That’s the question that has been motivating the Pensacola Museum of Art team for the last three weeks. So much of the museum experience is based on interaction, physical exploration, creative immersion and self-guided learning. With brand new exhibits and educational programs scheduled during our shutdown, we’ve been discussing what it means to be a museum and questioning what is at the heart of our visitor experience. During a time of physical disconnection, we’re looking for ways to connect with our community and support the creative curiosity that drives our visitors.
Our first step was to bring the PMA exhibitions into your home. For museums, it all comes down the objects, the artists, and the stories told within the gallery. Our exhibition designer, Richard Rodriguez, created virtual tours for all of our current exhibitions - STEAM2020, The Members Show, and Bless Your Heart. After spending hours shooting and editing photos, he shared the virtual tours with the rest of the team. It became a catalyst for our next steps, and ultimately inspired us to rethink how we present our exhibitions and education to the public moving forward, even beyond COVID-19. By removing the motivation to bring visitors through our doors, we were forced to think outside of the box and question if we were missing an opportunity to connect with individuals remotely. We pride ourselves on being a widely accessible community institution through low admission prices, thoughtful exhibition design, and a variety of programming opportunities, but were we as accessible as we could be? Giving remote access to our exhibitions opens the door for individuals with physical or financial barriers for entry to access the museum. A digital museum space encourages homeschool students and other remote learning groups to bring us into their classroom. That led us to our next step.
Museums are pedagogical, meaning we intentionally frame exhibitions, classes, and physical spaces based on offering an educational experience to our visitor. Part of our exhibition experience is interacting with artists. Their work within our galleries presents a portion of their story, but artist-centered programming offers a personal connection and opens a door for further education and insight. Live streaming artist talks were an obvious solution, but how do we go further? Poppy Garcia’s identity as an artist and creative is largely presented on his social media platforms. His work addresses our contemporary culture’s use of social media and virtual personas. During this time of self-isolation, we’ve studied our own institution and its virtual “persona.” We used this as a tool in presenting his artist talk, intentionally streaming it on multiple platforms in a relaxed but intimate fashion. Garcia was encouraged to be candid and interact directly with his followers and viewer base. We recognized the unique opportunity to use social media to our advantage for this presentation.
Are we reaching every visitor through our virtual platforms? Can all of our visitors navigate our website or social media pages? Sheltering at home provides a unique opportunity for families to educate, learn, and experience things together. As a precautionary measure we have closed the museum classroom and cancelled our educational classes through May. It’s important for us to support and encourage parents and students to continue their educational engagement virtually. Our young students are important to us, and this large shift in daily routines forces them to approach learning differently. In addition to prompting our community to explore the exhibitions virtually, we have posted related daily art projects to take that experience further. Aside from helping parents stay sane, these activities act as multi-level learning exercises in fine motor skills, following written directions, problem solving, relating overall concepts between projects and exhibitions, and encourage bonding time between family members. We see this benefit continuing beyond this period of isolation and becoming a regular online offering for our community.
Every museum in the country is moving in this direction, and we are all learning from one another. While these steps are new for us, we are taking notes from institutions that are doing it well, and learning how we can better serve our visitors even after reopening to the public. We’ve been pulling inspiration from other institutions, creatives, artists, crafters, makers, educators, and more, and have a few favorites we hope will inspire you too.
Thanks for continuing to keep the Pensacola Museum of Art in your life, even during this strange time. We are more motivated than ever to listen to our community and implement the best ways to continue serving them remotely.