Arts, Coronavirus, Features

Local museums shift their programs and collections online

It’s been just over a month since local museums started closing their doors to the public. Weekend trips to museums have been halted as the streets of Boston cleared out. But with many now stuck at home, routines can start to feel mundane.

The Institute of Contemporary Art is offering virtual museum tours, videos on upcoming exhibitions and other social media content that allow visitors to continue exploring art as the museum stays closed. COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

In response to this, several local museums have moved their exhibitions and programs online. Instead of walking through rooms filled with artwork, the public can now view collections and programs through a screen, by either going to museums’ websites or social media channels.

Museum of Science

Many of the online initiatives at the Museum of Science have been driven by its mission to inform and educate the public on science. Sarah Weiner, an education associate who is part of the museum’s live presentations team, said it is important for the public to be aware and keep track of information changing from time to time as scientific developments evolve.

“Why we’re all working so hard is because now more than ever, it’s becoming obvious how important science literacy is, how important it is for people to be able to try new things, do activities, but also how to be skeptical of information that they’re hearing,” Weiner said, “how to understand why something might be true at one point, but then two weeks later, someone might be saying, ‘Okay, now actually we’re saying you should wear masks’ or things like that. That’s a huge part of our mission.”

Weiner said the staff had about a week to plan and execute their online programs after it closed to the public on March 12, describing the planning process as “ trying to build the car while driving down the highway.” Among its many programs, the museum produces 30-minute daily live streams hosted by museum educators and scientists on different scientific topics ranging from lightning to the solar system.

“We, so far, have had always way more questions than we had the time to answer. I think if you let us, we would probably all just stay around answering questions all day long,” Weiner said. “All any of us really want to do is continue talking to people about science. We’ve been scrambling to get in place, and it’s been worth it.”

Wiener said the museum is planning to continue putting out virtual programs even after reopening. Curators of the museum are currently working from their home shops, developing pieces using their own tools and creating computer models to build an exhibition titled “Arctic Adventure” that is slated to open later in the year if the museum is open by then.

With some of its popular online programs being the podcasts, live demonstrations and engineering design workshop, Weiner said paying attention to what the audience wants and social media have been key to staying in touch with the community. The museum is planning to create daily briefings on updates on the coronavirus and other scientific news, she said.

“We do really want to figure out how the museum fits into Boston’s response to COVID-19,” Weiner said. “[It’s about] people having the ability to participate in the conversation, not just asking questions, but actually being part of the conversation itself, that’s something that the museum would be continuing our role of not being some bastion of knowledge, but instead, being a resource for our community.”

Institute of Contemporary Art

The Institute of Contemporary Art is no stranger to digital media, having often incorporated artworks that involve a tech-based medium in the past. Margaux Leonard, the public relations manager at the Institute of Contemporary Art, wrote in an email that visitors can tune in to video recordings of exhibition previews, studio visits and artist interviews. Additional content on the ICA’s social media channels include digital collections, virtual tours and courses that the public can follow along, she wrote.

“The ICA’s website and social media channels feature a robust selection of digital content and other resources that we have produced in conjunction with our exhibitions and programs,” Leonard wrote.

The museum is also putting out a hands-on section called “Art Lab,” where those interested can get crafty with mini contemporary art projects. These activities include cutting, gluing and decorating Yayoi Kusama’s “Tentacles,” inspired by ICA’s ongoing exhibition of the artist, titled “LOVE IS CALLING,” and creating a do-it-yourself flip book as a reflection of the museum’s 2018 exhibition on choreographer William Forsythe, entitled “Choreographic Objects.”

Peabody Essex Museum

The Peabody Essex Museum shut its doors in Salem, Mass. on March 12, and has since launched an online campaign with the hashtag “PEMfromHome” to “bring creativity and inspiration into people’s lives,” Whitney Van Dyke, director of communications at PEM, wrote in an email.

Van Dyke wrote that the museum will start showing more of its artworks virtually, improve its blog and podcast creation and increase its social media presence. She wrote the museum hopes to create a sense of community and build empathy “by showing how art reflects our shared humanity and how we are all connected.”

“The response to this campaign which encourages people to “stay safe and stay inspired” has been very positive,” Van Dyke wrote, “and we’re seeing a record number of virtual visitors search our collection, listen and read our stories, and interact with us on social media.”

While the museum stays closed to the public, Van Dyke wrote that PEM curators are still crafting future exhibitions and are engaging the art community in discussions about their exhibition projects on the museum’s social media channels every Tuesday.

“Research, writing and planning work continues for our exhibition and installation projects and curators are hard at work,” Van Dyke wrote. “We are continuing to analyze and adjust our exhibition schedule in response to the public health crisis.”

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