Local museums welcome visitors virtually in light of distancing guidelines

Valley museums are now offering artistic and educational experiences through websites and other mediums

COVID-19 has transformed daily life throughout the world, prompting employers and students to work and learn entirely remotely. The world of museums is no different. 

Because people can no longer visit museums, these spaces are now moving online, offering visitors artistic and educational experiences through their websites and other outlets.

Art and science enthusiasts can virtually visit the ASU Art Museum, Children’s Museum of Phoenix and Arizona Science Center from anywhere with an internet connection. Many museums and art galleries alike have turned to posting pictures of exhibits and videos of activities online as a way to provide culture and family-friendly fun to those quarantining.

These efforts serve not only as a way to bring art to those confined in their homes, but also as a way for these spaces to survive in a business that depends heavily on people seeing art in person.

Amanda Urrea, communications program coordinator at the ASU Art Museum, said the art space has seen a positive public response to its increased presence on social platforms.

“We’ve noticed an increase in our followers, and we’re getting some really good engagement and views — especially with our ‘Art at home!’ video activity,” Urrea said.

The museum’s website lists “Art at home!” as one of many “innovative and exciting ways to virtually connect with our audience and bring the museum experience to our community.” Activities include homemade playdough, time capsules and various other tactile art-related crafts. Urrea said these activities are updated weekly and relate to current exhibitions.

“A large part of our museum includes a hands-on aspect to the artist on view, so we wanted to translate that into our digital content as well,” Urrea said. “Our education team has been working hard to create ‘Art at home!’ activities, so a lot of them have downloadable templates or YouTube videos to go with them.”

Jourdan Thomas, a junior at GCU, is a fan of the ASU Art Museum’s integration of Spotify playlists, which are created by museum curators. The music provides art enthusiasts with another way to experience pieces, creating unique soundtracks with songs that helped inspire the exhibits.

“I followed and downloaded the entire Viernes Mix because I liked how well the songs flowed together — it was beautiful. It was nice to find some new songs on there,” Thomas said, adding that it's been fun watching on social media how museums are connecting with those who don't have the strongest interest in art.

Other Valley museums are adopting similar approaches.

The Phoenix Art Museum has also been posting its art catalog online, even offering a bilingual option to explore and learn more about some of its staple photography, fashion and painted exhibits.

According to the museum’s website, the public can further connect on YouTube and Spotify for other interactive media such as “weekly Virtual Visits, PhxArt Trivia and Museum Music Mondays, featuring works from our collection paired with songs from across genres.”

The Children’s Museum of Phoenix also entered the realm of “at-home fun,” utilizing daily posting on social media to provide families with what they list on their website as “projects, resources and fun content from our staff and community partners.”

A quick look at the museum’s Facebook page shows a flood of activities perfect for those trying to balance working from home while parenting. Recent activities include Easter egg-painting with homemade paint, dancing to develop motor skills, and miniature book-making to promote reading and writing skills.

Hoping to keep kids at home mentally-stimulated, the Arizona Science Center is offering educational experiments with concepts applicable to students ranging from kindergarten to high school seniors.

Sari Custer, chief science and curiosity officer at the Arizona Science Center, said the museum closed its doors to support social distancing and the health of the community, but that meant sacrificing all of its outreach efforts.

These community efforts extended much further than the physical location and included allowing schools to use their CREATE Makerspace and Science on Wheels, a teacher professional development program.

“In an effort to continue supporting our community, though, we were able to pivot very quickly to really focusing on virtual content and doing what we do best, which is interpreting science and living our mission: to inspire, educate and engage curious minds," Custer said.

Custer said that this virtual content, distributed through three social media accounts and their website, is a way to continue their mission and educate in a fun way.

From sea star dissection live streams on Facebook to cooking segments on YouTube, Custer said their virtual content is curated to help everyone in a child’s life.

Their weekly downloadable lesson plans augment what schools are offering children at the moment, but in some cases, schools aren’t able to transition online. Custer said this has resulted in many children not learning much, or at all, during the past month or so. In that case, the museum’s lesson plans stand in for the absent school curriculum.

The lesson plans include resources for teachers, varied experiments for students and tips on how parents can track their young learners’ progress.

Arizona Science Center not only aids those at home, but also those on the frontlines.

“Another way we’re supporting the community is by taking our 3D printer that isn’t being used and working with a partner, USAA, who’s committed to help us create headband parts,” Custer said. “They’re headbands for the splash shields that the health care community uses. That’ll help protect them from splash and splatter.”

All these services by all museums mentioned are being offered free of charge, but Custer said the public’s support is needed now more than ever.

“The majority of our revenue actually comes through earned revenue, so when the individuals are coming to the Science Center or paying for the services we provide in schools,” Custer said. “That’s the majority of our revenue, so with that loss, we’re always looking for more support.”


Reach the reporter at jhern167@asu.edu and follow @ArizonaJonah on Twitter.

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