News & Views

Keeping Museums ‘Open’ During COVID-19

With the COVID-19 crisis leading to the closure of museums and cultural institutions around the world, museum marketing leaders have innovated, expanded, and implemented an impressive range of online initiatives to keep their galleries virtually ‘open’ to visitors and their communities.

Here are some ways to keep your museum open virtually that provide entertainment, education and some much-needed solace to your audiences while potentially expanding to new markets. Beyond helping isolated individuals get through these trying times, these approaches can serve as building blocks to a larger and continually expanding online museum presence for your organization.

Create A Special Virtual Tour

The need for quality content from our favorite art and cultural institutions has never been in higher demand. Providing ways for online visitors to explore your collections, galleries, and other physical spaces virtually offer an opportunity to stay engaged with your key supporters and audiences.

For instance, the closing of the New York Botanical Garden, just as The Orchid Show opened, meant great disappointment for would-be real-life visitors of this popular annual event and garden season kick-off. Working against a ticking clock (orchids don’t stay in bloom forever), the NYBG developed a curated virtual tour of the show. The result was a highly publicized Watch Party streaming on Facebook that lured more than 45,000 interested viewers, with over 31,000 replays on YouTube. And as the region comes into full bloom, essential workers at the NYBG are currently posting videos of the garden’s emergence from winter.

‘Embrace the Suck’ Through Social Media

Nobody is happy about the shuttered doors of the world’s arts and cultural institutions. Yet museum marketing messaging as of late seems to express that while we’re all feeling the pressure of our globally challenging situation – and we’re all in it together. Being positive, hopeful, and even humorous tone can help your museum connect with audiences through regular social media platforms.

At the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, a security guard was the last man standing inside as the museum shut its doors. With the place to himself, he took on the museum’s social media duties, resulting in audiences witnessing not only the funny side of the social media learning curve, but gaining one of the most insightful and poignant perspectives of the museum’s collection, and life during COVID-19.

Meanwhile, at Chicago’s Field Museum, a popular social media campaign is underway where the museum’s T. Rex mascot explores (and thoroughly enjoys) the empty galleries on her own, even creating TikTok posts for her fans.

At Home Edutainment

With home and online schooling creating new challenges in households and classrooms, museums, and cultural institutions, it’s a great time to develop new resources and virtual spaces for learning. From specialized course curriculums to educational crossword puzzles, as well as interactive learning applications, educational programming is in high demand and provides ample reward for museums through the pandemic and beyond.

Some examples include the recently launched ‘History is Fun at Home’ program by the Jamestown Settlement & American Revolution Museum. This specialized content shares insights into stories of 17th and 18th-century Virginia and connects viewers to the museum’s curators, historical interpreters, and educators.  Live broadcasts on different aspects of the American Revolution complement the museum’s selection of videos, interactive games, and lesson plans, providing a valuable resource for online learning.

For adults, New York City’s 92Y recently made its online archives free and accessible to the public during the pandemic crisis. This online trove includes readings, concerts, and educational talks, as well as a full calendar of upcoming free and live-streamed lectures. Additional fee-based online adult (and children’s) courses are available and range from comedy performance to CPR classes, dance to drawing workshops.

Live Programming

Whether through Zoom, Facebook Live, or even Instagram Stories, live streaming programming and talks are becoming a cornerstone of online museum offerings through this crisis. Tap into your organization’s experts, artists and ambassadors to develop a schedule of discussions and talks on topics related to your museum, your museum community, and even the crisis at hand.

The International Center of Photography has employed a full arsenal of streaming services to connect with audiences. Zoom lectures with photographers, online collections discussed on podcasts, and complementary streaming music playlists are just some of the ways the Center is connecting with its patrons. Using the isolating issues of the coronavirus as a jump-off point, ICP has also launched a series of online lectures and demonstrations for amateur and professional photographers.

 #Hashtag Museum

Hashtags are the filing system for social media, and museum marketing forces have been out in front, creating traction for hashtags that join museum audiences around the world.

#MuseumFromHome is the most popular museum-related hashtag of the moment and provides a real-time clearinghouse for art and museum content to homebound viewers. Other trending hashtags include #MuseumMomentofZen, offering peace and comfort through a specific museum work.

#WhyILoveMuseums is used to share how museums inspire and connect us. Meanwhile, the #ArchivesHashtagParty is being used by history buffs to share historic photos, letters, and other items from museums and private collections. Be sure to incorporate these hashtags in your upcoming posts and social media activities.

Through the coronavirus crisis, museums are playing an essential role in helping people reflect, engage, and learn. This, too, shall pass. Using this time to develop new content or to repackage existing material to reach a broader audience will help drive new visitors and supporters to your institution’s doors in the future.

Experienced in museum marketing and serving some of the world’s top destinations in tourism or economic crisis, DCI is uniquely qualified to help you get a plan in place for recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. Want to talk? Reach out to [email protected] to get your recovery plan started.

Written By

Karyl Leigh Barnes

Karyl Leigh Barnes is President of DCI’s Tourism Practice. Since joining the firm in 1998, Karyl Leigh has led destination strategy and created marketing communication programs for destinations on every continent except Antarctica.

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