Going virtual with museum visits | At this Time

“Temporarily Closed.” Those are two common words used to explain the status of Stark County’s museums amid the shutdown of nonessential businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Temporarily Closed.”

Those are two common words used to explain the status of Stark County’s museums amid the shutdown of nonessential businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, if one positive lesson resulted from the closings of area art and historical galleries, it might be learning that education and enlightenment indeed are essential. And the emphasis placed on encouraging patrons of area museums to “visit” and enjoy art and artifacts without stepping a foot into the physical structures is effective.

Virtual visits to local museums were made possible through a collaboration of six Stark and Tuscarawas county institutions “as the community works together to keep COVID-19 at bay,” said a posting at the website for VisitCanton.com. “Stark and Tuscarawas county museums have organized to present their collections to audiences in the comfort and safety of their homes.”

“We’re all in on continuing it (after the pandemic); it’s been really great for us,” said Kimberly Kenney, executive director for the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum. “We had wanted to increase this kind of (virtual) content on social media, and the shutdown made it a priority.”

Each of the museums participating in this virtual visit program is responsible for providing online content at noon on a specific day of the week—Monday through Saturday—and staff members post that content on their museums’ Facebook pages. Museums in the collaboration also make their partners’ content available to their social media followers.

“Having this kind of regular time slot will help us continue doing it after we all get back open,” Kenney explained.

Mondays at noon, the McKinley Presidential Library presents “information about presidential history, pioneer life, astronomy and the animals in the McKinley Museum’s Discover World,” according to an explanation at VisitCanton.com.

On Tuesdays, the Massillon Museum focuses on “objects in its new permanent collection galleries.”

Canton Museum of Art posts on Wednesdays “share virtual exhibition tours and art-making activities as part of its Museum To Go program, take in-depth looks into parts of the CMA collection and feature a range of content to engage, entertain and educate people of all ages.”

Each Thursday, the National First Ladies’ Library uses its time to “celebrate women’s history, the Saxton McKinley family and the library’s 2020 themes—women’s rights, the suffrage centennial, campaigning first ladies and women running for office.”

On Fridays, the Pro Football Hall of Fame uses artifacts and interviews to bring to life “the 100+ years of professional football history.”

Finally, on Saturdays, the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum delves into such topics as “railroad history, World War II, canteen history, railroads, amusement parks and Bing—the museum’s World War I mascot.”

“It all grew out of a conference call we had concerning what we could do during the closure,” recalled Kenney. “We all knew we should do some digital content, and we thought it would be great if we could do it together.”

In the collaboration, museums pledged to provide content—at a minimum—for their designated days.

“Our staff got really enthused about it,” said Kenney. “So, we’re doing our day but we’re also doing content on other days. We have something almost every day. Other museums are doing that, too.”

Content is kept short in duration—think 10 to 20 minutes—and it reflects the nature of the programming of each museum.

Alexandra Nicholis Coon, executive director of Massillon Museum, noted in a video before her facility’s initial posting that the content is intended to maintain visibility of the collaborators as they continue to serve the community.

“The museums in our community are here for the public benefit,” she said. “Just because our doors are closed does not mean our responsibilities to the public diminish. In fact, we could argue our value is more important than ever as we have resources in place to make content available online.”

Offerings by the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum have included historical photo and video presentations, introductions to animals in the museum’s Discover World and explanations of the objects in the night sky that normally are visible to patrons of the facility’s planetarium. The Massillon Museum has provided elements of its staff’s World War I and Titanic programs. The National First Ladies’ Library gave online content on gowns worn by first ladies and achievements by women in science. The Canton Museum of Art has posted overviews of its 2018 “Harlem Renaissance” exhibit and lessons on art projects. The Pro Football Hall of Fame has traced the process of making the bronze busts of enshrinees and reviewed some of the content in its “Movement in Motion” program. The Dennison Railroad Depot Museum has toured its children’s interactive exhibit and displayed its model train layout.

This and other past programming remains in postings on the museums’ facebook pages, and it still can be enjoyed by online “visitors.”

“Visit Canton and the entire tourism industry applaud the partnership and creativity to continue to bring programming to our community and guests during this unprecedented time,” said Ally Bussey, president of Visit Canton, in a comment on the organization’s website. “We are so proud of our amazing tourism assets and the value they add to our lives, and we hope that our communities will rally around these treasured institutions and continue to support them as we navigate this challenging environment.”

Kenney said that staff at the museums will seek in the future to continue the online connection that the facilities have fostered with their patrons during the time that the museums could not be visited. Still, museum directors are hoping that the virtual visits will encourage more substantial in-person visits to the galleries as the Stark County community moves forward.

“We wanted to make sure people didn’t forget us when we were closed,” explained Kenney. “We hope they are going to come back when we’re open.”