This is a week for reaching out; for me, that includes working on a post for Museum Questions, after a very long absence.
This is a week when, while spending time isolated, we learn we are not alone. This short episode of “The Daily” shares how the tone of the internet has changed over the past week – we are noticeably more virtually supportive and communal. And by “we” I mean the vast majority of human beings. I suspect everyone has now seen the video, widely shared on social media, of Italians serenading each other from their apartments.
This is a week when we are simultaneously worried about whether our friends and colleagues who are not working right now will be able to afford groceries and rent, and whether our museums will be around and sufficiently solvent to re-employ them, as well as those of us still working, when this is over.
This is a week when people are reaching out to make sure neighbors they barely know have food and other essentials, even though a trip to the grocery store feels like a daring and dangerous mission.
So what do we do now?
We’re throwing seeds into the wind and seeing what grows, and learning quickly. Here is what we are doing at the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum, and what we are learning; I’d love to hear what you are doing, and what you are learning, in the comments to this post.
Using social media to share activities to do at home
What we are doing: We schedule posts 2-4 times per day sharing activities, found from other sources, that parents can do with kids. You can see these posts on our Facebook feed.
What we are learning:
A quick look at the PlayHouse Facebook stats tells me that most posts are viewed by 400-600 people, with approximately 8 engagements. This is only about 1/4 of our membership, and 1/10 of our email list or the list of those who like us on Facebook. Starting tomorrow I plan to send weekly emails gathering the activity ideas for the week, since clearly many of our followers are not seeing the social media posts.
Also: Museum educators are ideally suited to creating, collecting, and refining ideas for how individuals and families can keep busy and engaged at home. The PlayHouse is part of the Peoria Park District; often I feel like as a museum professional I have little to contribute to the larger conversations about topics such as recreation revenue, parks maintenance, and local vs travel teams for children. But right now, my skills are in demand!
Creating “Maker Kits” for members to pick up on our porch.
What we are doing: As an experiment, we initially made 20 of these bags, and sent out an e-blast asking people to let us know if they were interested. Here is information about what was in these bags.
What we are learning: Demand for this is high, and people will drive 30 minutes to pick these up. Within 24 hours we had requests for 275 bags. Due to a technology glitch we did not get these emails for 24 hours; despite telling people to wait for an email from us, lots of individuals showed up on our porch the next morning to get Maker Kits. We compiled as fast as possible, and were able to distribute about 100.
This was Friday morning; we sent out a survey after to learn more about how we could be useful. Of the 27 answers we have received, almost all asked for activity ideas; only a few were interested in video resources or links to resources shared elsewhere. Suggestions include activities for teens and for children with special needs; also a weekly e-blast with activity suggestions for the week.
Also, although we are not actively soliciting donations, we received two small donations on Friday and Saturday, which I believe were in response to these kits.
Providing childcare for children of healthcare professionals associated with OSF HealthCare, one of our local hospitals.
What we are doing: This will start on Monday. We are accepting up to 12 children; children will be kept in two discrete groups of 6. Despite that fact that we are a children’s museum, most activities will take place in classrooms (separate for each of the two groups) or outside, and when children do play in the galleries we will try to contain them in a space that we can thoroughly clean after. So far staff is happy for the work, but I worry that staff will get scared and decide they do not want to work.
What we are learning: I can let you know in a few days…
Staff care and communication
While we are closed (which we have been since Monday March 16) we are not able to employ our part time staff during this time. For us, that is most of our staff – there are three of us full time, and the other 15 or so employees are hourly. Fortunately, Illinois has put emergency unemployment relief in place, but I remain unsure exactly what compensation my employees will receive through this source. And while income is essential, employment also provides people with a purpose and a community.
How do we help employees find purpose and maintain community during this time? I am reaching out to staff by email and through our scheduling software. I am reaching out to some individuals, particularly those for whom I think this will be emotionally difficult. I have been discussing some ideas for volunteer projects that staff can sign up for – tasks that can be done at home, are outside of regular work duties, and allow ongoing teamwork and communication.
And on a personal note, I am…
Trying to reach out to at least one person each day who I have not spoken with in a while, taking advantage of this moment to broaden and deepen my network of personal support.
Watching lots of movies with my teenage kids. Current favorite: Crazy, Stupid Love.
Going for walks with friends. We spread out across the street or the park to stay six feet apart. On Saturday I went for three separate walks, with different friend groups.
Making a cardboard house for my daughter’s hamster. Everyone needs a wacky hobby right now. I was inspired by a Tik Tok video that John Oliver shared on Last Week Tonight (see 11 minutes and 41 seconds into this video):
What are you doing to keep sane, help your staff and community, and continue doing the work of your museum in these difficult times? Please share what you are doing, and what you are learning!