With doors still closed, U-M Museums continue to engage visitors “at home”
Shortly after stay-at home orders were announced in March due to COVID-19, staff at the University of Michigan’s three major museums quickly worked to transform their digital spaces.
While the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, Museum of Natural History and Museum of Art remain closed this summer as they prepare for visitors to safely return, their impact and efforts to engage with the public continue.
U-M Museum of Natural History
The stunning new U-M Museum of Natural History in spring 2019 to rave reviews with exhibits on evolution, Michigan’s natural history, microbiology and more. The museum also offered opportunities to look into research laboratories, to interact with research scientists from U-M and to perform experiments in the Investigate Labs. ]
And then the pandemic hit Michigan. Though closing the museum after only 11 months was a major disappointment, staff worked hard to bring the museum experience virtually to people sheltering in their homes.
Building on the success of its in-person programs such as Scientist in the Forum, Science Cafés, Scientist Spotlights, and hands-on demonstrations, UMMNH launched Museum@Home—a rich, virtual museum with content for kids, families and adults.
New activities continue to be added each week, including science experiments that can be replicated at home, demonstrations, videos and events featuring U-M scientists discussing their research, and links to community science projects in which members of the public help to advance real research projects.
According to Amy Harris, director of the Museum of Natural History, the new platform allows audiences to stay connected with the museum and enjoy science at home.
“The pandemic has created an opportunity for us to think about ways that we can reach out to our audiences in a different way,” Harris said. “We’ve had a great response, and we hope to continue many of these offerings even when our doors open again.”
The museum also launched Home Explorers, its first-ever virtual summer camp for kids in grades 1-6, which is offered in place of regularly scheduled summer camps that were canceled this year. Campers can look forward to a mix of live Zoom programs hosted by museum educators, daily crafts, independent science activities and a weekly family activity. Home Explorers includes topics like paleontology, astronomy, zoology and more.
Sign up to receive the Museum@Home newsletter here.
U-M Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
The U-M Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, also part of U-M’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, has a collection of more than 100,000 ancient and medieval artifacts from the civilizations of the Mediterranean and the Near East. In addition to displaying its permanent and special exhibitions, the museum sponsors research and fieldwork and conducts educational programs for the public and for K-12 audiences.
Its Kelsey@Home page features ancient recipes fit for Pharaohs, printable ancient board games, coloring pages, scavenger hunts and a variety of online exhibitions.
The museum’s latest special exhibition, Randal Stegmeyer: Exposing the Past, which was set to open in May, enjoyed a virtual opening. The online exhibition, which mimics the look and feel of the planned installation, celebrates the work of Stegmeyer, a longtime Kelsey photographer.
The exhibition provides an overview of Stegmeyer’s career in photography, surveying his images of Kelsey Museum artifacts, his work for other U-M and Michigan cultural institutions, as well as his wide-ranging personal projects. Co-curated by Stegmeyer and Kelsey Museum director Terry Wilfong, the presentation is a culmination of their work together over the years.
“We have always tried to present an online component of our exhibitions, but this one was critical because it is the only aspect available right now,” said Dawn Johnson, associate director and chief administrator at the Kelsey Museum.
As part of the Kelsey Museum’s digital offerings, its archive of past online exhibitions is also available. Audiences can delve into past exhibitions such as Ancient Color, Urban Biographies: Ancient and Modern, Leisure and Luxury in the age of Nero, Jim Cogswell: Cosmogonic Tattoos and many others.
As it prepares for tours and visitors this fall, the museum is conducting docent classes completely online for the first time.
U-M Museum of Art
The U-M Museum of Art is one of the leading university art museums in the country. In addition to presenting a dynamic schedule of exhibitions and events, UMMA houses a comprehensive collection that represents more than 150 years of art collecting at U-M, and includes more than 21,000 works that span many cultures, eras and media.
Museum staff quickly redirected their on-site public engagement efforts and launched the UMMA At Home page, where they have since added virtual field trips, an art-themed yoga series, resources for educators, guided family art-making projects, original films about works in the collection, custom Zoom backgrounds and more.
The museum’s online exhibition offerings include more than 60 curated collections of UMMA artwork. From “zombies” to “girlhood,” each has been curated with various visual and literary themes in mind.
UMMA’a popular Art In Your Inbox series also launched shortly after the building closed to the public. Those who subscribe will receive selected, relevant works from their diverse collection via email on a regular basis. Each work is accompanied by historical context and reflection prompts to help viewers consider the art and its relevance to everyday life.
“We have had great success working with faculty to fulfill their educational class visits virtually, and we have also experimented with moving some popular events online—like the museum’s Study Days,” said UMMA director Tina Olsen. “We are creating new methods for communicating with our audience with the launch of Art in Your Inbox, Sight & Sound, a new Medicine@The Museum series and more.”
According to Olsen, as a result of the expanded offerings, UMMA has seen the geographic footprint of traffic to its website increase significantly, drawing visitors from across the U.S. and around the world.