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Pandemic-Friendly Ideas for Welcoming Immigrants and Refugees to Your Community

Category: Community Engagement & Impact
A graphic reading "Welcoming Week: September 12-20 / Creating Home Together."
The annual Welcoming Week, which seeks to unite newer residents of communities with older ones, is going forward as usual. Here's how you can balance physical distancing and social impact.

Welcoming Week is an annual event from Welcoming America that seeks to unite recent immigrants and refugees with longer residents in communities. Along with other organizations of all stripes, museums have been involved for years, hosting events and activities that help people share their cultural heritage and get to know each other better.

This year, like all things, Welcoming Week will be just a little trickier, as we balance physical distancing with social impact. But on the other hand, there’s no better time to get involved: your local community’s attention is important with tourism on the wane, and revived conversations about equity and inclusion should make for an invigorated audience for any programming. Plus, we could all use a little connection right now; when’s the last time anyone met someone new, virtually or otherwise?

If you’re up to participate and ready to start planning, here are some ideas for virtual or physically distanced programming to try out. Welcoming Week takes place September 12-20; follow this link for more details. If your event is all set, make sure to submit it to the official list of Welcoming Week activities!

1. Host a driving or walking tour

The relative safety of outdoor activities during the pandemic has led to a renaissance of forms like the drive-in or the walking tour, which allow people to get out of their homes and see something new while incurring minimal health risk. The Neill-Cochran House Museum in Austin, for instance, hosted a Juneteenth driving tour of Black history near its site, which sold out easily and even filled slots for on-site visits to the museum in the weeks after. Maybe you could mimic its success with a similar tour on the theme of immigrant history in your community, to highlight the contributions they’ve made in shaping it. This could be driving or walking, self-guided or in a physically distanced group, and as simple or elaborate as you want to make it.

2. Make introductions in Zoom breakouts

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A fun feature of everyone’s favorite teleconference platform is the “breakout” function of webinars, where you can send attendees into smaller groups for more intimate discussions. This could be used to great effect in a virtual Welcoming Week event, to pair members of the community to get to know each other one-on-one. Try posing a compelling icebreaker question, or a series of them, such as: Where were you born? What does community mean to you? How would you like to see your community improve?

3. Share the culture and history of immigrants on social media

Virtually all museums have something related to immigrants or refugees in their collections, and Welcoming Week could be the perfect opportunity to showcase them on social media. Why not track down an artwork, invention, object, or story involving an immigrant from yours, and give some context on that person’s background in the process? Try taking inspiration from the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, which in 2016 drew attention to the contributions of immigrants by cloaking all works on view either created or donated by one, with explanatory labels in their absence.

4. Host a virtual art or craft workshop

Museums are the ideal springboard for cultural exchange through tangible objects, and there’s a simple way to channel this into Welcoming Week programming. Look for artists or makers from immigrant and refugee communities in your area, and see if they’ll lead a demonstration of how to make something from their cultural heritage in a virtual event. This could be an art project, a decorative or functional object, or even a recipe. Or, if they don’t practice a traditional form of making, they could explain how they use elements of their heritage and experience in what they make.

5. Create a virtual map of origins

Last year, the International Museum of Art and Science in Texas hosted a successful Welcoming Week event, where one of the most popular features was a poster board for participants to identify where they were from, whether the next town over or two continents away. This could easily be replicated in a virtual setting, by asking people to share in social media replies or on something like a crowdsourced Google spreadsheet. If you want to go the extra mile, you could even enter the answers into a public Google Map so the community can visualize where their neighbors come from (and perhaps drop in for a virtual visit on Street View!)

6. Start a social media dialogue

Social media is made for conversations, and Welcoming Week could be the right time to start one. Try to think of a good, open-ended question to pose about community and belonging, then let people respond and hear from each other. Twitter and Facebook can both be great for dialogues like these, and the question sticker on Instagram Stories is often a powerful tool for garnering responses.

7. Host a watch-along or listening party

Pick a piece of media, whether in your collection or readily available for streaming, that relates to the immigrant and refugee experience, or even to the broader topic of community and belonging. This could be a short or feature-length film, an album, a song, a piece of writing, or a visual arts project. Then host a discussion, whether through social media or a Zoom conversation, where participants can unpack the themes of the work and what it meant to them.

8. Host a creative writing workshop

This year’s Welcoming Week theme is “Creating Home Together,” which could make for a fitting creative writing prompt. Participants could write essays, stories, poems, or anything else on what home means to them and how they can help create it for others. Then there could be opportunities to read work aloud and hear the similarities and divergences in perspective. Try taking inspiration from MOCA Tuscon’s virtual creative writing program for its local LGBTQ community.

9. Lead a community visioning exercise

Communities are made of people from disparate backgrounds, but what unites these people is their shared present and future. Something like a collaborative, speculative exercise about what direction the community should go in, with which goals guiding it, could be a powerful way to center this. Or, instead of the community in general, you might try asking participants to build a collaborative vision for your museum. You can take inspiration from municipal planners, or, if you want to get a little off-the-wall, from Miranda July’s New Society project:

Miranda July’s New Society from Frieze on Vimeo.

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