Museums reaching out to visitors, despite COVID-19

PHOTO: Melissa Mitman

Just days after non-essential operations were halted in the city, the Philadelphia Museum of Art posted a 360-degree photo of its medieval Cloister.

It’s a favorite spot for many PMA fans, and it reminds at least one Facebook commenter of her engagement. Her husband proposed under the cavernous stones.

Philadelphia museums, shuttered due to the COVID-19 virus, are struggling to make ends meet, and some have laid off staff. However, most are still making an effort to reach out to their audience base through social media and other virtual means.

“Our goal has always been to use social media to bring the museum and our collection to the digital space to meet people where they’re already spending a large amount of their time,” Caitlin Mahony, PMA’s digital manager, told Metro.

“Now that the museum is closed, that is more important than ever,” she added.

The National Constitution Center is offering a robust array of online education programs. It’s an attempt to fill a gap for students, who, at least in Philadelphia, have now been out of school for more than two weeks.

The Philadelphia Museum of art shared this painting on Facebook, a fitting piece for a time of quarantine. “The Orchard Window,” 1918, by Daniel Garber. Oil on canvas, 56 7/16 × 52 1/4 inches. © Estate of Daniel Garber. Centennial gift of the family of Daniel Garber, 1976. Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2020.

Children of different ages can tune in to courses analyzing a variety of constitutional issues through Zoom.

“As students are learning remotely during the COVID-19 crisis, all of us at the National Constitution Center are working hard to support and engage learners across the country to educate themselves about the U.S. Constitution,” NCC President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen said in a statement.

On Friday, Ken Burns, a renowned filmmaker who has produced series on the Civil War, Prohibition and other topics, will join Rosen for a class with high school and college students at 1 p.m. Friday.

Non-students aren’t being left out. The NCC is taking its “America’s Town Hall” program online. Historians Lindsay Chervinsky and Edward Larson will discuss George Washington and his legacy Thursday at 7 p.m.

One of Philadelphia’s newer institutions, the Museum of the American Revolution, which opened in 2017, offers a plethora of digital resources, including a complete virtual tour of the museum. For teachers, MAR has a “virtual field trip” video, complete with a tour guide and lesson plan.

“While there’s no substitute for experiencing a museum in person and standing in the presence of authentic art and artifacts, virtual exploration is the next best thing,” MAR President and CEO R. Scott Stephenson said in a statement.

PMA doesn’t have a full virtual tour. It’s something the museum has discussed in the past and may consider doing in the future, Mahony said.

The Free Library of Philadelphia, a lifeline for many, especially in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, has a vast array of digital resources, and several branches, including the Queen Memorial, Fumo Family and Independence libraries, are regularly live-streaming events on Facebook, including story times for children.

Last week, the Rosenbach, a museum and library near Rittenhouse Square, launched a virtual version of its on-site exhibit, “American Voyager: Herman Melville at 200.” It includes photos of artifacts, documents and a treasure trove of information about the “Moby-Dick” author.

The Barnes Foundation is holding five new online courses in April taking place weekdays from 1 to 3 p.m., including “Manet, Women, and Paris” on Mondays and “Decoding Barnes’s Ensembles” on Wednesdays.

They’ve also been posting YouTube videos daily, where curators and art experts offer insight on various pieces in the museum’s collection.

The Franklin Institute, which has laid off more than 35 percent of its staff according to the Inquirer, has been hosting a daily Facebook Live discussion about COVID-19 with its chief bioscientist, Dr. Jayatri Das, at 3 p.m.

Mahony said PMA has been using its social media feeds to share artwork from the museum’s collection, including pieces that don’t often see the light of day.

During March, the museum’s Facebook page also highlighted female artists for Women’s History Month and themed days, like National Cheesesteak Day (which was March 24, by the way).

They’ve also had a bit of fun, including showcasing a painting portraying a stressed-looking mother with a caption about working from home while in quarantine.

“Our plan is to keep sharing our collection and our resources with our followers,” Mahony said.

“Portrait of a Mother and Her Children [possibly Mrs. Weddell],” c. 1816, by George Henry Harlow. Oil on canvas, 36 x 28 1/4 inches. The John Howard McFadden Collection, 1928. Image courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2020.

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