Skip to content

Museum Goers and the Pandemic

Category: On-Demand Programs: Audience Research & Evaluation

This is a recorded session from the 2020 AAM Virtual Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo.

Presented by: Wilkening Consulting and AAM


CommPartners Christina: All right, we’re good to go. Right.

Thank you.

Natanya Khashan: Hey, Susie, do you want to go ahead and share your slides, while I grabbed captioning information for the attendees.

You’re muted, Susie.

Susie Wilkening: All I have is my first infographic. Do you want that yet?

Natanya Khashan: Go ahead and get started. Before I kick off, I want to apologize. There has been some unscheduled roof work on my building today.

And so, if you hear that noise in the background. I do apologize and I will try to keep myself muted as much as possible.

So, without further ado. Hello, everyone, and welcome to a virtual session on zoom goers and the pandemic. New research.

My name is Natanya Khashan my pronouns are she, her. First, and I am the Director of Marketing and Communications at AAM I’m here today to act as your session monitor introduce our fantastic speaker, Susie Wilkening.

During today’s session Susie will share a set of five data stories with you after each data story. We will pause for questions specific to that data story before you can enter these questions in the chat box or in the Q&A to have them read aloud. If you have a question that is not specific to any particular data story, please enter it in the chat box as it arises for you, and we will save the question for the Q&A at the end of this session.

Susie Wilkening holds over years of experience in museums, including over a dozen years we didn’t custom projects for museums, as well as fielding groundbreaking national research on the role of museums in American society.

For research for Vulcan and consulting and am formed a partnership just last year to white in this reach of the 2020 annual survey museum goers.

It’s clear that where we were when we first formed this partnership is not where we are as a society today.

In recent months or relatives grappled with incredible changes in our circumstances, including our museums. Museums staff and volunteers and our music goers.

Knowing these changes have affected our visitors lives behaviors and attitudes Susie quickly in a definitely dive back into the field again.

To gain a better understanding of how museum goers specifically were experiencing the pandemic and what role museums might have in their lives and communities. Now, and moving forward the data. You’ll learn about today will range widely from the familiar to the surprising and from the hopeful to the sobering. It’s all, however, essential to know. Thank you for your critical research duty. I’ll turn it over to you.

Susie Wilkening: So much Natanya.

The research. I’m going to share today was field in response to the covered 19 pandemic is actually rooted in that annual survey and museum goers.

The 2020 annual survey was fielded this past winter before the pandemic and this year’s theme focused on inclusion in the AI and how audience attitudes on inclusion intersects with the individual values, attitudes and beliefs.

That research is critical for our field as it helps us understand where our audiences are on issues of inclusion tolerance and equity.

We as a field know that museums have work to do to be more inclusive, but not all of our audiences agree that this work is important and understand where our audiences are and how to share inclusive content with them is critical for us to not only be inclusive also open minds and bring our audiences, along with us.

This year’s annual survey included 73 museums hadn’t nearly 40,000 responses and those results will be shared the field in the coming months and it’s the type of broad scale quantitative work I’m known for, but actually spend far, far more time on qualitative research. And when the pandemic hit, we pivoted quickly to field online qualitative panels to capture how museum guards are coping with the pandemic. How many Sims can help and also to assess the funding challenges museums will have going forward.

The panels are fielded in April into the first week of May have about 120 active panelists are created from the annual survey museum guitars from the transfer belt doors for more than 250,000 words.

With a lot of lives and emotions permeating the panels currently on hiatus, but we may choose three open it in the coming weeks or months as things inevitably change.

I’m going to share with you what we learned in five infographics all of these infographics are available for you to download and the time you’ll be posting links in the chat box. You can download them. You can print them. You can share them as much as you’d like.

And as you as I share these infographics, feel free to post questions in the chat box. So, when we open the first panel or open the pound. The very first question we had was just a check and question saying

How are you doing right now in this moment? And this is the beginning of April. So, think back two months, how you were doing two months ago and thinking about how our museum goers are doing. And the answer was a lot like we are. We were picking up a lot of worries.

Piece, the size of this little bit worries about their families, their livelihoods their communities and humanity and those are I think worries that we’ve all shared over the past few months.

I’m not going to read the quotes that are on here and there. You can read those for yourself. But I will say that we generally match the demographic characteristics of the person being quoted with the image. It’s in the infographic.

So, there’s lots of worries that just came off of this I’m reading this on the screen. It just came off to this off the screen is all these emotions and worries. Um, some respondents said that they were cooking pretty well, and others were really struggling. They’re struggling a cabin fever already in April. Isolation work life balance and their children and their children’s education and as a parent of two elementary aged children. I am right there with them. I understand how that has been a big struggle and that early part of April.

They’re also finding moments of hope and joy and humor and people cooperating with each other. People giving finding joy being with loved ones in their household and having those moments to slow down. Now everyone felt like there were slowing down, but a lot of people did feel that that sense of slowing down, having more time to process. And we also ask them just generally this early, early stage. This is a first initial question they’re getting used to the panel setting itself how they were filling their time. These are museum covers were mixed or that you know we’re thinking about these are people who go to museums, so they’re doing a lot of reading, we picked up a lot of social media. They talked about how their usage of social media has just increased dramatically just those first few weeks of the pandemic streaming movies and documentaries and then a lot of people talk about doing gardening and yard work. Interestingly baking did not come up, even though we have heard so many stories about how baking has been a pandemic thing. It didn’t just come up in the panel for whatever reason.

And before I go to the second data story. Natanya. Were there any questions that we need to address?

Natanya Khashan: Yep. So, we’ve got one request to actually read out a couple of the quotes and just to be sure that we are compliant with ADA standards.

And then we do have another question if you could say more about a what the qualitative panel is. Is it like a focus group or survey with any open-ended questions?

Susie Wilkening: Okay, so I need to read a couple of the quotes

Natanya Khashan: Yeah, I think that would be great for those. Yep.

Susie Wilkening: Well, I’ll do that. Thanks for that tip. Um, so for the panel. It’s an online forums kind of setting. So, they enter the forum and they see a list of questions and they can see each other’s responses. So, they have screen names so that I know who they are. I know their identity, but nobody else within the panel knows who they are.

They see the question they can in turn their answer some of them were giving me essays, others were pretty short and concise, and their responses and it can see what other people are saying. So sometimes they would say, well, I agree with what other panelists are saying about whatever it was, and other times they said that’s not my experience. This has been what my experience has been. This is a format I use quite a bit. I find it very fruitful way of conducting research because by seeing each other’s responses it yields more thoughtful answers. It’s non-confrontational. We don’t have one person dominating either everybody’s kind of on the same playing field, I’m able to share their responses.

And they have plenty of time to answer the question. So, I send the questions to them they can think about, they can think about for a week. And then they can provide their answer. And so, we get these really thoughtful responses. During this process, so I feel these quite a bit. I probably do about six of these a year for different museum clients and this is the longest field obviously very quickly and during the pandemic.

Natanya Khashan: We’ve got one more question.

Susie Wilkening: Sure how

Natanya Khashan: Large was the study group. And how are they chosen

Susie Wilkening: Sure. So, um, there are about 120 these encounters that were brought into the group we in the annual survey. So, when we think about that annual survey them out this winter. The 73 museums and nearly 40,000 respondents there was a question at the end of the survey said if you’re interested in follow up research on museums, please share your email address and we had about 13,000 people who said I could do that. So, I took that list and I pretty randomly picked out an invitation group from that list. I waited at for a few things I want to make sure that we had good invitations going out to a significant number of parents with young children, for example, young adults. So, it was balanced demographically in terms of age. I also want to make sure we had different voices. So, we have people of color being making sure there’s a large number of people of color, the invitations and so it wasn’t just a white panel.

So those invitations went out. Then they could choose if they want to participate or not. And this was done on a pro bono basis. I did it on a pro bono basis, but we ask the panelists to also do it on pro bono basis, so there was no incentive that they were given on this particular case.

Okay, I’m gonna start with number two. Now, I’m thinking about virtual content from museums, because when we were thinking about how do we keep serving these audiences when they can’t come visit us in person.

And this is something I think is going to be relevant for quite some time, even when we are able to reopen there’s going to be audiences that are not comfortable coming to a museum setting for quite some time, because they’re gonna still be minimizing their outside activities. So, what’s going on with that virtual content and what are they responding to at that point and those are the big differentiating group factor here between two groups within the panel where those who are parents have especially if young children.

And those who are not so parents have older children but also those who did not have young children in the home run a separate group we’re gonna talk about them in just a moment, but parents of young children had a very specific thing that they were thinking about, and they were just thinking about what can I give to my child that’s I can feel really good about that. I can then let them do while I go check up on my email deal with my work deal have that zoom call that I need to have or whatever the case might be.

Parents express very clearly, they are struggling to juggle everything that they’re expected to do right now this moment. Work childcare education and as someone in the trenches of that myself. I totally, totally get it. So, then they’re saying, you know, we’re getting enough family time right now. We don’t need content for family time we need content to give our children. They wanted activities they said that was great. But they really want to understand how much parental involvement is going to be necessary. It was going to require a lot I might step back and go, now I’m not going to do that I need to go do my email. I can’t sit here and do this with my child right now.

Other things that came up was the expectation that materials would be easily on hand to do some of the activities that they were seeing, not just some museums, but from any kind of online content provider and they were saying I don’t have a printer my printer doesn’t work. How am I got pregnant that worksheet? I can’t do that. So that there was assumptions that they were seeing that the materials were on hand that we’re not necessarily true. So those are two really important things to think about. Is this something that’s easy. For our parents because hand their child and how much parental involvement involved what materials are involved and really be thinking about what barriers are in play here. And how can we reduce those barriers and make sure that they can do those things and they were also grappling with so many education resources and feeling overwhelmed to just want to throw up their hands and go, I quit. You know, there’s too much out there. So how can we make a little bit easier for them to find our content.

There are a few educators in the panel, and they had some interesting perspectives as well. I want to make sure that we’re share to grappling with these shifts to virtual learning how overwhelmed they felt as they’re doing. So having to rejigger everything about them. Yeah, they’re teaching in the classrooms. They also want to have similar needs to parents and that they’re looking for print plug and play content from museums, because they don’t know what materials, or their students have and their homes. They don’t know what kind of facilitation apparent can or can’t do it needs to be something that’s easy, that they can say, hey, you know, we’re learning about the war of 1812 here’s some content about the war of 1812. You can do this on your own at home and that’s part of what I’m assigning you to do. So, it helps them with their curriculum and our scheduling.

Okay. The other category was this adult audiences. This can be adults with older children or adults who don’t have children or minor children in the home at that moment.

Most of these museum goers had actually not sought out museum content. Now there’s a devastating seeking out and have it come through their stream. So, make that note, but they weren’t seeking out had not done so. And they gave a number of reasons that you can see here, and the infographic for love, but just hadn’t occurred to them. They just weren’t thinking about what museums could be helping with them with at that moment. Parents are saying, I don’t have time. And I can put myself in that category. I love all the stuff I’m seeing that museums are doing. I’ve had new times. Do any of it. Anxiety. It’s a depressing factor and their motivation, especially for culture and learning. And getting that quite a bit that they just said I don’t have the attention span. I can’t do more than sit and binge watch Netflix. I just, I’m just not there for a lot of respondents. So that was a very common thing.

A few also said while you’re doing great stuff for kids, but you’re not doing anything for adults, which is a perception that there isn’t anything out there for them. A lot of respondents said that they were just exhausted the screen time they were on zoom calls all day. They didn’t want stay for the screen any longer. And then that sense of being overwhelmed. Again, that there’s so much out there. Where do they even start.

So that’s something I think is really important for as a field to think about is how do we streamline access to our content so people can find whatever is that they are looking for and that they’re interested in.

But even though they weren’t deliberately looking for that content they were really excited to hear about what museums were doing a hearing from museums.

And there were four critical things they said museums could help them with as they were mostly staying home. I was just escaping from all the events of the world that even though we are grappling with these things. We also need moments of escaping from them.

We need hope. So, we can feel hopeful about what’s coming ahead. We need to be able to contextualize that pandemic experience. This is a theme that kept coming up through all five weeks of the panel help us of contextualize us. Help us contextualize this. So that’s, I don’t want to minimize that one that actually came up quite a bit. And another one that came up over and over as we went through these weeks of the panel was how can you help us foster social connections with others from a distance. So, we get things like a 60-year-old woman saying, what can I do virtually with my 30-year-old daughter that I we you know we can connect over and have that that connection point with that experience so that came up quite a bit.

We have some comments here to support what these findings are. The one I really had to include in here was who I actually refer to as cat man screening most importantly, I need an escape from the pandemic. I just want a place where I can hide from the pandemic for a little while. I can’t even enjoy cat videos anymore because it’s about caps and the quarantine not just caps.

Does that pervasive this pervasiveness of the panic and no sense of escape. And so how can museums help us escape from that a little bit, just for a few moments how they want us to engage with them that what depth varies. They wanted by called short snippets, very, very short things take five minutes or less. In their regular feed you know going through social media or like running across six doing so much more social media right now puzzles and games. Absolutely. Fun Facts. This behind-the-scenes tidbits of things that we can do and share especially when people are not in person with things that surprise and delight them out of the blue. Yeah, so they’re reading through their screen, they’re seeing all these things going on. And then they see something that surprises and delights them, it takes them away from that moment for just a few minutes. And sharing that hope and beauty. So that’s why we’re seeing, you know, especially this early weeks of the pandemic, we saw a lot of success with penguins going on lots of field trips and hashtag cowboy did so well. Initially, that just really hit where people are right now or or we’re in April.

I can set longer form content, the demand was just wasn’t nearly as strong. There was a while. Yeah, there’s some aspiration, like I really should go do that virtual tour or this museums doing virtual tours. That sounds really cool by haven’t done that and I don’t have the attention span for it.

But when they talk about longer form content when what they would be interested in. It was ways to engage and meet with a variety of staff and not just curators they want to hear from him security guards like hashtag cowboy and they wanted to hear about from different staff members who talked about their favorite objects. I’m going to pause for just a second, so that my dog doesn’t go crazy. She’s trapped in here.

I apologize.

I’m so they want this place to meet with different staff, not just curators care from curators to but they won’t hear from different stuff virtual tours. They talked about them. They weren’t doing them a lot. They talked about being more interactive with cooking demonstrations lessons writing seminars, even that came up a number of times enough for me to put it on the infographic. And they also talked about lectures offer talks webinars, things like that. But I just want to reinforce the demand for this was a lot less

Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it because that interaction how meaningful is deeper there’s opportunities to do it. But then there’s also realizing this tradeoff. So, you’re not going to reach nearly as many people but what they’re looking for right now is high quality meaningful experiences. They’re authentic to this moment they didn’t want to necessarily here and see repackage content from five years ago. It didn’t feel relevant, but they were really getting into things where they felt like they were, can you go behind the scenes and do things that they couldn’t normally do as because the pandemic, they could do it. So, you could go back to where the hippo sleep and see that video.

Because that’s not something they normally got to see. So, you get that sense of in here. We have a comment that reflects that. And Stephen like I’m getting the quarantine substitute experience. I feel like I’m getting a completely new experience that we’ve never gotten if it weren’t for this. And because of that, it’s more exciting.

So, they do want to hear from museums. They want to feel like, you know, you’re still there as this one woman said and caps, you are still there. I enjoy getting his updates and emails. You’re like a family member who lives in different state you’re far away, but not gone. There is no recommendations I have for how they want to hear from you is all over the place. Some people want social media. Some people want email. It’s just like normal that they’re all using different platforms. So, I don’t have any recommendations there that changes from before the pandemic.

But what has changed it. There’s so much content out there.

There had to be a hard time waiting through it’s a theme that you’re hearing from Me. Now I’m actually very overwhelmed by all the online opportunities. How can we organize this make it a little bit easier from the way through?

And I also want to make sure I included this in the infographic that you this really matters we and be able to access and find that content that they want really matters because we still need to be sparking curiosity still engendering empathy and connection. This is the most important things that we do. We need to provide hope our mind. All of us have our shared humanity on this planet.

And it’s just one responded said a cultural institution must somehow become indispensable to survive the current of our crisis because doing nothing whatsoever invites cultural disaster.

So that is the brain dump on virtual content based on what museum girls were saying, Tanya don’t have any questions for this one.

Natanya Khashan: Yes, we do have a couple of questions here. And first there was a private question that I answered, but want to make that public, you are welcome to share the links to these infographics freely on social media and email wherever else you would like to share them.

So, a couple of questions have come in these infographics are great. What program do you use to make them and what tips would you have regarding the process you use?

Susie Wilkening: OK, so my process is I basically imagine that I’m stuck in the elevator with you one of you. Any one of you were on the elevator going up to the floor. So, we have like three minutes, and you just asked me a question, and this is my answer. So, I’m trying to make it very conversational. So, what I write is a script, basically. So, it reads like a conversation in a way and then I support it, and with a few of those quotes and comments to make it so it’s not just me that you’re hearing from and my process, then, is there’s a written script and I put in basic demographic information about the quotes and I send it to my amazing graphic designer Erica and what Wisconsin Madison, Wisconsin, who have never met in person who does fantastic work. I sent it to her, just as a script and then she spits back out to me this beautiful infographic. I take no credit for the design.

I have an amazing graphic designer and she does fantastic work. And if anyone wants her contact information. I’ll be happy to share it.

Natanya Khashan: Thanks, Susie.

We have another question. Can you explain a bit more about the kind of context they wanted, assuming days museum goers wanted regarding pandemics?

Susie Wilkening: Um, I think most of the respondents had never experienced something this global. I mean, how many of us have this global affecting the whole world and feeling so powerless about it. Um, and if we go back in history. This kind of global event really hasn’t. It’s been they’ve been smaller things but this global, you know, it goes back decades, so yeah, they wanted to hear about the flu pandemic and the contextual a ton of that they want to see people wearing masks them well. Yes, they were where people talking about economically. Well, not some. I mean, not so much. But that’s the historian me talking, but they want. No, this kind of context. And then we’ll see those pictures they wanted to see how did, how does what happened the schools back then because you know that’s really important to a lot of people today is what’s happening with schools and children.

So, all of those things that that’s the kind of context, they were looking for. They were thinking back primarily to the flu pandemic. That’s what people were have been talking about. But they were also just thinking about worldwide kind of feel like, yeah, there’s so much going on and we can’t really do anything but stay home really kind of experience. So, they want to feel like we were tied to our humanity of the past and how the humanity deal with these in the past. So, we can deal with it better today.

Natanya Khashan: Thanks Susie. I think that also answered. Another question that came in, what exactly do you mean about contextualize independent experience. I think that answered it.

Can you elaborate on what they wanted to see especially quote unquote writing seminar? Also, do we know what the best platforms are to offer these things just zoom Facebook Live

Susie Wilkening: So, the writing seminar discussion happens because they can see each other’s comments they can respond to each other. I don’t encourage or discourage that to happen.

One person talks about the tuba taking a writing seminar at the National Gallery of Art and how she missed it. And she wished the National Gallery would recreate it in a virtual format. And then that started this whole long line of responses from other people going oh, that sounds so cool. I would really love that I wish my museum would do that. I would love to have a writing opportunity.

They were wanting to right and it could be you know about various things. So, the original person who made that initial comment. Was having an art experience where they would her writing group would sit in from a piece of artwork and have some kind of writing prompt. I don’t know. That’s why I picked up from her from her description. Um, but it also talked about. That sounds cool. You could do that with history. We could do that with memoir, we could do that with our recording this pandemic experience for ourselves and having that kind of output. So, there were there were looking for in small groups. And having kind of like a recreated writing seminar. Probably they didn’t talk about platform. It probably working zoom. Um, but that’s what they were they’re talking about. I had just generated a lot of interested in the panel.

Natanya Khashan: I think we’re ready to move on to the next one.


Susie Wilkening: OK. So, the third infographic that we released was asking museum goers. What would make them feel safe and comfortable returning to museums. This was back in April. At that point, most I don’t think any museums had to be opened we had just start thinking about it. And I want to say, from the beginning as I am not an expert of what is recommended by the CDC or any health agency about what is you should be doing. All I’m doing is I’m reporting what music girls would like to see. And that’s a distinction the museum goes, don’t talk about nearly as many things as you have been talking about. I mean, I see what goes on in social media and your conversations about let’s put up you know guards. Let’s do we’re doing this we’re doing that we’re using stylist as they are nine and thinking about most of the things that you’re thinking about. So, I see what y’all are doing humbled and grateful that y’all are doing all that they’re talking about more basic things. Because what’s coming to mind for them as museum goers and they’re seeing barriers that y’all are doing working really hard to take down. So that’s also been really interesting to watch. Since I put this out and then seeing what’s going on. So, what makes them feel safe and comfortable. Well, the main thing that remember is that it depends.

Everybody is different. And they ranged widely and here we have to extreme examples; we have this one gentleman. I have never going to feel comfortable in a public place again. Which is a really strong statement. To the absolute other side of if they’re open tomorrow I put like a visit one heck, if we had a museum of annoying sounds and flashing lights are probably go visit if it were open.

Now some of you may be ready to go to that Museum of annoying sounds and flashing lights. Others of you may feel like I’ll never again not, at least not telling this vaccine, whatever. But most people are in what I call the cautious middle and that cautious middle is a big group, it’s, it’s still got lots of differences within that, but the cautious middles that we’re going to be trying to really focus on so when they are will be ready to visit upon reopening depends on two main factors. One is their individual attributes we are all wired differently risk tolerance varies on individual family and health concerns age and our personality.

My husband would go to the museum of annoying sounds and flashing lights and he would take our children today I have asthma. I mean hesitate. I’m gonna be like, wait a minute. No, that doesn’t sound like a good idea. So, we’re all different. Most people find that middle cautious middle and that’s the assumption that they feel confident you have a safe environment.

That also is a law comments like saying, well, you can be open, but we’re gonna wait three weeks to see what happens. There was, there was a fair amount of that.

So here we have another spectrum we have that big cautious middle as long as we feel confident that’s clean, you’re doing sanitizing things. Everything’s gonna be clean and tidy. It seems to be safe to visit. That’s that cautious middle but then we have those extremes. I’m not gonna be comfortable. So, there’s the vaccine.

To the other extreme, in all honesty I will visit the first day I can. I want to see animals in zoos I desperately need to get out. And yes, I recognize the irony of that comment.

Kind of I put it in there. Anyway, um, because we have these extremes. Okay, the second consideration. After a ticket to that individual. Differences is the type of museum. And this one comment encapsulate it and laid it out beautifully common sense would say that places outdoors will come before the indoors. The room, you will come before the cramped. The lightly attended before the crowded. And so, they were thinking about all of those things, and they were saying you know zoos sure Botanic Gardens absolutely alter history museums. All right. Um, but there was insane Children’s Museum, not so much. And this is coming from parents of young children. They’re just like this. It’s gotta be hands off. I had one panelists. This is for a client project who was talking about history museum, specifically, she said, I will only go to history museums are completely hands on, that’s, you know, this is back in February. Hands on because my kids will not tolerate anything else we got really good a hands-on things. But that particular research project continued into the pandemic at the end of that, just a few weeks later, maybe like a month later. She was this like new. I will not go to anything that’s hands on. It’s a hands-off for us. So, we had that flipping around going extremely quickly almost, you know, whiplash quickly among parents thinking about hands on activities. They were thinking about local museums, way more than they were thinking about destination museums that or museums that we’d have to travel in an airplane to see if you are a destination museum with most of your visitation coming from further afield.

It’s going to still apply to be a pivot to your more regional audience. And that’s something to keep in mind as you’re thinking about attracting that audience. Some people are saying they weren’t gonna get on an airplane for until there was a vaccine.

Now that was April, how they’re feeling August. We’re gonna hopefully find out because that might change. But that’s the place where they were in April we nuts and bolts. Like, what exactly do you want us to be doing to make you feel safe and comfortable? And again, we had that cautious middle pretty common-sense things hand sanitizers I’m six foot distancing marks everyone wearing masks WAS CONSIDERED KIND OF A middle position sanitizing but then you have the extremes, we have on one extreme, we have this responded saying at the highest level of protection that can imagine short of hazmat suits for all versus the other extreme of don’t really have an opinion about hygiene.

So, you’re going to hear no matter what you do you’re going to hear comments and those extremes, you’re not doing enough. You’re doing too much. But you’re going to focus on that cautious middle so there were the basics strict crowd management that was, that was the biggest one was crowd management, if they felt crowded that you couldn’t maintain social distancing that we’re going to be much more hesitant about it. Hand sanitizer stations everything contactless as possible and regular observable cleaning of surfaces.

One of the big things that came up was wanting to be you’d be transparent about and put it very clearly on your website and at the museum with the entrance exactly what you’re doing to keep them and your staff safe and that came up consistently. They want to, that your staff was being treated fairly, that they were going to be, they were being kept safe as well. So, you put on that website. Yeah, we’re reopening on July 1 and this is what you can expect to see from us. And what you will expect of you to keep your social distancing whatever your rules are that you are abiding by for your local community.

Masks came up a lot and it was contentious back in April, it still is. It didn’t come up enough for me to say in terms of visitor expectations. You have to require masks. Some of you are in communities. I’m in one that would require. So, there you go. For those of you who are not in communities that require it. You have to read your community and make a decision that’s best for you and your staff. Um, you’re gonna get pushed back either way. The safety that they were thinking about him to activities as well. Hands off outdoors that I already mentioned.

For programs and activities that really depended on social distancing and minimization of touch. Now, they were comfortable with things like you putting together activity packets and handing them out to kids.

As long as they didn’t have to return the packet. They weren’t really around and bins of glue sticks or whatever, if it was already self-contained and you’re handing it out that they were comfortable with. They were just less comfortable with lots of visitor interaction touching they had very deep concerns about guided tours. They were like new.

Theater settings deep concerns about that. And those hands-on interactive activities and there were many comments that just said I think all interactive exhibits should be closed, which breaks the hearts of many as we have been working so hard to do that and that’s going to be probably for a while and it’s a risk, I have this different tolerance levels.

This is actually really straightforward question for the museum-goers, but they were still comments that were there were laden with emotion and sadness and grief from museums. So even though is a straightforward question this. There’s a lot of emotion tied to this and you’re gonna be dealing with a lot of emotion of visitors when they come in. Whether you’re already opened and you’re already seen those shorter tempers, everything like that. This is a lot of emotion. It was just rippling off of the screen in the comments. A lot of sadness and grief.

And here’s this one last comment for this one. Museums will be working with one hand tied behind the collective back and say welcome visitors and this brave new world, and I hope I can help ensure that museums are still there when I feel safe to return. Any questions on this one, Natanya?

Natanya Khashan: Nothing specific to this data story. Specifically, and we’re at 20 minutes so let’s move on to the next one.

Susie Wilkening: Sounds good.

Okay, this is the one that’s going to break your heart and send you into the depths of despair because it did for me and it’s the financial aspect.

First, our question was, do you even know that museums are struggling, and this was five weeks ago. And the answer was not really

We feel as some broader population sampling, just to get a read on this and we put out in the field to see from the broader population. This is not just museum guards, but this is a broader national sampling China says who’s worried about local businesses local restaurants and then his worry about museums. And what we found is that three quarters of Americans were pretty worried, but their local restaurants and businesses.

And only the third we’re worried about museums, and I almost never get written comments on broader population sample questions. I had written and comment on the museum question where somebody just wrote in this never even occurred to me. So, it’s just not top of mind.

So, we asked, more specifically for the panel. We laid out some of the data about what we were looking at in terms of job losses closure museums and we said, what have you heard what do you think about this. And most of them were unaware, you know, at this point, I have not heard about the impact on museums. And a few were actually kind of dismissive. And they were saying, you know, museums are government run, they can get donations, they can receive grants. So, they have that diversity of income. And they were just it was not that realization that there’s going to be constraints on government funding there’s gonna be many constraints on donations and grants. And that there’s going to be impacted or even though we’re in it that most museums are not government entities to begin with. So, there was that the dissonance there.

We asked them how they felt about the losses that emotional response to it and we have this one response right here. Personally, I would be devastated to lose museums. Um, so we sell a lot of that kind of comment, but there were five themes that emerged have them in order of how often they came up and the first one that came up, which was really interesting. I mean we prompted a little bit. We didn’t prompt specifically for this, though. Was just that the loss of museums or the pulling back of museums in their community would result in a loss of community identity culture and memory. That was the number one concern about museum goers in this panel now saying that by 120 people not saying this about 3000 or 50,000 sample, but that’s what was volunteered and brought up the most. And that museums help keep our collective memory alive and how important that is. Learning opportunities were actually the second most reason I expected that to be first. But it wasn’t so it’s a huge blood children’s education these trips help spark curiosity which isn’t it so important today.

Um, third was economic impact and tourism, there are a few people who lived in tourists’ heavy communities such as Charlottesville, Virginia, and they were like, oh my, am I can, I can easily be devastate from tourism wise if this happens. Inclusion came up. We didn’t ask about that. So, I saw that I was like oh inclusion came up there, volunteering their concerns about inclusion and saying that without me Sam says voices that have been minimized or erased in the past or never come forward that we really need museums to bring this brief voices for it.

And then we’ll be in also came up and it didn’t come up that as much. But what came up enough for me to fly. So those are the things that losses that they were thinking and feeling about, and they added to all the grief of their experiencing on so many levels. I mean, if there’s one descriptive term I could have for the panels, is that their grief-stricken grief on every single page. People are grieving so many things little things, big things. There’s just a lot of grief.

And here we have this young woman saying my mind isn’t sure where to begin grieving and putting out there very explicitly and other woman same Yo she’s writing about this game, more, more expressive she’s writing about her answer. So, she’s got to stop. She just can’t go any further. But after all it’s, you know, they gave us all of these things that they would hate to lose about museums and their grief about so many of these things. We then said, Well, you know, just a lot of need in the community where to museums on this and they said museums are so critical to our communities, but we’re going to support the food bank that’s where the need is greater and we had his comment here that’s very representative feeding people intending to that emotional and social needs is more important because the basic survival culture is a luxury for those with adequate food, clothing and housing.

And that’s a common type of comment. We had people talking about Maslow’s Hierarchy that came up that kind of feeling come up over and over so the concerned about museums. They’re more concerned about other things. But they did have long term concerns. Like, what happens if museums fail.

They’re saying government should step in if they’re willing to support businesses and families to earmark so many museums and there’s lots of reasons why. That boils down to. No matter how Beloved, we are if we’re not vital at this time it’s gonna be really hard for us to make our case to survive and thrive in the future.

So, here’s a comment. I’m going to go ahead and read I think cannot adapt to this climate and write it through and then return it open to the public. may not be serving the community or be that valuable. Not all museums are important, and I truly believe that those that are will be just fine and look to open to the public again.

Okay, Natanya. Any questions on this one?

Natanya Khashan:  This is a pretty heavy one. Yeah, yeah

Susie Wilkening: That’s what we’ve got.

Natanya Khashan: Here, right. We’ve got one comment that’s come in, that I think is, is good to read aloud. I think this illustrates the need to redouble our efforts to cast museums as vital community centers, which means a critical emotional need. Absolutely. Yeah.

Do you have any information how this mirror the mindset of the Great Recession?

Susie Wilkening: Great question. No, I don’t. My gut response here in the face and everything into my head then kind of had I got response from it too is that it’s sharper this time and that the needs feel broader and deeper

Natanya Khashan:  Thank you. And then one last one for this infographic. And just a reminder to everyone who has submitted questions we have them here and we will save the majority of them for the end circle back on, just so we can.

Susie Wilkening: Worst case scenario we can get back to you.

Natanya Khashan: Absolutely.

Susie Wilkening: Love blog, something like them.

Natanya Khashan: 100%. So last question on this particular data story. Is there any indication that museum guards may substitute their financial support with advocacy, you know?

Susie Wilkening: They were asked, but it wasn’t volunteered.

OK, so number five, we’re going to pull you back up a little bit from those depths of despair and talk about hope and healing. And I dated. This one really specifically all these infographics for data with our release date is that moment in time. As we entered may so this is now about a month ago. Your SIM cards were looking ahead to more time at home, and they had some pretty mixed feelings about the reopening of their communities and they’re emotionally. It was just every week motions got lower and lower through the panel. So, it’s not like a low point at that moment that people are struggling the most emotionally with the pandemic.

And we have this comment, to be frank, I lost quite a bit of my pandemic staying home was getting harder that cabin fever was really kicking in and they wanted normal back, they really wanted normal back or new normal. It just needed. They needed normal back. And so, I’ve been talking about. We are an interim normal right now we have an old normal there’s gonna be a new normal. But right now, we’re in the interim normal. I think that’s it.

Okay, I’ve just gone. Okay. I was muted unmuted good now. Okay.

So how can we need some help? Going forward, there were two things that came out their comments were asked him tell health healthy, healthy hope is a big one. And that’s where we get back to that pandemic contextualization we talked about already. It comes up again. Connecting virtually with those we love but cannot see in person that comes up, yet again, over and over the wine those connections. They also want to be feel like they’re part of something, it’s hard to feel part of something when you’re at home all the time. So how could they feel part of something in their home. And for some reason goers. It’s like they just want me seems to still be museums, I’m fulfilling our mission says doesn’t mean that how you’re fulfilling it might be the same way. But that mission of bringing science and history and art and plants and animals all those things into their lives.

That was really important to a number of museum goers and wanting that to continue and to give them hope, just in and of itself. That’s what’s nice about museums healing. And healing communities and healing people. It’s about being a critical institution in our communities. This goes for folks facing hardship, but also the general mental health of a community knowing we have places like museums to maintain our sanity is comforting and itself. One of the things I mentioned that a few minutes ago is that can permeate all of this panel was that sense of grief came through with all the responses, whether a small griefs are big ones or somewhere in between. We are all having some kind of grieving going on. And we’ve all been marked by the pandemic.

So, we still need those places of respite and places to help us emotionally, mentally and physically heal.

Can give us a sense of purpose explore what it means to be human, which is something that we hear a lot from museum goers gaining knowledge to help us escape use him go or do believe that museums play a really important role here. And so here we do have a little bit more of our advocacy, even though they wouldn’t call it that, necessarily, but we should articulate need for our local, state, federal revenues. Okay, so I was wrong. There was a comment and I just forgotten it.

Here is one about advocacy articulate the need federal revenue support museums of sites necessary for healing essential for education. I do not remember. Any other comments about this, but I did flag this one. They also talked about hope and healing for central brokers, but was interesting that, like, yeah, you should absolutely do that. It has special times open for them. That’s great. But what really came out with like think please think of beyond medical workers and grocery store workers, think about the garbage man or what were the municipal waste. Individuals pickup municipal waste, they were talking about bus drivers who were running public transportation, they’re talking about a lot of different essential workers and so they had pretty broad definition of what a central worker was they also felt that, you know, this is a period of uncertainty and that museums could be in a position to help frame that future for our communities, but that museums are going to do that. They had to be relevant now. So, they said things like, don’t wait for this to be over to try to heal. Me exams are not part of the hope and wait for the healing. They may not be as impactful.

And then another comment. I hope museums can contribute to us thriving and that new normal. So those are the five infographics. We have six minutes before I know that we are booted out of this online space. So, in the Tanya where we got Yeah, we…

Natanya Khashan: Got more questions, then we will probably be able to get six minutes, so I am sorry everyone, but we do get booted right at 5pm center. She’s now pm Central time I’m on the East Coast so still getting used to the central time so I’m just going to go through a couple of these. And perhaps the rest we might address in a future blog post and to get everyone’s questions answered. And in general, can you speak to how the results might change if this was done. Now, there were a few questions about the difference between when you may have been it originally surveyed folks and pleasant day

Susie Wilkening: I think there will be changes now. Um, I think they’re going to be there are some people who are feeling even more despair. I think there’s other people who are feeling hope that they can go out. I think there are people who are going out and going to restaurants and maybe have visited a museum. So that’s one of the reasons why we kept the panel open the on hiatus, and the panels know that I said I told them very explicitly. We’re gonna come back and we’re probably have more questions for you. We wanted to leave open the possibility of having some check-ins to see how it changes as the pandemic continues. So, we’re are looking at, you know, when do we reopen it and do that check-in. Is it too soon? Now, maybe we do it, beginning of July, but there will be that moment. And we also we have 13,000 emails I can go and build a new panel if I if I want to. And we can then have a different group of people. So, we can see how that plays out too. So, there’s lots of options there. And so, I would say we don’t know these hypotheses and we might test them.

Natanya Khashan: Thank you. And we have one individual who is curious if you have more to say about the concern around guided tours. If it is just an expectation that there are larger groups involved.

Susie Wilkening: Yeah, it’s the other people on the tour and confined spaces, that’s the primary concern. I think there would be a degree of comfort with an individual family group and a guide. Because that’s easier for the guide to stay six feet away. And it’s even a confined spaces to navigate that. But it’s those next groups of visitors on tourism, which was the primary concern in the smaller spaces, especially, we think about, you know, like say a the century house in Massachusetts. Just a random one

Natanya Khashan: Do you think that a majority of respondents would be okay with a museum just not reopening at all in person until there was a vaccine.

Susie Wilkening: Um, and I know there’s some museums, who are choosing to do that. Um, yeah, I think some of them would. I mean, I think it would depend on the museum, but I think they would say a smaller museum might be that might be a really good choice for them because you know, they’re like, I had the resources to keep us safe. Um, so that might be certainly a helpful for a smaller museum, I think, a large museum, like a major Art Museum in a major city would have a harder time doing it.

Natanya Khashan: We’ve got a couple folks that would just like a quick repeat of the size of the panel and the size of the national sample.

Susie Wilkening: OK, so the originally started with nearly 40,000 respondents and you’ll survive museum overseas or museum-goers be pulled from that individual who are interested in follow-up research, we ended up with 120 ish. I think it’s like 119 maybe 121 somewhere in there. Individuals who said yes, they’d be happy to additional research and to come participate in the panel. So they came from all over the country they’re from all different types of museums, we have Zoo goers. We have Children’s Museum growers; we have History Museum-goers. We’ve tried to balance the invitation list so that it would be across the spectrum of ages and also be representative in terms of people color.

Natanya Khashan: What questions do you think are most important. Ask visitors about their experience once they are able to visit museums again.

Susie Wilkening: Did they find anything meaningful in their visit or were they too concerned about being safe. So that’s something that did come up. It’s not so much in the graphics, but the feeling that, how can I enjoy the visit. If I’m always worried about where other people are so where the safety precautions. A certain to give them confidence and that they kind of melt away enough that they could actually engage with the content and have a meaningful experience.

Thank you. That’s really important.

Natanya Khashan: How would you suggest individual museums gauge their own visitors’ feelings on their organizations reopening

Susie Wilkening: I would not say don’t, I would say, don’t do it. Enter stepped on the floor of the museum because I don’t think that’s social distancing what they expect, and I feel like they’re getting surveyed a lot right now. Maybe monitoring TripAdvisor, things like that. I’m asking on social media seems there’s some responses that you can get from that, from people have visited and maybe a personal email, not like a bulk email that a personal email to visitors. If you know somebody visited a more of a personal email, say, hey, how did that go, it’s more qualitative you’re gonna get more emotion and more act candor. The survey might be worth doing that for 10 visitors a week. Hey, thanks so much for coming.

Can you give me some thoughts here? I think that I think people would be willing to do that.

Natanya Khashan: I think that wraps it up for us. I don’t want us to get booted. So, thank you so much Susie and thank you to everyone who participated in the panel today. We look forward to seeing you. The rest of the week at a virtual…

Susie Wilkening: Thank you, everyone.

AAM Member-Only Content

AAM Members get exclusive access to premium digital content including:

  • Featured articles from Museum magazine
  • Access to more than 1,500 resource listings from the Resource Center
  • Tools, reports, and templates for equipping your work in museums
Log In

We're Sorry

Your current membership level does not allow you to access this content.

Upgrade Your Membership


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Field Notes!

Packed with stories and insights for museum people, Field Notes is delivered to your inbox every Monday. Once you've completed the form below, confirm your subscription in the email sent to you.

If you are a current AAM member, please sign-up using the email address associated with your account.

Are you a museum professional?

Are you a current AAM member?

Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription, and please add to your safe sender list.