Novi Belgii map, 1685, Library of Congress
Dear Members of MANY's Museum Community,
As we enter the eighth week of “NY on Pause,” I want to start this letter by acknowledging that some of us are grieving and that we are all unsure of what the future may bring.
I believe New York’s museums are in an existential crisis. Not the textbook definition of an existential crisis, but a definition that encompasses how New York’s museums will never exist again the way we did at the start of 2020.
Museum people are planners. We love our calendars and our schedules. But we are now in uncharted territory and our highly developed planning skills may not be the tool we need to plot a course beyond the next two weeks. We have lost revenue and years of exhibition planning. Furloughs and lay-offs of half of our workforce - primarily staff in education and visitor service positions - are an incalculable loss of potential for change in our field promised by the most diverse cohort to have entered our workforce.
We have been deeply hurt by this crisis, but my faith in our ability to come through better than before is grounded in knowing that museum professionals are the most creative, inspiring, and generous people I know. We are visual thinkers who now need to reshape our galleries, facilities, and audience engagement strategies to fit the new world in which we live. This evolution might be painful as we abandon comfortable assumptions and well-used funding formulas to steer a new course for how we share our resources and collections while keeping the safety of our visitors at the center of our sights.
When I began work on virtual interactives and distance learning platforms more than 20 years ago, the mantra I used to try to recruit museum leadership to my cause was “many more people will never walk through your museum's doors than will ever walk through your doors.” Sadly, it has taken a pandemic to bring us to this point where our virtual audience has grown beyond many of our imaginations. I hope that this rapid iteration of our digital presence will help us re-imagine the way we work with our communities both virtually and in our facilities. We have a chance to contribute positive actions to reduce climate change, balance social equity, and increase education accessibility.
When our state begins to open, when enough of us are well, and we have not only flattened the curve, but are on the down slope, our visitors will return. We are all eager to get a glimpse past the horizon, beyond what is knowable and reliable, into the terra incognita. The travel ahead may be rough as we encounter new realities, but it is our goal to be here to help our community stay connected as we all shape the new museum world.
MANY's state and federal advocacy efforts use data to prove how NY's museums are truly essential economic and social components of their communities. We have collected data on the COVID-19 impact from 145 museums since April 9 using a survey developed by the Network of European Museum Organizations (NEMO). The survey will remain open until 5 PM on May 1. If you have not yet taken the survey, please add your voice to our advocacy efforts to let our legislative representatives know the difficult straits our museums are navigating.
On Friday, May 1 at noon, MANY's Virtual Meet Up will explore what opening our museums may look like. We are grateful that Dyer Arts Center at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, RIT will provide closed captioning. If you know someone who needs closed captioning, please let them know. We have welcomed over 850 people to our Virtual Meet Ups since they began on March 20th - more than twice the number of people that attended our 2019 Fall Meet Ups in person. I hope you can join us and share your ideas and expertise with our museum community. Click here to register.
With hope and thanks,
Erika Sanger, Executive Director