Monthly Mentor

Noël “Bella” Merriam (September)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Merriam is the AT&T Director of Education, Diversity and Inclusion at the San Antonio Museum of Art, and the Museum Commissioner for the NAEA ED&I Commission. She is a member of the Smithsonian Latino Center’s Education Planning Team and a 2019 graduate of NAEA’s School for Art Leaders. Click "GO" to read her full bio.

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« Holding Space for the Processing the Changes We’ve Experienced, Part 2 | Main | Modifying Museum Family Programs During A Pandemic »

September 10, 2020

Adapting Museum Community Outreach During A Pandemic

By Noël Bella Merriam

When our museum closed in mid-March, we quickly pivoted to a new way of staying connected with our community and launched into a world of digital engagement that was new for us. 

There is tremendous disparity in our community when it comes to technology and wifi access, but we were fortunate to have our local school districts distribute ipads or laptops to students and they also set up wifi hotspots in school parking lots.  While this did not completely close the digital divide, it helped substantially. 

My team created bilingual video storytimes and art activities using simple materials found around the house for social media.  One of our favorites is inspired by a project from our START school partnership program, Museum in a Box.  When facilitated at the museum, this project involves students critically exploring all aspects of two galleries and then curating their own miniature museum gallery complete with lights, exit signs, and works of art – all in a box.  Our Family Programs Manager Michelle Trevino adapted this project for home use with whatever children might have around the house, and after posting it on our museum’s Facebook page, Parent magazine featured it online, found here

We did this quickly, but there were definitely growing pains.  My Docent Program Manager, Tripp Cardiff, volunteered to edit our videos and we quickly realized how time consuming this was.  We are also limited by the number of hi-res images we have of our collection.  While we have over 30,000 objects in our collection, we have only recently embarked on digitizing our collection as a resource.  I’m grateful to my entire team for the endless hours they devoted to developing social media content while we were closed.

We reopened our doors in late May, and scaled back social media content in order to devote time to modifying our family, educator, and school programs for the upcoming school year.  While our public programs will remain online through the end of the year, we’ve begun to explore how to reconnect with our community in safe and meaningful ways. 

Image 1 Blog Post 3Two of our teaching artists pack art kits for Haven for Hope.

Prior to the pandemic, our teaching artists taught art workshops twice a month for women and children at Haven for Hope, a homeless facility in our city.  These workshops were paused in March when our city’s quarantine began.  In May, we determined the safest way to continue this program was to pack individual art kits for participants with instructions containing links to demo videos.  Our teaching artists pack the art kits and create the videos, and the art kits are dropped off twice a month. 

Image 2 Blog Post 3A sample art kit for Haven for Hope’s children.

Along the way, my team has been reflecting:  How do we continue to support our community and teaching artists by providing safe, interactive experiences with our collection during this pandemic?  What aspects of our new online programs and social media content will we keep in place as we move forward?  Which of these resources are the most meaningful for our community?  How do we stay connected with our community partners in a way that feels safe for everyone involved?

I’d love to hear how your museum has adapted your social media content and community outreach in the comments below.  What have your challenges and successes been?

-NBM

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