The opportunity to expand current audience demographics is an important benefit for both museums. “The Discovery Center has a maximum age and if we can keep families engaged essentially for their entire lives...from toddler to senior citizen, that significantly benefits the community,” said Grasso. The Discovery Center’s key demographics are toddler up to 12 year olds and Roberson has school programming for pre-k through grade 12, but most of their admissions outside of school groups are 3rd and 4th grade and older. “Part of these affiliation discussions is how can we create a bridge between these two institutions so there’s a continuum of museum lovers,” said Grasso. 

    The consolidation of services to reduce operational costs would be another benefit. This would require the Discovery Center to move to Roberson’s campus. The push for the consolidation of services would help make the vision of a multi-generational, sustainable, and accessible museum a reality. 

    “Roberson has a very long history in terms of museums in Upstate NY,” said Grasso. “We were founded in 1954 as a historic house and since then we’ve grown by tens of thousands of square feet in order to incorporate classrooms, large galleries, performance spaces, and more. Roberson is accustomed to evolution. It’s just part of what we have done for the last sixty years in order to meet the needs of the community.” 

    For the Discovery Center, this potential move could provide greater visibility and increased access for visitors who rely on public transportation. Roberson Museum is located on Front Street, on the main bus routes, and within walking distance to downtown Binghamton. “The Discovery Center is maybe a seven minute drive from the Roberson,” said Stone He. “But it is that much further from the downtown and we are not on a frequent bus route which limits access to our site. It’s one of the things we have received consistent feedback about from local funders on our grant proposals. Funders tell us that we have a great proposal that focuses on providing access to low income families but ask how we are going to get them here.” 

    The Discovery Center would transfer some of its existing exhibitions and also create new ones to meet the current needs of the community. “It’s an opportunity to have a fully updated space but honoring the traditional exhibitions that the community knows,” said Stone He.

    Community Input

    Binghamton’s four major foundations and the local United Way are supporting the study by NYCON regarding the possibility of an affiliation between these two museums.  “We’ve been in conversations with our local foundations from the start,” said Grasso. “NYCON is fully funded to support this conversation.” Grasso commented there has been a growing commitment across the community, especially the foundations, for any of the nonprofits to explore affiliations. “They’re looking at their role in ensuring the longevity of this community and ensuring a healthy community that has cultural resources...and nonprofits that are supporting the needs of the community.” Foundations are in strong support for more of these affiliation explorations to help strengthen nonprofits so that they can better serve the community. 

    “Many of these foundations have a uniform grant application and they always ask about duplication of services indicating that organizations should be striving to collaborate and support each other,” said Stone He. 

    Binghamton’s foundations support affiliation discussions because it will allow more funding to a single organization to create a greater impact. “Private foundations are feeling the pressure,” said Grasso. “They want to support everyone but funding is limited.” In a statement to the Binghamton Homepage on September 14, The Community Foundation for South Central New York Executive Director Diane Brown commented that nonprofits need to think differently in an era of shrinking population and fewer large corporate givers. “If you’ve got a thoughtful, careful board of directors, and I think both [Discovery Center and Roberson] do, and you’re sitting down with a similar organization as yours to discuss the possibility of some sort of affiliation, I think they’re doing exactly the right thing given the current atmosphere,” said Brown.

    The task force is also meeting with elective representatives. “The Discovery Center is located in a city park, so one of the first stakeholders we contacted was the city,” said Stone He. “We are working to make sure our local government is fully aware of what we’re doing as we move forward.”

    “It isn’t a small group of people that are involved in this process,” said Grasso. “We are making sure that we are reaching out to the community and that the community has the opportunity to give feedback and understands why these discussions are happening. These discussions will continue on until we get to a point where we are absolutely certain that an affiliation is the right thing or not the right thing to do.” The museums launched a website for the public that includes a discussion timeline. The website provides more transparency on what exactly is happening, the methods being used, why these talks began, and how an affiliation can meet current community needs. 

    Sustainability for the Future

    “The big overarching word that we keep coming back to is sustainability,” said Stone He. “We want to make sure that both of these organizations are in good shape in twenty years and that they can provide a real benefit to the community.” Stone He and Grasso commented that Binghamton’s population has decreased, private foundations have limited funding sources, and both museums are trying to be reflective of their community as it changes. “We don’t want to be struggling with some of the issues that many nonprofits unfortunately struggle with including staff turnover and cuts to programming,” said Stone He. “The reality is that one larger organization can have a broader impact on the community and economic development.”

    Looking Towards the Future

    Grasso and Stone He agree that the ideal outcome for both organizations is that both of their museums missions are able to continue into the future and become a destination in the region. “One of the vision statements for Roberson has a desire to be internationally recognized for the quality of our exhibits and I think that incorporating the Discovery Center’s skills and exhibitions is a phenomenal way to realize that vision,” said Grasso. 

    “We’re excited to hear feedback from the community. We’re excited to start putting together a proposal for what this could look like and what the benefits are, not just to our organizations but to the community as a whole,” said Grasso. “We’re excited to show the community what we think is going to be a game changer for this region and we look forward to their response to that.”

    Update: On September 25, MANY received an email informing us that Jessie Stone He will be leaving the Discovery Center and weekly affiliation discussions have been temporarily put on hold.

  • September 17, 2020 1:34 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    The Museum Association of New York (MANY) will have open seats on its Board of Directors and invites nominations for those interested in serving a three-year term beginning in April of 2021 and ending in April of 2024.

    MANY Board members engage with the New York museum community and work with colleagues to address the challenges and opportunities for museums in the state. MANY is committed to diversifying its Board by geographic region, museum discipline and budget size, disabilities, skills, race, gender, sexual identity, ethnicity, and age.

    MANY staff and board members meet at various locations around the state at least five times a year with one mandatory meeting during the annual conference. Terms are renewable for a second three years and the length of service may change if nominated to serve in an executive committee capacity. The governance of MANY is vested in a duly-elected Board of Directors with responsibilities and obligations for the custody, control, and direction of MANY property and assets under the auspices of New York State statutes, organizational bylaws, and appropriate federal rules and regulations.

    Members of the Board of Directors

    • Embrace MANY’s mission and advocate for the work of the field and for the organization
    • Promote diversity in programming, membership, staffing, and board representation.
    • Contribute financially to the organization and/or secure donations through a variety of fund development efforts.
    • Join MANY as Organizational Members

    MANY welcomes applications from people who can bring a range of skills and expertise to our statewide association, especially in advocacy, facilities, finance, marketing, and strategic planning. MANY is committed to recruiting and developing board members to sustain a dynamic, innovative, and responsive organization that serves nearly 1,700 museums and heritage organizations in the state’s 62 counties.

    Applicants must be:

    • passionate about MANY’s mission
    • comfortable in leadership positions
    • known for innovation and creativity
    • constructive problem solvers
    • happy to share their expertise with their peers

    Organizational membership, familiarity with MANY programs, and the ways in which the organization serves the field will strengthen a nominee’s application, but are not required.

    To nominate a colleague or yourself, send an application to the Chair of the Nominating Committee, Dr. Georgette Grier-Key via by November 1, 2020

    Click here to access the nomination form as a PDF

    Click here to access the nomination form as a Word Doc

    Applications will be reviewed by the Nominating Committee.

    Selected candidates should expect to participate in an informational discussion with the committee as part of the application review. It is expected that applicants will be familiar with board roles and responsibilities by the time of this discussion.

    The committee will bring nominations for a full board vote at the December 2, 2020 meeting of the Board of Directors and applicants will be notified soon after.

    Nominees approved by the board will put to a vote by the membership in February 2021 in accordance with MANY by-laws.

    We look forward to welcoming new members to MANY's Board of Directors.

  • 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:

    Explore the exhibition online

  • 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.”

The Museum Association of New York strengthens the capacity of New York State’s cultural community by supporting professional standards and organizational development. We provide advocacy, training, and networking opportunities so that museums and museum professionals may better serve their missions and communities.

Museum Association of New York is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization. 

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