by Clara Rice, JRA
On May 18, over 3,000 museum professionals convened via laptops, tablets, and mobile phones for the American Alliance of Museums’ Virtual Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo. While the Association and the conference attendees would have preferred to convene in person as they have for the past 113 years, this inaugural virtual conference offered great value to participants in the form of a dynamic welcome address, informative sessions, and online exhibitor booths.
This opening day of the conference, which continues June 1-4, coincided with International Museum Day, and throughout the sessions, a common theme emerged: museums are in a unique position to create positive change not only in their immediate communities, but also in the global community. Although COVID-19 has brought devastating economic challenges for museums, it has also brought opportunity: the opportunity to embrace new ideas, take risks, and boldly transform their business models.
“Conversation, Inspiration, and Community” – The Necessities of a Changed World
The general session began with remarks from AAM President & CEO Laura Lott and included the reveal of what the Alliance calls its own COVID-19 “CARES Act”:
Lott concluded her address by expressing her gratitude for AAM’s staff, board, members and supporters: “our museum field is connected like never before, and it will take cross-continental solidarity, leadership, and cooperation to tackle this worldwide crisis and emerge a stronger global museum field.”
Engaging in Radical Re-Imagining
The general session continued with an impromptu performance and welcome by Tamar Greene, Broadway cast member of the Tony Award winning musical, Hamilton. Then Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, President & National Chair of the National Council of Negro Woman, Inc. and Special Council on Strategic Initiatives at the Baltimore Museum of Art, offered an inspiring address exploring the conference’s theme of “Radical Re-Imagining.” After extending participants a “virtual hug,” she applauded museum professionals on their shared values – from “igniting a range of emotions,” to valuing human creativity, to posing “some of the life’s most persistent and urgent questions.” Even so, she challenged the attendees to leverage this tumultuous time to reevaluate old ways of thinking and doing, and to shed systems and ideals that have been historically unsustainable, irrelevant, and exclusionary.
“When times are scary, when we’re not sure what the next day will bring, or how we’re going to get through a crisis, it’s so tempting to do what is safe,” explained Cole. “To engage in easy responses, to fall back on old and tried ways of doing things, to lean into the way we have always done something. I am convinced that the difficult times we are in require the exact opposite of what is safe, what is easy, what we have always done.” To create a more successful, sustainable and inclusive future, museums must embrace uncertainty, creativity, and possibility.
Concluding the opening session was Antony Salcito, Vice President of Education for the conference’s signature sponsor, Microsoft. Salcito discussed the digital transformation that has occurred in the COVID-19 crisis and declared that museums can learn valuable lessons from this paradigm shift: “education will be a platform for people to connect globally and share openly, building community through common struggle.” Just as virtual learning has not diminished the impact of educators, nor will technology diminish the core experience of museums. In fact, Salcito says that digital transformation can only enhance museum programming and operations: “things that connect us and make us feel human will be even more important moving forward.”
The key to success during this transformation is not a digital strategy, but a business strategy that underscores the importance of technology. Museums can use technology to reassess operations through data analysis, reach more audiences through distance learning opportunities, and truly transform their business models. It remains critical, however, to always keep the end user as the focal point of the strategy: “as you embrace the transformation digitally, don’t forget that, for your staff, your guests – the transformation is all about people. No school or university is embracing a digital transformation, they are embracing a people transformation.”
Towards a More Sustainable Financial Future
From digital transformation, the dialogue shifted to economic transformation. Elizabeth Merritt, Vice President, Strategic Foresight and Founding Director for the Center for the Future of Museums, offered “a glimpse of the post-pandemic future” with a presentation of the Center’s latest Trendswatch report: “The Future of Financial Stability.”
“Nonprofits should make as much money as possible, in order to do more and better good,” Merritt writes in her report. To achieve financial stability for the future, museums first need to look to the past, re-evaluating each of their four traditional income streams: earned revenue, charitable income, government funding, and financial capital. Are they too focused on earned revenue, producing exhibitions that are off-mission simply to increase income? Is dependence on charitable giving leaving institutions too detached from the needs and wants of their visitors? Does government funding come with too many strings attached? And is lack of access to endowment capital rendering museums risk-averse? Merritt addresses these tensions and offers a variety of successful case studies for addressing these forces of change. “This crisis offers museums an opportunity to re-invent themselves,” Merritt asserts, “but whatever form that takes, there has to be a corresponding business model.”
One tool for reinvention is what Merritt calls “strategic foresight.” By assessing a variety of plausible scenarios, museums can broaden their vision of what is possible, expand their pool of options, contemplate their optimal future, and begin strategizing on how to achieve that preferred new reality. Merritt narrated “4 Stories of the Post-Pandemic Future”:
Merritt explained that these scenarios “are not mutually exclusive. Almost certainly elements from each of them will inform the future that we actually live in.” But by analyzing these scenarios both separately and holistically, museums can prepare for – and “radically re-imagine” – a more sustainable future. “One of the most important forces that shapes the future is you – the choices you make as an individual and an organization,” concludes Merritt.
Radical Re-Emerging: Becoming Better Versions of Ourselves
The thread of individual and organizational choice continued throughout the following session, “Complex Challenges, Unconventional Solutions: Finding Opportunity in Crisis.” Micah Parzen, CEO of the Museum of Man, began the session by proclaiming that “we are at a fork in the road at this vortex of pain and suffering, where we as a field have the opportunity, during a time when we have been shaken to our core in so many ways, to find how we can emerge on the other side as a better version of ourselves.” The ensuing panel discussion, moderated by Parzen, explored the four “endemic and systemic dysfunctions” that keep museums from being fully inclusive and fully sustainable.
Parzen offers three steps to address the egregious practice of colonial appropriation. First, a museum’s message needs to demonstrate clearly and frequently that they are committed to a path toward healing. One method of achieving this is to invite indigenous peoples to join museum teams – not as token participants, but as true decision-making partners. Second, museums need to execute an extensive internal analysis. Are they publicly acknowledging that the land they stand on is the formal home of indigenous peoples? Are they using the words “collections” and “artifacts” when “cultural resources” and “belongings” would be more appropriate terms? Lastly, “museums need to commit showing up to do the work, no matter how messy it gets, with our visitors, with our donors, with our trustees, and even with indigenous peoples…progress moves at the speed of trust.”
Addressing Disparity in a Global Health Crisis
While the previous sessions explored economic and cultural inequity, the final session of the day addressed “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Infections Treatment and Deaths.” Dr. Crystal Watson, Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, began the session with an update on the pandemic and recommendations for next steps in response. She explained that COVID-19 is ten times more lethal than seasonal influenza, and that anyone who hasn’t had it is susceptible.
Initially, states were in what Watson calls “Phase 1” of response, which was slowing the spread through stay-at-home measures. Over the past days and weeks, states have moved into Phase 2, gradually re-opening and relaxing previous quarantine orders. According to Dr. Watson, the criteria for re-opening should include “sustained reductions in daily case numbers, hospitals not under stress, more widespread testing, and a scaled-up public health workforce.” Once a vaccine or treatment is approved and available (Phase 3), social distancing measures can be lifted more fully. Lest we become complacent in the completion of the prior phases, Phase 4 involves “rebuilding readiness for the next pandemic.”
While Dr. Watson offered a by-the-numbers account of the pandemic, her Johns Hopkins colleague, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, discussed various ways of reducing health inequity. Communities of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 for a number of reasons, including living conditions, access to healthcare, and employment in essential jobs with inadequate personal protective equipment. To address these disparities and assist the most vulnerable, leaders need to create a culture of compassion and trust. According to Sharfstein, “they need to enhance access to testing and healthcare, protect essential and low wage workers, and provide social services to keep vulnerable groups safe.” Leaders need to address such issues as healthcare inequities, housing instability, food scarcity, job loss and job readiness, and mental and emotional needs. Most profoundly, leaders need to reiterate that, when it comes to eradicating COVID-19, “working together we will get through this.”
Repositioning and Reorienting to Strengthen a Global Community
The notion of looking out for each other – on an individual, community, and global level, struck to the heart of what the first day of the AAM Virtual Annual meeting and MuseumExpo was all about. As Dr. Lonnie Bunch III, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, remarked to conclude the day, “At times of worry and fear, museums provide context, insight, and understanding. At a time of uncertainty, museums remind us of the beauty around us, and of our common humanity. At our best, museums define reality and give hope. So, on this International Museum Day, remember who we once were, and celebrate who we can become.”
The AAM Virtual Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo continues June 1-4 and again features a robust educational program, as well as networking events, mixers, workshops, and exhibitor meet-ups. To register, visit https://bit.ly/virtual-museumexpo.
Clara Rice is the Director of Communications for JRA, a globally recognized exhibit and attraction design firm. She is also the Vice President of the Themed Entertainment Association’s International Board of Directors and a contributing writer for InPark Magazine.
Comments Off on Missouri History Museum reopening June 20
Comments Off on Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum launches “Moments of Resilience” online initiative in response to COVID-19
Comments Off on Space Center Houston relaunches July 1
Comments Off on Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex limited reopening May 28
Jul 03, 2020 Comments Off on Splashin’ Safari opens July 4 with world’s first launched water coaster
Jul 03, 2020 Comments Off on SEA LIFE Aquarium at LEGOLAND California Resort adds patriotic display to tanks
Jul 03, 2020 Comments Off on NBA and Major League Soccer prepare to play 2020 seasons at Walt Disney World
Jul 02, 2020 Comments Off on Soaky Mountain Waterpark opens in Tennessee featuring first of its kind watercoaster
Jun 11, 2020 Comments Off on #81 – COVID-19 and beyond
Jun 11, 2020 Comments Off on Editorial: Finding paths forward during uncertain times
Jun 11, 2020 Comments Off on Editorial: Appreciation for Alf Heller, to whom I owe my career
Jun 11, 2020 Comments Off on Mack Rides: Through the generations
Jun 11, 2020 Comments Off on Connect&GO: Removing barriers
Jun 10, 2020 Comments Off on CAVU Designwerks: Self-Driving Vehicle
Jun 10, 2020 Comments Off on DreamCraft Attractions: Reality, but better
Jun 10, 2020 Comments Off on Around Disney’s Galaxy in 25 minutes
Jun 10, 2020 Comments Off on Inside the mouse house
May 19, 2020 Comments Off on Touch-free and other options for a new world of interactive exhibits
May 05, 2020 Comments Off on Inside the time machine
Apr 22, 2020 Comments Off on InPark exclusive: International participants in Dubai Expo 2020 share thoughts on the likely one-year postponement and the status of their pavilions
Apr 13, 2020 Comments Off on What should Themed Experience graduates know, say and do?
Apr 10, 2020 Comments Off on What will it mean to postpone Expo 2020 Dubai until 2021?
Apr 09, 2020 Comments Off on Sustaining the mission: Zoos and aquariums in the age of COVID-19
Jun 30, 2020 Comments Off on Right place, write timeHollywood screenwriter Bennett Yellin authors a new future...
May 18, 2020 Comments Off on Eleventh Hour: The rise of consultants since COVID-19 affords a vision of leadership for the Location Based and Themed Entertainment Industry.To help companies respond to industry-specific challenges,...
May 05, 2020 Comments Off on Inside the time machineCreative Principals’ Geoff Thatcher says now is the...
Apr 22, 2020 Comments Off on InPark exclusive: International participants in Dubai Expo 2020 share thoughts on the likely one-year postponement and the status of their pavilionsLeaders of several national pavilions being developed for...
Apr 03, 2020 Comments Off on Bingo Tso, ACE International, on the effects of COVID-19 pandemic on Asian companies and the attractions marketBingo Tso of ACE International shares his perspective from...
Mar 17, 2020 Comments Off on COVID-19: Reassurances from Beijing and Kelly Ryner (Thinkwell)"As for business here in China, there is a lot of positive...
Dec 25, 2019 Comments Off on California’s Great America WinterFest: Transforming a theme park into a holiday wonderland.With millions of lights and thousands of decorations, the...
Nov 16, 2019 Comments Off on #80 – IAAPA 2019Table of contents
Nov 15, 2019 Comments Off on Meet Amanda ThompsonIAAPA’s incoming chair has deep roots in the attractions...
Nov 15, 2019 Comments Off on TEA 2020A chat with Michael Blau - incoming TEA International Board...
Nov 14, 2019 Comments Off on IAAPA 2019 Chair David Rosenberg: The aqua-manRosenberg serves as the 2019 Chair of the IAAPA Board of...
Nov 14, 2019 Comments Off on CircusTrix CEO Fernando Eiroa: Leaps and boundsInPark spoke with Eiroa about the unique business of...
Nov 09, 2019 Comments Off on InPark exclusive: Interviews with Jeremy Railton and Scott Ault on the launch of their new company, Railton Entertainment Design (RED)Themed entertainment design veterans Jeremy Railton and...
Oct 22, 2019 Comments Off on ISE 2020The annual Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) trade show for...
Oct 21, 2019 Comments Off on IAAPA: “Wear comfortable shoes!”"If this is your first Expo, attend the First Time...
Sep 11, 2019 Comments Off on Netflix and thrill: Greg Lombardo joins the content streaming powerhouse as Head of ExperiencesLombardo brings with him more than a decade experience in...
Sep 10, 2019 Comments Off on Transitions: Leaps and boundsIndustry professionals are making moves and creating waves
Sep 09, 2019 Comments Off on Exploring IAAPA EuropeMeet recent additions to IAAPA’s European team
Aug 08, 2019 Comments Off on IPM Interview: Jennifer Lee Hackett, Sinking Ship EntertainmentGiant screen veteran Jennifer Lee Hackett has joined...
Jun 28, 2019 Comments Off on John Miceli and the new DE-ŹYN StudiosThroughout his career, John Miceli has worked in feature...
Jun 26, 2019 Comments Off on Meet Lionsgate Entertainment World’s new general manager: Selena MagillMeet the new GM of Lionsgate Entertainment World, scheduled...
May 08, 2019 Comments Off on ECA2: All eyes on LanzhouECA2's latest spectacle, a permanent installation in a...
May 06, 2019 Comments Off on IAAPA Expo Asia"Establishing a presence in both Hong Kong and Shanghai...
Apr 29, 2019 Comments Off on Vekoma: Coasting around AsiaInPark spoke to Jason Pan, Vekoma’s regional director of...
Mar 21, 2019 Comments Off on Lisa Passamonte GreenThe Thea Awards Nominating Committee annually reviews and...