Key Ideas from Museums Experimenting in the Hybrid Future

On March 2, we were delighted to welcome colleagues from museums and lifelong learning institutions for Gather’s convening, Museums Experimenting in the Hybrid Future.

Key Ideas from Museums Experimenting in the Hybrid Future

On March 2, we were delighted to welcome colleagues from museums and lifelong learning institutions for Gather’s convening, Museums Experimenting in the Hybrid Future. In this session, three innovative museum leaders from the Cleveland Museum of Art, Barnes Foundation, and Museum of Design Atlanta shared how they’ve been using experimental, iterative approaches to adapt to a hybrid reality, and the variety of ways in which they’ve defined what that means for their organization and programs.

Catch up on the recording and key ideas here.

Virtual programming at the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) with Andrew Cappetta, Manager of Collections and Exhibition Programs:

  • At the start of the pandemic, Andrew looked outside of museums for virtual programming inspiration, for instance at the Brooklyn Rail and NPR Fresh Air. The pandemic prompted the encyclopedic museum to take an experimental approach and they tried a range of programming to see what worked best.
  • Virtual programming allowed the CMA to invite guests with a range of expertise, such as a contemplation guide who helped audiences gain comfort with the unknowns in their lives, as well as those who wouldn’t have been able to participate if the program were held onsite, such as an expert on mola textiles from Panamá, opening up the voice of the institution.
  • During the omicron surge, a virtual program that the CMA collaboratively organized with a community partner provided a space for mothers to meet and share. They were relaxing at home, cooking, providing childcare, and in one instance, saying goodnight to their children — underscoring the meaning and value of what is only possible in the virtual format.

The virtual format allowed participants to show up in different ways than they would have onsite.

Hybrid in-gallery courses at the Barnes Foundation with Martha Lucy, Deputy Director for Research, Interpretation and Education:

  • This past fall, the Barnes Foundation began successfully experimenting with hybrid in-gallery courses. They sought to balance a traditional in-gallery experience for onsite students with extending that experience to online students and offering online students the additional advantage of using deep Zoom technology to look closely.
  • The team built in ample practice time. The set-up included a group of students seated in the galleries, along with screens that show students joining in from home and a chat window. Another Barnes colleague in the room let the instructor know when there was a question or comment from the online students. Challenges included the lack of flexibility to move around in-gallery and sound — onsite participants could all hear each other, but they passed around a microphone for those who were tuning in remotely, which stilted the conversation a bit.
  • They succeeded in building a dialogue that engaged both the online and in-person students. The conversation went back and forth between those gathered online and onsite.

“After the first class finished, the onsite students actually walked back to the monitor and waved goodbye to the students online.”

Practice session for in-gallery hybrid courses at the Barnes Foundation

Translating the Museum of Design Atlanta’s (MODA) radical friendliness into virtual space with Laura Flusche, Executive Director:

  • Pre-pandemic, MODA’s philosophy of “radical friendliness” meant they warmly welcomed every visitor to the museum and tried to learn with or alongside them through informal conversation. All staff members participate in this practice, spending time at the admissions desk and in the galleries.
  • Drink and Design, MODA’s weekly, hour-long cocktail chat, taught them a lot about translating radical friendliness online. They handed the mic to a designer or a creative and asked them to dedicate half to a third of the event to questions and conversations with the audiences. They also asked them to share their favorite cocktail recipe before the event, inviting audiences to mix it up and toast. MODA learned to let the designers’ voice take precedence over their own, and learned that audiences wanted to actively participate in a conversation.
  • A recent event demonstrates radical friendliness in practice. For the first half of the program, Tré Seals spoke about finding inspiration in fonts used in social justice and civil rights movements. In the second half, the event became very participatory: students asked for advice and professional designers shared resources and helped the students identify where they could learn more. “For that hour, a community of people across the US and beyond came together to have a conversation that they really cared about. We consider that kind of community building a form of radical friendliness and one that we can really foster in the virtual world because it lets people meet each other who couldn’t all come together in Atlanta.”

“The conversation was happening through speaking and the Zoom chat, and it was really fun. An important part of that was allowing the audience to unmute and speak, which we try to do so that it feels less like we’re broadcasting and more like we’re having a conversation.”

Q&A with Rob Urstein, cofounder of Gather:

In MODA’s example with Tré Seals, the museum used its convening power to bring people together but the event itself was streamed from Tré’s studio. Martha was able to bring people together in the gallery and online. In Stories from Storage, Andrew’s team created conversations that used the collection as a starting point to bring in a range of stories and speakers that weren’t located together. How have these experiments made you rethink the place of the institution?

  • Andrew: Virtual gatherings have underscored the imposing nature of museums and that virtual settings can be friendlier. As an organization, we can be present in a virtual program without overdetermining it.
  • Martha: “It’s making me rethink the role of the museum in general. I have always been someone who felt that it was an imperative to be in the museum in front of the object and you had to have a direct encounter with the physical object in person. I’m changing — there are things you can do, there are ways you can teach that don’t require being in front of the object. I used to think of that as a loss and I don’t anymore.”
  • Laura: Doing virtual programming has allowed us to think creatively about how to overcome the challenges of our small space. At the same time we’ve heard about the limitations that our location placed on those who wanted to participate but couldn’t. We can break down some of those barriers in virtual programming.

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