Cultural Institutions: Reopening with Resilience & Serving Visitors

With many states easing up on restrictions and moving into the next phase, reopening is likely the main topic of conversation – or debate – right now for cultural institutions. Whether the decision for the time being is to open or remain closed, be virtual or on-site, it is extremely important to be engaging with your audience, letting them know you’re still here, and that you’re here to stay.

Engage every step of the way.

Most of the talk on the news during the Coronavirus outbreak focused on local businesses and restaurants and whether they were able to survive. Audience research firm Wilkening Consulting conducted research specific to museums during the pandemic and turned them into infographics they call data stories. They found that people were largely unaware that museums face similar challenges. Instead, people held a common belief that cultural institutions were government funded entities, and not as reliant on visitation and sales. (See more in Wilkening Consulting Data Story #4.) Keeping up with engagement and using your platforms to stay relevant during these tough times shows resilience and builds on the public’s understanding of the role cultural institutions fulfill.

Data summary excerpt from the data story infographic showing consumer awareness of museums' financial struggles during the pandemic.
Excerpt from Wilkening Consulting Data Story #4

The majority of people believe that museums help communities keep identity, culture, and memories alive. They also believe museums are great learning opportunities for all ages and interests, and provide a healthy economic impact, fueling the travel industry. Keeping those messages strong and alive in the public space is key to driving visitation upon reopening.

Data summary excerpt from the data story infographic detailing the themes from the study on consumer feelings around losing museums.

See all of the Wilkening Consulting data stories for museums.

Talk with transparency.

Some people say they will not be seen leaving their house anytime soon, while others are ready to walk out the door as soon as they’re done reading this blog. Most people, however, fall somewhere in the middle; ready but still staying cautious. Visitors of cultural institutations want to know what their experience is going to look like before they arrive. They want to know that your institution is following CDC guidelines as well as local health and safety requirements.

And although visitors expect a new set of basic precautions – such as specific entrances and exits, required face coverings, and 6 feet markings – they also want to know what’s going on behind the scenes. Are you taking precautions to protect your staff ? Are you frequently sanitizing highly touched surfaces? Will the experience be compromised in any way? Knowing the specifics beforehand will not only make their visit go smoothly and safely, but also ease the anxiety most people have of entering an indoor public space during this time.

Keep virtual content.

With doors open and visitors returning, your online or virtual content does not suddenly become irrelevant. Families turn to their computers to not only engage, but to educate and occupy their children. Although school is out, summer camps and programs have either closed or pushed back their start date. This leaves many parents and guardians who are still working from home balancing work and entertainment. Offer content geared towards children that’s easy to do with minimal to no adult assistance, since people are searching for right now.

Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum in Sturbridge, MA, developed a Virtual Village with workshops for kids to have an “in-depth exploration of the 1830s” from home.

Explore & More, a children’s museum in Buffalo, NY, gives STEM and learning-based easy kids activities called Sanity Savers and offers several Virtual Summer Camps this year.

Adults are also spending much more time on their electronics and would like to interact with you. People seek an escape from the virus talk and would like to see entertaining posts – such as fun facts or short games and activities to participate in. Others would like to know more about viruses and history and are searching for an educational avenue to learn more.

The National Comedy Center, a cultural institution celebrating the history of comedy in Jamestown, NY, created a program called National Comedy Center Anywhere that features exclusive content from its collection.

What people need to hear right now.

Overall, most people are confused and scared with restrictions easing and reopening businesses. They wish they could have their “normal” back but are unsure if that will happen in the upcoming months. However, entertainment and education provided through museums and cultural institutions can bring hope – a light in the darkness – and a sense of healing to every visit or virtual experience. People need reassurance. They miss you.

Keep in mind that everyone, everywhere is grieving right now. People are facing challenges and difficulties of all different shapes and sizes. Having a place that provides hope and touches upon emotional, mental, or physical healing is everything right now. It gives people the sense of purpose they need to get through these tough times. Let this be a reminder that we’re all in this together and to keep moving forward.

Data summary excerpt from the data story infographic showing the ways museums can help people heal.