Worcester Business Journal

May 11, 2020

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16 Worcester Business Journal | May 11, 2020 | wbjournal.com F O C U S T H E D I G I T A L F U T U R E Online culture Central Mass. museums are responding to pandemic closures by going online BY GRANT WELKER Worcester Business Journal News Editor O ld Sturbridge Village is normally populated with people living perpetually in the 1830s, including that era's technology and dress. Today though, those residents – and the interpreters who play them – are combining the 19th century with the 21st in order to continue interacting with people who might otherwise be vis- iting if not for the coronavirus pandemic and the closures forced to follow. Anyone with internet access can find the same 1830s' lessons on baking a pie, churning butter, playing a centuries-old board game, or preparing the garden for the spring growing season. "ey're spending their days as if it's the 1830s. Picking up an iPhone and filming yourself is getting out of your comfort zone for many of them," said Christine Tieri, the chief marketing officer at Old Sturbridge Village. Quickly picking up on technology has become a necessary skill these days for museums more accustomed to bringing in crowds to see artwork, watch and hear animals in their habitats, or experience first-hand the wonders of science. e EcoTarium in Worcester has set up a virtual tour thanks to a company that donated its services. e Fitchburg Art Museum has posted tutorials on making art from home, when before much of its online presence was strictly informational. e team at the Dis- covery Museum in Acton normally traveling around to area schools instead has online guides for math tricks, nature scavenger hunts or simple engineering lessons kids can do at home. An abrupt shift e spring is normally when area museums would be welcoming in school field trips and other visitors. Instead, what are oen fairly small staffs have had to figure out how best to make use of what's around them. e transition has been easier in some areas than others. e Worcester Art Museum, for example, happened to catalogue nearly all of its 38,000 works a few years ago, allowing visitors to easily search by keyword and to browse through the same artist and work descriptions they'd come across in a gallery. Normally, only about 5% of the museum's collection is on display at a given time. "A lot of them are works on paper that people have never seen before," museum director Matthias Waschek said of the online database. Still, there are some challenges. About 40% of the museum's member house- holds are over 65 and less likely to turn to social media. With that in mind, the museum has been sure to post regular emailed newsletters as well as its more oen posts to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. "We became a digital organization overnight," said Julieane Frost, the muse- um's senior marketing manager. Waschek considered whether an ability to view artwork at home may lead to longer-term existential questions for museums. But he thought back to the in- troduction of photography and thoughts at the time it would spell the end of original artwork. It didn't, he said. Being able to view art from one's own living room or bedroom can give a different perspective and greater sense of intimacy, Waschek said. Museums have spent much of their new online efforts not just showing their works but bringing their services to people's homes. e Discovery Museum doubled its exhibit space in a major expansion just over two years ago. It wasn't as focused on web technology before. "Our emphasis forever has been direct interaction with real stuff and real peo- ple," said Neil Gordon, the CEO of the Discovery Museum. "It's been a process of how best to deliver that to folks." e museum normally teaches kids and other visitors about light and water and other aspects of science through sensory experiences. Since that can't take place in person, the museum has posted a few dozen tip sheets for how to do easy experiments at home. "We had an early recognition that that was the way to go," Gordon said. With 10 teachers on staff who normally con- Fitchburg Art Museum Director of Education Laura Howick works on an art-making tutorial for the museum's digital channels. Maryann Gubala prepares to take video of chickens at Old Sturbridge Village. PHOTO/COURTESY OF OLD STURBRIDGE VILLAGE PHOTO/COURTESY OF FITCHBURG ART MUSEUM

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