Museums Big and Small

Cindy Casey
6 min readJun 1, 2020

Pandemic Diary Entry #43

June 1, 2020

When one thinks of museums the first to come to mind will be your favorite, mine is the Bargello in Florence. The next ones to pop into your thoughts will most likely be the big names, MOMA, The Guggenheim, SFMOMA and the like. But there are so many more that are suffering right alongside the big names, and they often are not able to live off of their sizeable endowments.

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) estimates museums nationwide are losing $33 million per day as a result of COVID-19.

In 2016 the AAM said that the total economic contribution of American museums was more than $50 billion in gross domestic product, 726,200 jobs and $12 billion in taxes to local, state and federal governments.

Within the museum sector, zoos and aquariums are most dependent upon earned income while art museums and sculpture gardens are most dependent upon donations and contributions.

So how do museums keep themselves viable and relevant in these times? One I love is the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. They have been letting out a pair of penguins in the building and then sharing the penguins experiences on social media. The aquarium has also spotlighted other animals. Who knew that watching turtles eat could be so soothing? The videos are absolutely adorable and such a nice respite from the regular news of the day.

That was so fun that the Kansas City Zoo sent three penguins to check out the Caravaggio’s at the Nelson Atkins Museum.

The National Cowboy Museum put the head of security in charge of their Twitter account. The guys name is Tim and his ineptitude is so incredibly endearing as well as his bad Dad jokes.

A friend of mine who lives in London sent me a creative on-line idea that is being done by Historical Royal Palaces. Their Chief Curator Lucy Worsley is teaming up with their Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection Curator Eleri Lynn for a virtual trip of the Royal Wardrobe. These are interactive, and free, although a request of £12 as a donation is encourages.

I have attended summer school in Newport Rhode Island and Chicago, both courses put on by the VSA. A very large number of my classmates were small house museums directors, curators and educators. I reached out to a few of them to see how they were faring and was pleased to learn that for now they are being creative and finding new income streams and staying afloat.

At the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms their Executive Director Vonda Givens was enthusiastic in their move to virtual programs, the creativity of her staff, and the popularity of these new programs.

Vonda told me “The staff who normally works with onsite visitors is focused on the relentless demands of creating social media content. We went from 2–3 posts weekly to 2–3 posts daily but it has substantially raised the profile of the museum and we’ve successfully used social media for shop sales, membership drives and program promotion.”

They are on their ninth week of virtual programs with classes attracting between 80–100 people, and what has been so exciting for them is that people from all over the country and Canada are attending these on-line courses.

Vonda described an interesting phenomenon of thinking outside the box: “Often half of the class attendees are new to the museum and have never visited. Even 3 months ago, I would have told you that inspiring passion in audiences for Craftsman Farms required a direct experience of the site and its authenticity, but the people attending our virtual classes have shown me that my thinking on this was too narrow. The “idea” of a place, of its existence, may be as important as the place itself. ” Of course she has her fears, primarily with maintaining momentum for classes and sales while shut down and then logistics once the museum is open again.

Craftsman Farms does not have an endowment and relies on their annual fundraising to sustain themselves. I am a huge fan of their once a year fundraiser Farms Afield, and look forward to a time when these tours will pick up again.

Another friend of mine, Jackie, is Director at the Hunter House Victorian Museum. They have been doing virtual silent auctions and these, while not making much money keep them present in peoples minds. They are doing Story Time and great behind-the-scenes videos, these don’t make money at all, but again are another way to stay relevant.

At this time Hunter House has not laid anyone off but it goes without saying they are on a spending freeze. The Board of Directors elected to take a minor dip into their endowment fund so that employees did not have to take a cut in pay or be laid off.

The Westcott House Executive Director Marta Wojcik has been putting together short videos of her museum, which comes from Frank Lloyd Wright Prarie School period. These vary from things of interest in Westcott House to book readings. The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy been encouraging FLW sites to put up short videos from of their museum to their social media accounts.

I am sure you have a favorite small museum in your community, go find out what are they doing, and support them.

The longer this lasts the greater the chance that many small museums may not make it. If you are of a mind to donate your Covid-19 relief monies, please consider your local small museum.

Trivial Things

My Horoscope for today: You’re a people person which makes it easy to spot talent (or a winner) when you see it. You’ll soon meet someone worth betting on.

San Francisco weather: 62 degrees and sunny

NYSE DOW opened at: 25395

NYSE DOW one year ago: 24830

Foreign word of the day: swimming

Spanish: natación
Italian: nuoto

OED word of the day: astrolabe (‘Any of various portable instruments formerly used for making astronomical measurements, esp. the altitudes of celestial objects, typically taking the form of a graduated metal disc with rotating parts and a sighting arm.

Days under Shelter In Place: 77

Reading: Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. I ordered this book after it was recommended by a friend. We had both read this fascinating article penned by the author in the New York Times about Covid-19 and her restaurant Prune in NYC.

I am also reading Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery

Studying: I have finished Dante’s Commedia. They say about Dante and the Commedia, you are ready to read the Commedia once you have read the Commedia. Truer words have not been spoken on this subject.

Since learning was an important part of my Shelter in Place plan I will continue with the Italians. This time a re-read of The Prince by Machiavelli. I think this is one of the more misunderstood pieces of Italian literature, and I know I am going to enjoy re-reading it as it is not quite as much work as understanding Dante, and yet it does require a commitment.

A Special Something: An wonderful musical fundraiser for The Actors Fund COVID-19 Emergency Financial Assistance program — The finale of Hairspray

My Black and White Picture of the Day

Something Silly From the Internet:

If you liked this please clap and let me know. Thank you. You can clap more than once if you like.



Cindy Casey

My travel blog and my blog are quiet due to the Pandemic. I need to write, so here I go.