MuseumNext Digital Summit: Day Four

I have just finished listening to the final presentation of day four that covered how to take cemetery tours online – more about that later. Firstly, the theme of today was programs with impact. I really want to stress that this isn’t just a theme isolated to the presentations today, but one that both stood out to me and helped me to connect everything together.

It has been so inspiring listening to how museums, and affiliated institutions, around the world are using COVID-19 lockdowns and working from home to produce engaging content and maintain a connection to their audiences. In each of the presentations, one (or in some cases multiple) project/s were highlighted and served to be the central focus. The presentations I want to reflect on are the ones that delved into one particular project and how it served a need with their audience.

  1. Getting 100 000 Young People Excited by Science in the Time of COVID
    Presenter: Frazer Thorpe

In March 2020, Thorpe and his team at Zoos Victoria realised, like the majority of other museums and heritage institutions around the world, that their education programs would need to go digital. The question was, how could they create a community science project for high school students online? The resources at their disposal included teachers to collaborate with, the zoo education team, digital programming tools and a live stream already established in some of their animal enclosures (other things were mentioned but these were central). Their goal was clear – maintain engagement, be relevant and purposeful and support a community science project experience.

What resulted is a 40 minute presentation with both pre and post tasks for schools to complete. During the presentation, students learn all about the little penguins at the zoo including their natural environment, how they have adapted to this environment, and why they are now at the zoo. After this, in school time, students watch live footage of the penguins noting down their behaviours and whether or not these behaviours change with the presence of a zoo keeper. All observations are added to a live document where students can see what others have reported. This contributes to a large file of raw data. Finally, from there, the data can be analysed and the students can generate reports on the penguins. For exampe, did their behaviour change? At what time of day were they more likely to go for a swim?

What’s really cool about this program is that the zoo keepers can also access this data and see any developing trends. This can then have a flow on effect, assisting keepers with caring for the penguins and monitoring their behaviour. I enjoyed how the presentation included some footage of the penguins – incredibly adorable.

2. Maintaining Your Creativity During a Pandemic
Presenter: Shakia Gullette

This was a really powerful presentation looking at how you can take emotions and use them to fuel action and create a network of support and learning. Gullette is from the Missouri Historical Society and works as Director of African American History Initiatives. With the Black Lives Matter Movement and a history of racial injustice and white supremacy, Gullette looked at how to create something that would foster engaging conversations on race and identity. From this, the ‘How did we get here’ series emerged which had a four-tier approach to addressing such issues.

Tier 1 – Presentations to engage youth. This program was focused on engaging young people in learning about youth activism and the history of the Civil Rights Movement.

Tier 2 – Presentations to dismantle racism including looking at race as a social construct and white fragility/white supremacy.

Tier 3 – Presentations that were history-centred including a local history of policing.

Tier 4 – A space to process information and heal. After each presentation there was an opportunity to enter into an uncensored, but safe, place that was all about engaging with other participants.

This program really emboided the theme of programs with impact. Not only that, but it also showed the importance of responding to the needs of your audience and the broader community.

3. Lightening Talks

A few of the lightening talks also spoke to the broad theme. Beth Mitchell from the Natural History Museum of Utah made me really want to visit Utah and see their most notable natural and cultural locations. As a way to extend the museum’s reach, markers have been placed in all 29 counties of Utah to acknowledge these locations and inspire people to see them in situ. The landscape there looks incredible.

Hanne Grégoire from the Museum Leuven (or M Leuven) presented on an initiative where posters of artworks in the museum’s collection were put on display in the streets around Belgium. This was to remind people during their one-hour outside exercise time that the museum did still exist and was going to welcome them back one day.

Finally, the talk by Natasha Henry from the Art Gallery of New South Wales delved into their ‘Together in Art’ program that saw the creation of 150 new pieces of digital content uploaded to a micro-site. They covered everything from making your own art to talks from experts. It was great to hear how everyone in the Gallery became involved in creating content and worked as a team to get through the lockdown.

4. Cemetery Tours Online
Presenter: Sheldon K. Goodman

If you know anything at all about where I work or my general aesthetic, then it will come as no surprise that I am 100% ready to go on a historical tour of a cemetery at all times. Goodman explored how there has been an evolving interest in cemetery tours as a way to explore cultural and social history and reconnect with the past. They are so rich in history and I completely agree with the statement that they can be seen as cultural institutions.

Goodman has been able to transform in-person tours into digital content, creating a number of short videos that were published to social media. This has removed any geographical barrier to learning about some cemetery history and was also able to reach new audiences.

Overall, day four really highlighted some amazing initiatives launched by museums and affiliated institutions. I cannot wait to see what day five entails which, unfortunately, will be the final day.

Cover image is from the MuseumNext Digital Summit website.

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