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Ten Uplifting Museum Stories of 2020

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

This year my scanning feeds were clogged with relentlessly depressing news. My heart was eased, however, by the way that museums rose to the challenges posed by 2020.  Here are a dozen stories of how museums helped their communities and generally made the world a better place. Happy New Year, and best wishes for a brighter 2021.

Yours from the (post-pandemic) future,


Elizabeth Merritt
Vice President, Strategic Foresight and Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums

March 16, 2020

Museums Around the World Are Sharing Their Most Zen Art on Social Media to Help People Relax
Travel and Leisure

In order to help people ease their minds during uncertain times (and enjoy some art), the Museum of the City of New York decided to start the hashtag #MuseumMomentofZen on Twitter and Instagram to share imagery and artworks online in tiny doses. Since starting the hashtag, over 75 museums (and counting) have followed suit, sharing beautiful artworks, photos of architecture, archival images, and even some videos of installations. And it’s not just art museums that are using the hashtag — natural history, science, and nature museums are also using it as well. The museums are also posting with the hashtag #MuseumFromHome.

March 25, 2020

Baltimore Museum of Industry to transform parking lot into coronavirus testing site in MedStar Health partnership
Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Museum of Industry announced Wednesday that its parking lot will be turned into a coronavirus testing site. The museum’s executive director, Anita Kassof, notified members in an email that its “ample” parking lot will be used in partnership with MedStar Health to administer COVID-19 tests in the tents. The museum is scheduled to be closed through at least April 12 as it promotes social distancing and abides by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s mandate to prohibit groups of more than 10 people to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

April 3, 2020

Shedd Aquarium Loans High-Tech Lab Equipment to State for Use in Coronavirus Testing
Block Club Chicago

The Shedd Aquarium—which has kept Chicagoans’ spirits up by posting videos of its penguins, porcupine and other creatures — has loaned out laboratory equipment to the Illinois Department of Public Health so it can be used for COVID-19 tests. The equipment, called the KingFisher and one of only a few robotic extraction devices in Illinois, will be used to extract DNA and RNA from biological samples, which is the first step in coronavirus testing. Using the machine saves time: While it might take an entire day to process 20 samples by hand, the machine can do 90 samples in half the time, which is the equivalent to eight technicians working.

April 14, 2020

You Can Become Pen Pals With These Lonely Museum Cats During Coronavirus
WCCO Radio

If you’ve been feeling a bit lonely in quarantine, you’re not alone. The cats at The Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma are feeling the same way and are looking for pen pals. “The cats are lonely and would love to hear from you. Write them a letter and they’ll write back,” the museum wrote on Facebook urging anyone who is interested to become pen pals with their two felines, Cleo and Perilla. Anyone who sends a letter from now until April 26 will get a response from the museum’s furry residents. Cleo and Perilla are two of the three cats that live and “work” in the gardens. They play a key role in keeping the grounds pest-free.

May 4, 2020

Zoos using social media to delight, raise money amid virus

While Fernando may be a slow mover offline, the 4-year-old Linne’s two-toed sloth has risen rapidly on the internet. Since Fernando joined Cameo, a video-sharing platform where people pay for celebrity shoutouts, the [Phoenix] zoo has received 150 requests for a personalized clip. His popularity let the zoo boost his fee from $25 to $50. 220 U.S. zoos and aquariums, which typically host a combined 200 million people annually, [are] all closed. A recent survey [by AZA] showed more than 60% have laid off or furloughed employees. The Oakland Zoo in the San Francisco Bay Area recently brought back more than 200 full-time employees — at least until June — after getting loans under the federal program. It also started an online subscription program offering daily behind-the-scenes videos with animals and zookeepers. It’s $14.95 a month; $9.95 for zoo members.

May 6, 2020

Crystal Bridges to display artwork outside hospitals, senior living facilities
Northwest Arkansas News

Crystal Bridges and the Momentary are organizing a new ‘Social Connecting Campaign’ to help those who may be suffering from the effects of isolation during the coronavirus pandemic, including patients in hospitals and residents at senior living facilities. Nine local artists have been prompted to create line drawings in response to the word “TOGETHER” to “bring comfort and joy. Large-scale paintings of the drawings will be displayed outside hospitals and senior living facilities in May and June. Line drawing versions of the artwork will also be printed on postcards, and the public is invited to color the drawings and “write a friendly message of hope” that will be delivered to someone in a hospital or senior living facility.

August 24, 2020

Frazier History Museum now offering support to students learning online

The Frazier History Museum (Kentucky) is providing support for students as they begin the school year with online learning. The “Non-traditional Instruction (NTI) From the Frazier” service is being offered over a five-week period. Frazier educators, at a maximum ratio of one professional [museum] educator to five students, will be on hand to answer any questions, solve any challenges, and remind students of their schedule to provide a successful online school experience. Students are asked to bring their own laptop (or other device), headphones, school supplies and lunch. Editor’s note: as the accompanying video notes, the NTI program provides “the structure of a classroom with the benefits of the Frazier.”

August 28, 2020

Children’s Museum Houston temporarily closing to launch ‘All-Time Access’ program
Houston Chronicle

Coming September, Children’s Museum Houston will launch “All-Time Access,” an online initiative to enhance distance learning and open the Museum to families all over the world from an all-time digital landscape. Children will be able to explore projects and pursue topics of interest to them as they connect these lessons to what they will be learning in the new school year. Live performances, pop-up virtual adventure camps, along with a new series is what children can look forward to as they engage with this program. “All-Time Access” will also allow the opportunity to submit questions virtually as they chat live with the Museum’s educators that are leading the initiative.

September 3, 2020

The National Civil Rights Museum is launching a platform that reminds everyone that their vote matters
Local ABC 24

[On August 31], the National Civil Rights Museum launched ImagineAnAmerica, a digital platform that heightens awareness of the privilege and necessity of voting. #ImagineAnAmerica encourages us to get out and vote, no matter what! It connects voters to resources that enable community activism and accountability. While the initiative is designed to engage young voters, first-time voters and non-voters, its goal is to reach across generations, ethnicities and political ideologies to mobilize citizens to envision a nation that lives up to its democratic ideals. The platform provides a historical backdrop, a civic road map highlighting how far we’ve come and how to navigate the journey ahead. By casting creative vision and inspiring hope, the museum seeks to unite voters through stories of perseverance and power to push forward civil and human rights issues, foster an informed electorate and encourage new change makers.

November 2, 2020

La Jornada and Together We Can Food Pantry at Queens Museum host special food distribution with WNBA Player Tina Charles

La Jornada and Together We Can Food Pantry at Queens Museum was established in June to serve the immediate community. They distribute a week’s worth of fresh and nonperishable food items to families and households in need. All the food distributed at the pantry is secured by La Jornada, a hunger-relief organization located in Flushing, while Together We Can, a volunteer-led nonprofit, helps recruit volunteers. To date, the Queens Museum has fed more than 9,650 families in Corona. Sally Tallant, president and executive director of the Queens Museum said “In the wake of the recent changes in the federal Coronavirus Food Assistance Program reducing food supplies to pantries in Queens right now, Queens Museum is hoping to be able to continue this essential service to the community as it is a proven lifeline for those who are enduring food insecurity and homelessness due to the pandemic.”

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