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Posted on June 1, 2020
by Eric Holter

Museum Curators Share Expertise From Home

When museums across the country had to close their doors during the coronavirus crisis, we saw a renewed emphasis on digital content as a way to keep missions alive and visitors engaged. While much of the heavy lifting of content production and distribution still falls onto a museum’s digital or communications department, we’ve saw great examples of their colleagues from other departments using digital channels to share their own insights and resources with an online audience.

Educators have been produced new lesson plans and read-aloud videos for parents with children learning at home. Animal keepers and trainers and have set up live streams of their zoo’s favorite residents. And, in one case, a security guard took over his museum’s social media accounts.

One of our favorite subgenres of “Museum from Home” content is the Expert at Home. Curators, historians, and scientists, cooped up at home like the rest of us, shared stories of history, research, and preservation, with slides, props, or both.

Think about it: Who holds the keys to the richest stories, and the deepest knowledge of a museum’s collections? When your museum is open, these folks often are hard at work in the background, collecting and interpreting objects and training docents to speak expertly to curious visitors. Ironically, this means direct access to these experts is often hard for the average visitor to come by outside of special member events and programs. But now that they are at home like everyone else, their expertise can serve more people, and reach well beyond your members and local communities.

In no particular order, here is a list of 9 museums that gave “in-house expert” a whole new meaning during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

1. California Academy of Sciences – Breakfast Club
“The Academy may be closed—and quarantine may sometimes feel like detention—but our science never stops! At 10 am on select mornings, Academy experts bring you discoveries, insights, and stories from around the world, spanning a wide range of subjects through live, informal presentations followed by Q&As with the viewing audience. Streamed simultaneously to our YouTube and Facebook pages, these mini-classes are for everyone (because each one of us is a brain). Sincerely yours, the Academy.”

Start with: “Happy 50th, Earth Day!”

2. Tank Museum – The Curator at Home
“This is a special Coronavirus series in which David Willey is regaling us with the incredible depth of his knowledge.”

Start with: “Curator David Willey demonstrates how a tank fires a shell.”

3. Blanton Museum of Art – Curated Conversations
“Join us every Tuesday for live Q&A sessions with the Blanton staff! They’ll answer your burning questions about everything from how the windows in Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin got here to what NOT to say to an artist. Happy hour drink suggestions and recipes provided.”

Start with: “What Makes a Mother: Variations on the Maternal in Art”

4. Cincinnati Museum Center – Ask A Curator Live
“Join a CMC curator every Tuesday as they answer your questions about our collections, their research, their inspiration and more. Tuesdays, 11 a.m.”

Start with: “Dr. Brenda Hunda, Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology”

5. Appleton Museum of Art  – Art Minutes
“Through a video series called ‘Art Minutes’ … our curatorial team explores the visual elements and symbolism in a work of art.”

Start with: “Primary Color”

6. American Museum of Natural History – Scientists at Home

“While we are #StayingHome due to COVID-19, our scientists are sharing knowledge from their fields—virtually! Join us every Thursday at 2 pm ET.”

Start with: “Reptiles and Amphibians”

7. The Dali Museum: At home with The Dalí 
“Our weekly video series to engage, entertain and delight you with the creative world of Salvador Dalí.”

Start with: “The Hallucinogenic Toreador.”

8. The Frick Collection – Travels with a Curator & Cocktails with a Curator
Travels with a Curator: “Travel the globe with the Frick as your tour guide! Every Wednesday, join a Frick curator on an exciting virtual journey to cultural and historic sites relevant to the museum. Members see it first. Become a member to enjoy early access to each episode.”

Cocktails with a Curator: “The Frick is concocting the perfect mix of cocktails and art. Every Friday at 5:00 p.m., join us for happy hour as a Frick curator (remotely) offers insights on a work of art with a complimentary cocktail. Bring your own beverage to this virtual event. Audiences under 21 are encouraged to join with a non-alcoholic drink.”

Start with: “Westminster Abbey”

9. USS Constitution Museum – Historian At Home 
“The USS Constitution Museum presents a weekly video series with Public Historian Carl Herzog. Carl uses the Museum’s collections, archives, and online content to explore the lesser known corners of “Old Ironsides’” history for a virtual audience.”

Start with: “Packing for Sea”

So as you’re looking for new ways to engage your audience online, ask yourself if your museum has any untapped resources who are excited to talk about their subject matter expertise for an audience, whether live or archived.

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