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How are museums growing institutional resources? How are museums working with their communities? How are museums using their exhibitions and collections in new ways? Explore original articles by MANY staff about NYS museums. 

What's happening at your museum? Submit your museum news and we might feature you in our next This Month in NYS Museums newsletter!


  • September 30, 2021 9:15 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    The Institute of Museum and Library Services’ Inspire! Grants for Small Museums is a special initiative of the Museums for America program. It is designed to support small museums of all disciplines in project-based efforts to serve the public through exhibitions, educational/interpretive programs, digital learning resources, professional development, community debate and dialogue, audience-focuses studies, and/or collections management, curation, care, and conservation. 

    Projects are expected to focus on a key goal identified in the institution’s strategic plan, reflect a thorough understanding of current practice and knowledge about the subject matter, and generate measurable results. 

    Inspire! Grants has three program categories and goals. Prospective applicants should align their proposed project with one of these three goals and one or more of the associated objectives. 

    Inspire! Project Categories

    Lifelong Learning supports projects that position museums as unique teaching organizations. The goal is to empower people of all ages and backgrounds through experiential and cross-disciplinary learning and discovery. 


    1. Support public programs, adult programs family programs, and early childhood programs

    2. Support exhibitions, interpretation, and digital media

    3. Support in-school and out-of-school programs

    The Reher Center for Immigrant Culture and History was awarded $40,512 to create, pilot, and evaluate field trips and in-class lessons for over 500 2nd and 8th grade students. The Reher Center’s programming will connect students to immigrant experiences form local Mid-Hudson Valley communities, past and present as well as work with educators, teachers, and an evaluator to generate age-appropriate tours and digital lesson plans on the topic of present day and historic immigration in the Hudson River Valley. This will inform the Center’s development of future education programming. 

    Institutional Capacity builds the capacity of small museums to serve their communities by supporting institutional planning and policy development, supporting recruitment, training, and development of museum staff, and supporting technology enhancements. 


    1. Support institutional planning and policy development

    2. Support recruitment, training, and development of museum staff

    3. Support technology enhancements

    The Old Stone House and Washington Park was awarded $20,000 to help expand its permanent exhibition to include a digital component that acknowledges the museum’s presence on Lenape land. The museum will develop, implement, and assess the impact of the digital exhibition and corresponding exhibition programs. 

    Collections Stewardship and Public Access supports the role of museums as trusted stewards of museum collections. This program category focuses on the desire to improve long term collection care. It funds conservation treatments, rehousing projects, cataloging, and increasing collection access via digitization.


    1. Support cataloging, inventorying, and registration; collections information management; and collections planning.

    2. Support conservation and environmental improvement and/or rehousing; conservation surveys; and conservation treatment.

    3. Support database management, digital asset management, and digitization.

    The Cayuga Museum of Art was awarded $50,000 in 2020 to implement “Processing the Past: Digitizing Cayuga County’s Photographic History” which is a comprehensive inventory and digitization project that will complete an unfinished inventory of the museum’s photographic collection of approximately 7,000 still images. The project team will catalog photographs and match them with existing records. The Museum will scan and digitize this collection to maximize the long-term preservation as well as creating a database that allows for increased online access to the collection by researchers and the public.

    Grant amounts are between $5,000 to $50,000 for up to two years and there is no cost share requirement.

    Inspire! Grants for Small Museums uses four performance measures as a basis for understanding how well the grant program is meeting its goals and how individual projects are being managed. 

    Deep Dive–The Whaling Museum & Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor

    Project Category: Lifelong Learning

    The Whaling Museum & Education Center received Inspire! Funding for their Reach! Initiative project that helped the museum expand educational programs to youth in underserved communities on Long Island.  IMLS funding helped the museum reach a new audience and increased community impact.

    This was the first IMLS grant The Whaling Museum has received since 2000. Executive Director Nomi Dayan said that the museum was waiting for the right type of funder for this project.

    “I felt like this worked because when we looked at their priorities it just seemed to align, even though their [IMLS] priorities are broad...they put a spotlight on reaching underserved communities. When I looked at past funded grants to see are they funding exhibits or are they doing more programming and I felt that this project dovetailed with a lot of previous programs that they had funded. I think the biggest change was judging small museums on their own and it makes such a difference,” said The Whaling Museum Executive Director Nomi Dayan.

    Museums for America v. Inspire! Grants for Small Museums

    “For many years we heard anecdotally that IMLS doesn’t support small museums, which isn’t true, but we understand that a lot of museums find it difficult to go through the process of applying for a federal grant,” said Reagan Moore, IMLS Museum Program Officer. “Small museums have been successful with Museums for America but we changed certain aspects of the process to make it the narrative isn’t as long and the cost-share requirements isn’t required like it is in Museums for America.”

    “The cost share difference is a big think,” said Mark Feitly, IMLS Museum Program Officer. “I think places not only had the correct perception that they were too small to receive federal funding but they could not come up with the cost share and that it was too much of a challenge for them. We removed that barrier for them to request IMLS funds. [These institutions] can include staff salaries or whatever for cost share and that’s fine, but it is not required and will not affect their [grant] review in any way.”

    IMLS expected between 100 - 115 applications for the first round of Inspire! grants, but received over 200. They funded 30 totaling more than $1.1 million. This strong response confirmed the need for grant funding opportunities specific to small museums.

    Operating through a national lens, it is difficult for IMLS to define  “small.” A small zoo differs from a historical society -- or a museum in Kansas may differ not only in collection size but in metropolitan area population and demographics  from a museum in New York State with the same physical plant footprint. “We’re asking museums to make the case for why they are small,” said Reagan.

    Museums can use the following attributes:

    • staff size (paid and volunteers)

    • operating budget

    • collection size

    • building/property size

    • audience served

    • size relative to other organizations of similar discipline

    • geographical region

    Small Museum

    “We identify as a small museum...our tagline is Small Museum—Big Story and we’re the smallest whaling museum in the country,” said Executive Director Dayan. The museum also specified their budget size, staff, and collection size. “Our collection is the smallest. We have 6,000 objects and the largest whaling museum has 3 million.” The Whaling Museum also incorporated public perception into their small museum identity. “A lot of our visitors who leave online reviews will write ‘small museum but…’ or ‘this place is small but with a huge knowledge of whaling.’ In half of the online reviews, people mention our size because our physical building is small and people are surprised by how small we are when they come, but there is a lot packed in not only do we think we’re small but that’s the public perception too,” said Dayan.

    Funding Allocations

    IMLS funding can support salaries for those working on the project. This can include existing staff or hiring new staff. A majority of applicants request funds to hire temporary staff for the project. For example, a museum could hire a curator for a two year contract position to help them execute the project.

    Peer reviews will comment on the sustainability for salary costs.

    "Reviewers will ask questions about the hire rate and what will happen to that person when the project is over. Successful applications discuss sustainability to keep that person on staff for as long as necessary," said Moore.

    Other examples of this include travel expenses for key project staff and consultants, equipment to improve collections storage and exhibit environments, staff and volunteer training, publication design and printing, program evaluation, adaptive and/or assistive technologies and other resources and services to improve accessibility for persons with disabilities, and indirect or overhead costs. All proposed expenses must be explained in the budget justification. 

    IMLS does not fund construction costs, general operating expenses, contributions to endowments, the acquisition of collections, general advertising or public relations costs, social activities, ceremonies, receptions, or entertainment, and research projects. 

    Advice from IMLS for First Time Applicants

    “Successful applicants are the ones who have reached out to’s not always the case but those who take the time on the front end to set up conference calls or email us to get feedback are more successful,” Feitly said.

    “We’re happy to help. We can’t read full narratives...but we’re happy to answer as many questions as possible,” said Moore.

    Moore also suggests having someone from outside the museum read through your application. “Often the application will use insider language, museum jargon, and if it gets to the panel stage in review, those reviewers from different disciplines might not understand.”

    IMLS recommends looking at their website, joining a webinar, and reading project descriptions. Reading through other successful applications is also helpful. “If you read a description and there is something that you want to know more about, you can submit a FOIA request, the Freedom of Information Act, using a form on our website to access that information,” Feilty added.

    He commented that the IMLS website is dense but it has a lot of resources. “We’re sharing exactly what we’re asking our reviewers to do in their assessment. You can see at what we’re asking our reviewers to evaluate and incorporate that into your narrative as well.”

    Successful Applicant

    The Whaling Museum focused on a well-rounded project and looked at the needs of the community. Director Dayan was also a peer reviewer for IMLS for three years.

    “I would encourage anyone to do that because it helps you get an insider’s view into the application process. When you read proposals side by side you start to see how applicants write a compelling case whether it’s the language they use or the content and approaches that they are taking," said Dayan.

    Director Dayan added that judging applications improves your writing and grant planning.  Dayan also recommends looking at examples. “Under the Freedom of Information Act you’re allowed to request copies of any funded grant...Don’t go at it alone. Look at what other museums have done successfully and try to use that as inspiration in formatting your own grant.”

    Other advice to a prospective applicant? “Communicating why the project matters and what community need it meets. A stranger will be reading this who has not been to your museum. For me it’s not enough to say kids will learn about whaling history but why it’s important for kids to learn about whaling history,” said Dayan.

    The Whaling Museum connected its strategic plan to the project and cited data. Supporting your narrative with research also strengthens an application.

    “The first thing we do when we have a grant idea is we call and pitch it to the funding organization… ‘is this something that you would fund? How can we strengthen this?’ Reaching out is so important to help you do the best job you can,” said Dayan.

    Other helpful tips?

    • Make sure your application components are consistent

    • Place the narrative questions into your word document when answering

    • Incorporate project impact throughout the narrative

    • Use your supporting documents and help drive the reviewers to your supporting documents

    Further Reading/Resources

    Inspire! Grants for Small Museums

    FY 2021 Notice of Funding Opportunity 

    IMLS Apply for a Grant

    Eligibility Criteria 

    Sample Applications

    NYS IMLS Funding Report

    IMLS Webinars

  • September 01, 2021 9:16 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    The Museum Association of New York (MANY) is seeking museum professionals interested in serving on the Board of Directors for the April 2022 - 2025 term from the Capital, Central, Long Island, Mohawk, New York City, Southern Tier, and Western New York Regions.

    We are committed to diversifying the Board by geographic region, museum discipline and budget size, differing abilities, skills, race, gender, sexual identity, ethnicity, and age. We welcome applications from people who bring a range of skills and expertise.

    Applicants must be passionate about our mission, comfortable in leadership positions, known for innovation and creativity, constructive problem solvers, happy to share expertise with peers, and familiar with MANY programs.

    To nominate a colleague or yourself, send an application to the Chair of the Nominating Committee, Dr. Georgette Grier-Key via by October 15, 2021. To access the nomination form click here.

    Applications will be reviewed by the Nominating Committee and selected candidates should expect to participate in an informational discussion with the committee as part of the application review. The committee will bring nominations for a full board vote at the December 8, 2021 meeting of the Board of Trustees. Applicants will be notified soon after.


    With hope you that you can help us create a Board that reflects all of our state’s museums, 

    Erika Sanger

    Executive Director

  • August 25, 2021 3:15 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    IMLS Building Capacity workshop for NYC museum participants at Fraunces Tavern Museum on August 11. Photo by Alex Cassetti


    Dear Members, Friends and Supporters,

    I was recently in a city that had their bus schedules on scrolling LED boards in their bus shelters. As I waited for my route to be posted, the LED board began flashing on and off with the words “ARRIVAL IS UNPREDICTABLE.” The other folks in the bus shelter gave me side glances as I burst out loud laughing. It seemed a metaphor for my state of mind as I once again masked up to meet the world safely.

    If there is anything that I hope we can take away from the past 18 months of fighting this world health crisis is that we can’t predict what will happen. We can only be as prepared as possible for change and adapt. One of my favorite quotes from the poet Maya Angelou is “You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.” 

    We know where we have been this last year and a half, and I was heartbroken when I had to tie a mask on again. I know I am not alone feeling stuck in a time machine. We continue our plans to gather safely in small groups this fall. We will be wearing masks and will be following protocols set by the museums in which we will be meeting. In NYC, that will require proof of vaccination. 

    We look forward to seeing you in person and gathering safely, with masks, until this pandemic becomes endemic and our lives become a little more predictable.


    With best wishes for the last days for summer,


    Erika Sanger

    Executive Director

  • August 25, 2021 2:36 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Founded in the 1970s by preservationists from across New York State, the primary goal for the Preservation League of NYS was to ensure that preservation had a centralized voice for the entire state. Today, Preserve NYS works with individuals, organizations, and municipalities to support historic preservation projects and strategically invests in rehabilitation projects through two signature grant programs Preserve New York (PNY) and Technical Assistance Grants (TAG). 

    Preserve NYS

    “A big part of our mission is helping to influence policy that ensures that historic preservation always has a seat at the table, especially when it comes to economic development,” said Janna Rudler, Grants and Technical Services Manager. “The League’s mission goes beyond advocacy though… we champion projects that show the essential role of preservation and community revitalization, sustainable economic growth, protection of our historic buildings, and historic landmarks.

    Preserve NYS supports its mission through a number of programs  including technical services, educational programs, outreach, webinars, and working with colleague organizations like municipalities or local preservation groups such as Preservation Association of the Southern Tier (PAST), Preservation Association of Central New York (PACNY), Preservation Buffalo Niagara, and Preservation Long Island. “We work with our colleagues across the state to make sure that they are empowering people in their communities to help save their historic buildings,” said Rudler.

    The Seward House Museum in Auburn, NY received a $10,000 PNY grant in 2019. Photo courtesy of Preservation League of NYS

    There is also an Excellence in Historic Preservation Awards program that highlights projects, organizations, publications, and individuals that exemplify best practices in historic preservation. Awards are considered based on level of statewide significance, impact on underrepresented communities or overlooked history, effective solutions to current preservation issues, degree of difficulty faced, level of impact on the community, region or state, display of collaborative efforts, and design sensitivity to the historic character and fabric of the property. Previous award winners include the Graycliff-Isabelle Martin House, NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Albany Housing Authority’s rehabilitation of houses in Albany’s South End and Arbor Hill neighborhoods, including providing administrative space for the Albany County Historical Association.

    Grant Opportunities

    Preserve New York (PNY)

    Preserve New York provides grant funding for historic structure reports, building condition reports, cultural landscape reports, and cultural resource surveys. Applicants must be a unit of local government or a non-profit organization with tax-exempt status. 

    Grants made provide support for up to 80% of the total project cost; usually between $3,000 and $10,000.

    Technical Assistance Grants (TAG)

    Technical Assistance Grants provide support for consulting projects that will preserve cultural and historic resources. TAG supports professional services including architects, engineers, and other preservation specialists working with non-profit organizations and municipalities to preserve their buildings, structures, and other resources that serve an arts and/or cultural function. 

    Grants are up to $4,000 with a required 20% project cost match. 

    “Both grant programs focus on preservation planning,” said Rudler. “These are grants that help provide technical assistance and guidance on saving buildings. Both grants are intended to pay consultant costs to produce studies that help an organization see its way forward with their building if they’re not sure where to begin.” Rudler also said that these grant programs are helpful to organizations that know that something needs to be restored or preserved but are not sure who to contact. “Preserve NY can provide an architect or engineer that has a preservation background who can ensure any work done will preserve the historic integrity of the building.”

    The Cayuga Museum of History and Art was awarded $3,920 in TAG funding in 2021 for its Willard-Case Mansion and Carriage House roof investigation. Photo courtesy of Preservation League of NYS

    TAG was launched in 2012 to support specific projects that preserve NYS cultural and historic structures. “Our Technical Assistance Grants are a little smaller in terms of awards and they cover discrete projects relating to buildings and looking at specific issues,” said Rudler. “For instance, building condition surveys that look at a particular condition that a building is facing like windows or roofs.”

    Buildings do not have to be listed on the State or National Register of Historic Places to qualify for either grant program but the review panel does consider the architectural and/or historical significance of the building as part of the application evaluation process. 

    Both grants are partnership grants. “Our primary funder for these grants is the New York State Council on the Arts,” said Rudler. “NYSCA partners with us because they want to provide money for historic preservation but they like having the professional, vetting, and oversight that the Preservation League provides.”

    The Preservation League of NYS also received funding from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation to support non-profit organizations on Long Island. “The Gardiner Foundation has supported PNY grants since 2017 but in 2020 they began providing funding for TAG for Long Island.” In addition, TAG also receives support from the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area (Hudson River Greenway). 

    “These preservation planning grants can help leverage larger capital grants down the road,” said Rudler. “For example, if you’re applying to the Environmental Protection Fund or through the NYS Consolidated Funding Application, having a Preservation League grant funded preservation study done first can give you a leg up because the state will see that you have done the preparation. So our grants have helped a lot of organizations. They start with a Preservation League grant and the resulting document and guidance helps them fundraise, apply for other grants, and lends credibility to their project.”

    2021 PNY Grant Recipient–The Science Museum of Long Island’s Norwood House & Carriage House, Photo courtesy of Preservation League of NYS

    In 2021, 32 applicants in 25 counties received a total of $297,996 in Preserve New York grants. Grant funded projects include a historic landscape report at Quarry Farm on the outskirts of Elmira, a building condition report for the Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse Historical Society–built in 1882 and the oldest surviving lighthouse on Lake Ontario, and the Science Museum of Long Island’s Norwood House & Carriage House, and Leeds Pond Preserve. The building condition report helped inform and reorganize building space use, catalyzed preservation and restoration capital projects, and supported their plans to integrate the Leeds Pond Preserve into a museum campus. 

    Advice for Prospective Applicants

    “The first thing that I like to tell people is that our grants are fairly easy to apply to,” said Rudler. “We’re guided by the NYSCA application process but our process is a little more streamlined because these grants are so specific.” Preserve NYS also offers webinars to learn more about what the grants fund, what kind of eligibility is required, and general application tips. There are also a series of help sessions offered over Zoom that provide one on one help. 

    “We really like to provide a lot of support along the way. These grants are often the first grants that an organization applies for because they are the basis for larger grants later on.” Preserve NYS also provides a list of consultants that successfully completed grant-funded projects. “Applicants can access this list and that can help them choose the right consultant, especially if they don’t know where to start.”

    Pre-applications are now open for the 2021 Technical Assistance grants. 

    Pre-application is required to determine eligibility. Please review the TAG grant guidelines before completing the pre-application. 

    Pre-application deadline: Monday, October 11, 2021

    Grant application deadline: Friday, October 15, 2021

    Learn more about the Preservation League of NYS grant opportunities:

    Learn more about previously funded projects: 

  • August 25, 2021 2:33 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    At Watkins Glen, Tim Caza (L) and Dennis Gerber (R) deploy one of the RV Voyager's two side-scan-sonar survey units in preparation for examining the lake bottom in that area.

    Through underwater exploration, The Seneca Lake Archaeological and Bathymetric* Survey Project aims to preserve the history of New York’s Canals. The project uses state of the art equipment to capture never before seen images of intact Canal shipwrecks from the early 19th century discovered in the deepest parts of the lake. 

    This research project is a collaboration between the New York Power Authority, NYS Canal Corporation, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historical Preservation, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, NYS Museum, the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Middlebury College, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, and the Finger Lakes Boating Museum  where it will inform future interpretive plans. 

    The Seneca Lake Archaeological and Bathymetric Survey Project is occurring under permit through the NYS Museum and all remains and artifacts of the vessels discovered are the property of the State of New York.

    *Bathymetry is the measurement of the depth of water in oceans, rivers, or lakes. Bathymetric maps look a lot like topographic maps, which use lines to show the shape and elevation of land features. On topographic maps, the lines connect points of equal elevation. On bathymetric maps, they connect points of equal depth. –National Geographic

    The Project

    Art Cohn is the project’s principal investigator and scholar. He began conducting underwater archaeological surveys on Lake Champlain where he partnered with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. His focus turned to the Erie Canal and the Finger Lakes after working with NYS Canal Corporation and the Corning Museum of Glass’ 2018 GlassBarge project that commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Brooklyn Flint Glass Company relocating to Corning via New York’s waterways in 2018. Cohn and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum invited people aboard the Lois McClure that towed the GlassBarge to learn about what life was like on board a 19th century canal barge.  Cohn also created an educational booklet for the project. This experience ignited his ideas about the Seneca Lake shipwrecks. 

    Survey specialist Tim Caza prepares the Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) to be sent to record a shipwreck in the deep waters of Seneca Lake.  

    “In the booklet that I put together at the request of the Corning Museum of Glass, I teased the shipwreck story… by looking at Seneca Lake and what lies beneath,” said Cohn. “In doing this research we’ve gotten a little glimpse at the amount of activity on the lake.t is hard to appreciate that kind of work today with all the beautiful vineyards, but this was a hardworking canal-related waterway with many canal boats doing the work of today's interstate highways and tractor trailers.” Through his research and experience underwater mapping Lake Champlain, Cohn knew that there were cultural resources submerged in Seneca Lake. “I was convinced that Seneca Lake had the potential to produce a number of early canal shipwrecks and if we hit the grand slam we might even find a packet boat, the missing link in canal boat types archaeologically speaking. The wonderful incentive is that we are in the bicentennial period and the Buffalo Maritime Center is building one using what we know about construction 200 years ago with artwork and descriptions of packet boats for reference. Before now, we had never located an archaeological example.” The discoveries from the project come at the same time as an ongoing State-supported replica construction of the Seneca Chief, Governor DeWitt Clinton’s 1825 Canal packet boat, at Buffalo’s Canalside Longshed Building. On October 26, 1825 Governor Clinton journeyed from Buffalo to New York City on the Seneca Chief carrying two wooden barrels of Lake Erie water. Eight days later, he arrived at New York City and emptied the water into the Atlantic Ocean to marry the waters as a symbol of the importance of this canal.

    The Erie Canal at Salina Street in Syracuse NY c. 1900. Library of Congress 

    Packet boats traveled east and west along the Erie Canal from the Hudson River to the Great Lakes. Even before the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, these passenger carrying packet boats began operating on the newly completed sections of the canal. Packet boats provided a smooth and speedy alternative to the stagecoaches operating on the often rough road systems until railroads began offering passenger service. Most packet boats fell out of use before the invention of photography and most of what is known of their design comes from paintings and illustrations. 

    Expeditions since 2018 have uncovered 17 vessels in their studies of Seneca Lake including what is believed to be the first-ever identified intact remains of a canal packet boat dating back to the early 1800s. “It doesn’t often happen quite that well,” said Cohn. “It’s a great reaffirmation that New York waters contain submerged cultural resources. We as a society need to know that, inventory them, protect them, learn from them, and preserve them for the next generation.”

    Finger Lakes Boating Museum

    The project originally included the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, but as the dynamics of the project shifted towards Seneca Lake and the Finger Lakes region, Cohn began thinking about where he wanted to center this phase “Where do we want to interpret what we find, where would you want to build the education programs, where would you want to start the exhibition design and it’s a Finger Lakes project,” said Cohn. Cohn searched for a Finger Lakes museum partner. 

    Outside the Finger Lakes Boating Museum in Hammondsport, NY

    “Art Cohn came to the museum a couple of years ago to give a talk about his underwater studies and told me that he was planning on relocating to the Finger Lakes region to start mapping underwater wrecks,” said Finger Lakes Boating Museum Executive Director Andrew Tompkins. The Finger Lakes Boating Museum agreed to serve as the administrative hub and fiscal sponsor for the survey project.

    The Finger Lakes Boating Museum has over 200 boats in their collection built in the region   between the early 1900s to the 1960s. The museum moved into the historic former Taylor Wine Company just outside the village of Hammondsport in 2014, to a 14 acre campus with 18 buildings. Tompkins saw this partnership as an opportunity for the museum to expand its interpretation.

    “Cohn brings a lot of expertise and this would be a completely different aspect to our museum,” said Tompkins. “It would help us expand from just pleasure crafts as well as bringing recognition to our museum. This research could bring in an entirely new thing about boating in the Finger Lakes for our museum to interpret in terms of these underwater wrecks and the underwater canal boats,” said Tompkins. “It’s something we’ve never really focused on before. The museum has a steam boat room where we interpret how steamboats pulled canal boats into the canal system but we’ve never really focused on canal boats.” Tompkins noted that there just aren’t a lot of canal boats left anymore. “What we have are small, hand built, scaled models. So to be part of this project is so important.” In addition to being the project’s administrative hub and fiscal sponsor, the Finger Lakes Boating Museum will also house the space to interpret the project. 

    Inside the Finger Lakes Boating Museum

    “I was impressed with the level of enthusiasm at the Finger Lakes Boating Museum,” said Cohn. “They’re kind of an up and coming museum and are doing the hard work to make the museum sustainable and looking towards the future.” Tompkins is the only paid full time staff person at the museum, but is working with the museum’s board to develop a plan on what kind of staff will be needed to accomplish these goals. The museum is also looking at plans and ideas of how the museum campus will look in the future. Some buildings are already undergoing renovation including a new visitor’s center that is expected to open next spring. Tompkins envisions that at least one building will be devoted to the project.

    “We’re on board to help Art and this project and are excited to bring more recognition to the museum and bring a whole new aspect to our interpretation.” 

    NYS Canal Corporation and the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor

    One key goal of this project is to use the discoveries made during this exploration to enhance future curriculum and educational material for students learning about the Erie Canal and the State’s Canal system. 

    The NYS Canal Corporation in partnership with the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor hopes to develop a series of educational resources working with teachers from school districts throughout the Finger Lakes region for NYS teachers and students in grades 6-12.

    “This is an exciting moment in the storied history of our State’s Canal system as we discover and further document these new artifacts,” said NYS Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton. “The underwater research done in Seneca Lake will educate future generations and will also entice travelers to visit the Canal system to experience it for what it really is – a scenic waterway that tells the story of how New York emerged as the Empire State, and how our nation’s westward expansion was made possible.”

    “This collaborative effort is another example of how our extraordinary Canal heritage continues to be part of understanding and solving today’s challenges,” said Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Executive Director Bob Radliff. “We are excited to partner with the New York Power Authority, Canal Corporation, and Art Cohn and his research team, along with numerous Finger Lakes schools, to develop Next Generation learning opportunities.” 


    Researchers will continue their work through this fall and in the years ahead on Cayuga and Keuka Lakes. Cohn’s findings will help teach the public about the Erie Canal’s past during its bicentennial celebration that runs through 2025. The discovered vessels, many covered in zebra mussels, are described by Cohn as time capsules and informers of the past. “If you don’t share it with the public then you’re not doing your job,” said Cohn. “A big part of my job is to figure out  the many different ways I can make this information available.” Cohn’s findings are already being shared at free public lectures throughout the Finger Lakes this summer and at the Finger Lakes Boating Museum and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. 

    For Cohn and this project, partnerships have been essential. “The more ways we can develop the information that can be utilized by organizations and institutions to help share a body of knowledge with the public then we’re going to do that as best we can.”

    Learn more about this project: 

    Learn more about the Finger Lakes Boating Museum:
  • August 25, 2021 2:30 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Hart Cluett Museum was one of ten museums selected from across the nation to participate in the Smithsonian Institute Traveling Exhibition Services’ (SITES) pilot program for “The Way We Worked” exhibition. The Museum collaborated with the Smithsonian Institution to develop a unique humanities-based exhibition about local work history. SITES had two goals for this pilot program, to exhibit more of their collections in the wider community and to lower the barrier for smaller museums interested in participating in SITES. Hart Cluett used this pilot program to change the way it developed exhibitions and center their social media around storytelling. 

    Opening exhibition panel for the Smithsonian Institute Traveling Exhibition Services’ “The Way We Worked.”


    Hart Cluett was the only museum in New York State selected for this collaborative pilot program. The museum applied in late July/early August in 2019, received notice of participation in September, and the exhibition opened to the public on February 28, 2020.

    The museum raised $130,000 to support additional programs, pay for the cost of the panel production, repainting of the gallery spaces, for new cases, and to increase staff time.

    “The Smithsonian had a basic script that had been used within their institution,” said Stacy Pomeroy Draper, Curator at the Hart Cluett Museum. “So they had a template, they had text, they had a concept but the concept for this pilot program was to allow the participating museums to tailor it to tell their story. The topic of “work” was easy to work with, especially since it has evolved rapidly in the last 18 months.”

    The Smithsonian provided the museum with Adobe inDesign software for graphics in order to customize the panels in order to switch out text and images. “Everything had to be approved by the Smithsonian, which was not the way we usually work,” said Draper. “Here in a small institution, yes we sometimes do collaborative projects, but often it tends just to be me and I think that’s pretty typical of small museum staff.” For Draper and museum staff, this added time to the overall exhibition process and a logistical change. The museum provided feedback to the SITES throughout.

    The Way We Worked

    “The Way We Worked” was adapted from an exhibition originally developed by the National Archives that explored how work became such a central element in American culture. It traced the many changes that affected the workforce and work environments over the past 150 years. 

    The Smithsonian did not send any physical artifacts but provided between 80-85 digital panels to be used by Hart Cluett. “We made the decision early on not to use every panel from the Smithsonian but we used the majority of them,” said Draper. “We also didn’t change every panel but we did add text to most of them in order to focus the content around Rensselaer County.” Hart Cluett included historical images, art, artifacts, and oral histories from their collection.

    The Hart Cluett Museum incorporated a number of artifacts from their collection into the exhibition. 

    The exhibition is divided into four sections: “Where We Work,” “How We Work,” “Who Works?” and “Why We Work.” It covers just over two centuries and showcases early technological advances in agriculture, trade, detachable collars, and iron and steel manufacturing. 

    “We included historic clothing to help tell individual stories of working whether it was a military or nurse uniform. The clothing stood in for people and topics,” said Draper. “I think the thing that we are still tackling is how work has changed.” Draper got approval from the Smithsonian to change one of the panels regarding home versus office work. “It was so ironic that work was the topic but it was the perfect example of how work evolves and why it evolves, not just because of the pandemic but because of the role of technology.” An advisory panel consisting of more than two dozen area professionals from widely different regional workplaces provided a contemporary perspective on the ever changing nature of work. The panel included experts with backgrounds in technology, construction, agriculture, education, and workforce development. 

    “I think this exhibition is special in comparison to a lot of our other exhibitions because it is really personal,” said Samantha Mahoski, Assistant Curator and Outreach Coordinator. “Everyone works in one way or another so to see the police uniform or the nurse uniform you can see people you know and that makes this exhibition personable in ways that other exhibitions haven’t.”

    Going Digital

    One of the challenges for Hart Cluett and this pilot program was that the museum shut down on March 12, 2021 in response to the pandemic, only two weeks after the exhibition opened to the public. “Even before COVID, we had a conversation about creating something digital that would be interactive and a new way to look at the exhibit that was beyond the physical space,” said Mahoski. “Once COVID started, it became evident that we needed something to keep people engaged because we had spent the last six months promoting it and we were excited to to share this with people.” With the permission of the Smithsonian, Mahoski created an Instagram account, @the_wayweworked, that was entirely dedicated to the exhibition. Mahoski needed to create a social media plan for the Smithsonian to review and approve where she outlined the account’s purpose, its goals, and an overview of what would be posted. 

    Images from @the_wayweworked Instagram feed

    “It was fun to walk through the process of creating this Instagram account with the Smithsonian,” said Mahoski. “We wanted this to be fun and engaging because social media should be fun and engaging. We wanted to highlight things that you wouldn’t see at a surface level as another way to present the material and the process because people were interested in behind the scenes, documenting what we were doing.” Despite the challenges caused by the pandemic, the museum took it as an opportunity to review their own social media plan. “It forced me to think about what is the point [for the museum’s social media channels] and what are we trying to do,” said Mahoski. 

    Other Challenges

    For this exhibition, the Smithsonian looked at a 150 year time frame. “One of the very first things that we requested was to increase the time frame  to 225 years which corresponds to the founding of our county,” said Draper. “This also made it a challenge because it is such a broad swath of storytelling.” 

    Hart Cluett planned on tackling this challenge with more focused programming, but have not been able to implement the plans because of the pandemic. The @the_wayweworked Instagram account helps the museum go beyond the images and panel text and into more detail. “It takes the place of, in essence, a gallery guide which we would normally do,” said Draper. 

    Moving Forward

    The museum hopes to resume its in-person programming for this fall. “We have a series of behind the scenes tours throughout the county showcasing different work environments as well as lectures, and more,” said Draper. The Smithsonian extended the exhibition through the end of 2021. Hart Cluett has the rights to their own version of the exhibition for 5 years. “Even though the exhibition isn’t going to be up for 5 years, we can take a component of it or move it to another venue.” Currently the museum is working on their schedule with the next exhibition focusing on agriculture. 

    “The direct connection to the present is really clear in ‘The Way We Work’ exhibition,” said Draper. “We’re trying to continue to do that because it helps people understand and gives them something to connect with.”

    Learn more about Hart Cluett’s “The Way We Worked” exhibition:

    Follow @the_wayweworked on Instagram:

    Learn more about SITES:
  • July 27, 2021 7:52 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Click here to watch the video

    With no gallery space and its building closed to the public, the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts at St. Bonaventure University created a virtual studio space and worked with teachers to connect students to art. Assistant Curator and Museum Educator Sean Conklin provided hybrid asynchronous days for teachers using digital tools and providing pickup and drop off art supplies. Using an artwork not normally accessible to the public, Faith Ringgold’s Sunflower: Quilting Bee at Arles, the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts partnered with the African American Center for Cultural Development in Olean, NY in a virtual object based learning activity for sixth grade students to better understand the prominence of quilts in Black art and culture by making their own story quilt. 

    The Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts is one of 98 museums across NYS participating in MANY’s “Building “Building Capacity, Creating Sustainability, Growing Accessibility”, an IMLS CARES Act grant project designed to help museums impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic share their collections and reach audiences who cannot physically visit their museums.

    This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

    Learn more about “Building Capacity”:

    Learn more about the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts:

  • July 27, 2021 6:32 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Glacial Erratic Trail, Settlement Quarry, Stonington, ME*

    Dear Members, Friends and Supporters,

    From March 22 to April 26, 2021, MANY gathered data on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on NY’s museums. The report that we will publish later this fall will paint a picture of a field grappling with tremendous change. Like the way glaciers deposited boulders from afar onto the granite ledges of the Maine coast 16,000 years ago, COVID-19 dropped into our society and caused us all to change direction. 

    More than 80% of respondents agreed that the pandemic will make a lasting impact on the way their museums operate and serve audiences. Respondents shared that their museums are looking for post-pandemic pathways to financial stability, routes to advance relationships with their communities, and steps to create healthier institutions. 

    As we emerge from the pandemic and people begin to feel safe to gather, I know museums are looking forward to welcoming visitors. Although we are seeing tremendous potential for growth and transformation on the horizon, the problem of how museums will achieve sustainability is keeping me awake long past moonrise. 

    • With limited time and money, how do we create success and connect it to social value? 

    • How do we create new spaces and structures that work for everybody, and not just part of the population? 

    • How do we center the voices of people from historically underrepresented and marginalized communities? 

    • How do we redefine our needs to our constituents, legislators, funders, and donors so that museums can be seen as truly essential partners? 

    I believe our long-term success will be connected to the ways in which we keep our learnings from 2020 relevant. I also believe that museums should not have to choose between financial stability and social engagement. Some answers will lie in the ways we build capacity and embrace change. Earlier this year, the Institute of Museum and Library Services published the report Market Analysis and Opportunity Assessment of Museum Capacity Building Programs. It has been my touchstone as we seek ways to leverage MANY’s strengths to support and sustain New York’s Museums. I wouldn’t call it summer beach reading, but in its pages you may find inspiration and the beginning of a new path forward.

    With thanks for your support,

    Erika Sanger

    *Stonington, Maine was settled on the traditional lands of the people of the Penobscot Nation, members of the Wabanaki Confederacy, who have stewarded the land for generations. I respect the traditional values of these Tribes and affirm their inherent sovereignty in this territory. I support their efforts for land and water protection and restoration, and for cultural healing and recovery.  

  • July 27, 2021 6:30 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Fifty three New York State museums and cultural institutions received federal COVID-19 relief through the Shuttered Venue Operating Grants (SVOG) program of the Small Business Administration, totaling just under $115 million. 

    • Battle of Plattsburgh Association, North Country – $4,825

    • Cobblestone Society, Finger Lakes – $6,884

    • Iroquois Indian Museum, Mohawk Valley – $18,598

    • Council for the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, Inc., Long Island – $19,990

    • Whitehall Skene Manor Preservation, Inc., North Country – $22,588

    • Casa Belvedere, The Italian Cultural Foundation, NYC – $23,578

    • Garibaldi-Meucci Museum, NYC – $46,413

    • Southern Tier Zoological Society, Inc, Southern Tier – $51,043

    • Children’s Museum of HIstory, Natural History & Science, Mohawk Valley – $50,050

    • Chinatown Soup, Inc., NYC – $53,249

    • Irish American Heritage Museum, Capital Region – $55,051

    • Boscobel Restoration, Inc., Mid-Hudson – $71,798

    • The Children’s Museum of Science and Technology, Capital Region – $73,639

    • Staten Island Zoological Society, NYC – $79,554

    • Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling, NYC – $80,412 

    • George Eastman Museum, Finger Lakes – $94,467

    • The Hyde Collection Trust, Capital Region – $102,384

    • Brooklyn Children’s Museum, NYC – $103,860

    • Tesla Science Center at Wardencly, Long Island – $130,859

    • Roberson Museum and Science Center, Southern Tier – $155,575

    • Museum of the City of New York, NYC – $170,990

    • Staten Island Children’s Museum, NYC – $174,263

    • The Children’s Museum of Oswego,Central NY – $175,874

    • Ukrainian Institute of America, NYC – $203,809

    • Discovery Center of Science & Technology, Southern Tier– $217,842

    • Jewish Children’s Museum, NYC – $221,888

    • Utica Zoological Society, Mohawk Valley – $272,931

    • September 11th Widows and Victims Families Association, NYC – $370,181

    • Rochester Museum & Science Center, Southern Tier – $441,228

    • Schenectady Museum Association, Capital Region – $455,514

    • American Museum of the Moving Image, Long Island – $547,029

    • Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks (The Wild Center), North Country – $570,020

    • National Comedy Center, Inc., Western NY – $573,442

    • National Comedy Center Operator, Western NY – $598,237

    • Cradle of Aviation Museum, Long Island – $661,234

    • Long Island Children’s Museum, Long Island – $779,003

    • Niagara Aquarium Foundation, Western NY – $1,028,316

    • Museum of Arts and Design, NYC – $1,108,912

    • New-York Historical Society, NYC – 1,239,515

    • The Asia Society, NYC – $1,434,803

    • Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum (Strong National Museum of Play), Finger Lakes – $2,238,217

    • Lower East Side Tenement Museum, NYC – $2,245,142

    • National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum, Mohawk Valley –$4,728,163

    • The Corning Museum of Glass, Southern Tier – $5,549,553

    • Intrepid Museum Foundation, NYC – $8,000,000

    • Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, NYC – $9,740,702

    • New York Botanical Garden, NYC – $10,000,000

    • Wildlife Conservation Society, NYC – $10,000,000

    • American Museum of Natural History, NYC – $10,000,000

    • Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC – $10,000,000

    • The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, NYC – $10,000,000

    • Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC – $10,000,000

    The SVOG program was created by the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Business, Nonprofits, and Venues and was signed into law in late December, 2020. It appropriated $15 billion to the SVOG program, which received another $1.25 billion after the American Rescue Plan Act was signed into law on March 11, 2021. SVOG funds can be used for salary support, rent and utility payments, administrative costs, and other expenses including maintenance costs. Grants were based on organization size, budget, and past COVID-19 related Federal support. 

    The Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY received $5.5 million in SVOG funding

    “The Corning Museum of Glass is grateful to receive relief funding from the federal Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program,” said Karol Wight, President and Executive Director. “Like our peer institutions, the Museum was hard hit by the COVID-19 closure last spring, and our full recovery from significant financial loss will take time. We tell the story of a single, transformative material—glass—and inspire people to see the power and potential of glass in an entirely new light. Federal funding programs like the SVOG recognize that same power and potential in cultural institutions, allowing us to not only survive current circumstances, but thrive into the future. Special thanks to Senator Schumer who championed this relief funding, recognizing the important role museums, in particular, play in New York State and across the country in preserving the past and in enriching lives in the present.” 

    “We are grateful for the federal government’s key support of cultural institutions and museums through the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program,” said Steve Dubnik, president and CEO of The Strong in Rochester. “With reduced attendance revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these critical funds allow us to maintain our building and collections, pay fixed facility costs, support payroll for our talented staff, and continue to carry out our important mission of preserving the history of play.”

    Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (far left) with Michael Grasso, Executive Director of the Roberson Museum and Science Center (far right) at a press conference in Binghamton NY highlighting the success of vaccinations in New York along with the COVID relief package. The Roberson Museum and Science Center received just over $155,000 in funding. 

    The Roberson Museum and Science Center in the Southern Tier plans to use some of its SVOG funding to support staff salaries. “This relief from the federal government alleviates some of the stress and losses from having been closed or under reduced capacity for most of 2020,” said Michael Grasso, Executive Director of the Roberson Museum and Science Center. “This infusion of funds will be directed to paying staff salaries and health insurance so we can continue to delight and educate our community with exhibitions in art, history, and science. A special thank you to Majority Leader Schumer who fought for museum inclusion in this critical legislation."

    “The Irish American Heritage Museum is delighted to receive funding from the SVOG,” said Dr. Elizabeth Stack, Executive Director of the Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany. “The Pandemic taught us that we need to be flexible and creative in how the museum presents its offerings, so we will use the money to invest in our digital presence and film some of our exhibits so that we can offer a virtual museum experience to followers...After almost a year of being closed, receiving the SVOG means that we are truly excited about the possibilities ahead of us, because we have the potential now to grow what we are instead of simply sustaining what we were. It really is an investment in the future of the museum and one for which we are extremely grateful.”

    The Wild Center 

    In the North County, The Wild Center received just over half a million in SVOG funding. "The Wild Center is grateful and truly relieved to receive the SVOG COVID Relief funding from the federal government,” said Hillarie Logan-Dechene, Deputy Director of The Wild Center. “It will be well used to continue to employ our amazing staff, replace some of the lost earned revenue from the mandatory closure last year and our curtailed operations during COVID. It has been a tough 15 months and this funding helps The Wild Center continue to connect people and nature while keeping our staff and community safe, as well as help the regional economy recover."

    The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, which reopened to the public last September, received $10 million. “We are beyond thrilled to receive this funding and recognition of our value to the community. We, along with every cultural organization, have lost millions,’ said Susan Marenoff-Zausner, President of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. “To receive this grant is to secure a pathway to continued viability and sustainability to be open and welcoming to all New Yorkers and all those from around the world.”

    The relief funding comes almost 16 months after Congress approved the SVOG program. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) led the effort to include museums in the SVOG and a bipartisan coalition of Senators led by the initial sponsors of the SVOG program (formerly known as the “Save Our Stages” Act)–Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Cornyn (R-TX).  New York’s museums are especially grateful for Senator Schumer’s support of our sector. Erika Sanger, MANY’s Executive Director was honored to present Senate Schumer the well-earned 2020 Museum Advocacy Award on behalf of the American Alliance of Museums. 

  • July 27, 2021 6:23 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    When the Smithsonian Institution launched Open Access in February 2020, copyright restrictions were removed from millions of digital collection images and nearly two centuries of data. Since then, creatives, researchers, and collaborators from around the world have downloaded, transformed, and re-shared this content for any purpose free, and without restriction. Supported by Verizon 5G Labs, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s Interaction Lab recently launched “Activating Smithsonian Open Access” (ASOA), an open call for designers to submit new digital interactions and innovative tools that enable play and discovery with the Smithsonian’s Open Access collections. Cooper Hewitt hopes to identify compelling projects that the Interaction Lab might explore for wider use across the Smithsonian in the future.

    Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum located on Museum Mile, NYC

    Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

    Cooper Hewitt’s design collection contains over 215,000 objects that span thirty centuries. Over 95% of that collection is digitized and available online through the Museum’s collection portal. On-site visitors can interact with the collection through dedicated exhibitions installed on the Museum’s second floor. This exhibition series called “Selects,” invites a guest curator to explore a theme or tell a story using works in the permanent collection. “Since the Museum reopened in 2014, Cooper Hewitt has offered the opportunity to play with digital collections on-site by using one of our multi-touch digital tables, and playing with wall coverings in the projection-based “Immersion Room,” said Rachel Ginsberg, Interaction Lab Director. “In addition to museum visits, students and educators may encounter the museum’s collection through the growing Smithsonian Learning Lab collection, which provides teaching tools for educators and caregivers, and free virtual Design Field Trips for K-12 students across the country, which explore the design process and build connections to Cooper Hewitt’s collection.”

    Cooper Hewitt’s “The Pen” offers visitors “collect” and “save” objects from around the galleries and explore more of the online collections database

    Interaction Lab

    Launched in 2019, the Interaction Lab is a research and development program, or as Cooper Hewitt calls it, “a lab without walls.” It is focused on visitor experience that’s closely related to Cooper Hewitt’s mission as the Smithsonian Design Museum. “By convening, experimenting and co-creating with museum practitioners, the design community, and the public, we’re reimagining the Cooper Hewitt experience and exploring futures for museum experience broadl,” said Ginsberg. The Lab’s work falls roughly into four interconnected areas: visitor experience research, thought leadership, design commissions, partnerships (for research and prototyping), and public programming. 

    “In our research and thought leadership work, provocations originate from the Interaction Lab, but we conduct the work in collaboration with others,” said Ginsberg. Cooper Hewitt’s recent publication Tools and Approaches for Transforming Museum Experience was co-authored by a diverse group of museum practitioners working across visitor experience. “Sometimes a program will cross multiple areas, like Activating Smithsonian Open Access,” said Ginsberg. “That’s a partnership with Verizon 5G Labs that is also a commissioning program. Public programming for the Interaction Lab is connected to everything we do.” 

    Cooper Hewitt’s initial goal for the Interaction Lab was to explore the future of the Museum experience. Cooper Hewitt spent the first year of the Lab’s existence mapping opportunities in the museum to understand how best to invest in staff time and resources. “Early in the process, we established values that would drive our work–that it would be cross-disciplinary, collaborative, and as transparent as possible,” said Ginsberg. “We would build on our identity as a design museum by inviting people into our own design process to think and learn with us.”

    Activating Smithsonian Open Access 

    Working with Verizon 5G Labs, Cooper Hewitt opened a call for designers, technology teams, creators, etc. to submit proposals to stimulate new ideas for digital interactions with the more than 3 million objects in the Smithsonian’s Open Access collections. 

    Each project must include an audience objective, offer wide access for both the technology platform and collections accessibility. Finalists present their prototypes to the Smithsonian and Verizon, and in virtual programs to the public. 

    “We believe that creative commissioning has a tremendous amount of potential for museums and other cultural sector institutions,” said Ginsberg. “Taking this kind of approach has been central to the Lab’s strategy since the start and we are thrilled to have been able to focus on such a compelling dataset as Smithsonian Open Access.” 


    Cooper Hewitt’s Interaction Lab is specifically interested in tools that focus on 2D images from their Open Access collections. “We launched the open call with a very specific creative brief that specified the kinds of interactions we were interested in receiving from the teams,” said Ginsberg. “In particular, we wanted people to propose ways to engage with collections that moved beyond what we described as a ‘passive looking experience.” Smithsonian Open Access is an astonishing dataset that contains a tremendous range of materials. We felt strongly about wanting to present experiences that explore a diverse range of thought and an approach capable of reaching as wide a range of people as possible.”

    As part of their creative brief, Cooper Hewitt highlighted seven focus areas for ASOA proposals: 


    Analyze and synthesize data from collections to draw conclusions or offer insights about the objects contained therein


    Devise new modes of digital display for collections that offer compelling experiences in two- and three-dimensions, e.g. augmented reality, animation


    Create context around objects by placing them in new environments

    Creative Alteration

    Tools that let users remix/alter objects, and/or considers objects as raw materials to build other kinds of interactions

    Enhances Storytelling Capability

    Creates focused narratives around an individual object or series of objects.


    Increase the accessibility of Open Access collections for people with various physical and cognitive abilities. For example, integrating audio and visual descriptions; building multimodal interactions; or creating teaching tools with collections to engage those who benefit from different modalities

    Play with Smithsonian Web Components

    Expand and improve upon the Smithsonian’s open-source collection of web components, called Voyager. Voyager Story is the Smithsonian’s Open Source 3D Storytelling platform. It enables curators and other experts to create educational experiences around 3D objects by adding text, images, and tours. Since its creation, its components have been expanded to support advanced features like AR and more. 

    Cooper Hewitt’s goals for the process of commissioning include introducing new ideas to the museum, supporting the creation of compelling interactions with digital collections, and sharing the design stories behind their creation. “We’ll be publishing those as a series of blog posts written by ASOA teams in the weeks following our launch,” said Ginsberg. “We’ve also been able to collaborate with a wide range of practitioners from across the Smithsonian through this program and are looking forward to exploring future opportunities for these seven projects in other areas of the Institution.” 

    The Finalists

    Seven teams were commissioned by Cooper Hewitt’s Interaction Lab to develop new digital interactions and innovative tools. Teams received $10,000 each and will have ten weeks to create their project. The Smithsonian, Verizon, and industry experts will provide mentorship throughout and all teams will own their intellectual property that they create during the project.

    “We’ve supported the creation of a truly diverse range of talented people and projects,” said Ginsberg. “It was our ambition to demonstrate a programmatic approach that could generate projects of real value to the creators and also to the Museum. We felt like we’ve accomplished that and are truly excited to see what comes next.”

    Presenting the prototypes, the seven finalists for Activating Smithsonian Open Access


    A data visualization tool that offers users a novel way to browse and learn about Smithsonian Open Access collections by analyzing visual characteristics of the dataset and compiling images into various configurations of clock interfaces.

    TEAM: Zander Brimijoin, Daniel Scheibel, Greg Schomburg, Erin Stowell,  Lisa Walters, Jiwon Ham


    A web based acoustic VR experience that reveals the acoustic attributes of 3D objects in the Smithsonian’s Open Access collections. Though created primarily for the blind and low vision community, the platform offers another way for all people to experience 3D objects.

    TEAM: John Roach,  Zhizhen (Jerry) Tan, Thomas Tajo


    This experience will render 2D images of butterflies from Smithsonian Open Access collections into 3D format that invites users to learn more, while offering a delightful augmented reality interaction.

    TEAM: Jonathan Lee, Miriam Langer, Rianne Trujillo, Lauren Addario


    Marrying physical and digital space, Doorways connects users to augmented reality experiences with Open Access collections out in the world featuring specific historical periods or events.

    TEAM: Abigail Honor, Jean-Pierre Dufresne, Angelo Calilap, Gevorg Manukyan, Yan Vizinberg, Chris Cooper and Alex Robete


    Democratize access to art and inspire conversations about ownership and digital repatriation by transforming 2D images of Open Access African art objects into 3D assets to be used in social AR experiences and other open-source projects.

    TEAM: Mayowa Tomori, Olu Gbadegbo, and Olivia Cueva


    A collaborative VR game where users search for objects selected from the Smithsonian’s Open Access dataset within an immersive environment and learn more about each object and its history.

    TEAM: Jackie Lee, Ph.D, Yen-Ling Kuo, Caitlin Krause


    As users write in this web-based creative tool, it identifies keywords in the writing, and dynamically generates visual narratives from  Smithsonian Open Access collections to accompany essays, research, poetry and more.

    TEAM: Jono Brandel, Sunny Oh, Hiroaki Yamane

    Surprises and Challenges

    “This has been an incredible program to put on, but building and managing it was a complex task,” said Ginsberg. “This kind of open call approach isn’t common to the Smithsonian, so it took a lot of coordination among quite a large group of people to ensure that we were adhering to Smithsonian guidelines, and supporting our cohort in creating exciting work that would connect Cooper Hewitt and the Smithsonian to people all over the world. That said, I am tremendously thankful to have thoughtful, dedicated colleagues at Cooper Hewitt, throughout the Smithsonian, and supportive counterparts at Verizon 5G Labs. ASOA is the result of many people working behind the scenes to make sure the pieces fit together.”

    Future Casting

    After the first year devoted to discovery and a second year of adjustment due to the pandemic, Cooper Hewitt hopes that year three will be full of shared exploration, design opportunities, and exciting releases. “Our plans are focused on building on what we know is working–convening diverse groups of practitioners and the public for thoughtful discussion, co-creative research and prototyping, building dynamic partnerships with like-minded organizations and individuals, issuing provocations about the future of the museum sector, and collaborating with the design community on a reimagined Cooper Hewitt experience that considers how we work alongside what we make,” said Ginsberg. 

    On Tuesday, August 3 at 2 PM, Cooper Hewitt will present the prototypes from the seven finalists as part of a demo day in an hour-long webinar. The webinar is free and open to the public where finalists will share more details about their projects. Following the webinar, the prototypes will be available to the public for experimentation and exploration. 

    “Our creators are a dedicated and hardworking group of people, all bringing very different ways of thinking about digital experience powered by museum collections,” said Ginsberg. “Being able to demonstrate those ideas with working prototypes really changes the conversation about the future of projects like these at Cooper Hewitt and across the Smithsonian.”

    Learn more about Cooper Hewitt’s Interaction Lab–Activating Smithsonian Open Access:

    Register for “Presenting the Prototypes: Demo Say with Activating Smithsonian Open Access” webinar on August 3:

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