Extraordinary circumstances in fiscal year 2020 resulting from the Coronavirus health crisis, and the resultant disruptions to work, school, childcare, and in-person interactions, challenged the Museum to respond and adapt. Concerns about health and safety, and the need to mitigate transmission of the virus, required the Museum to close in March 2020 and remain closed until July.
During this time, the Museum quickly adapted to engage with families and children online. The Museum aggregated and deployed its existing digital play and learning resources and focused on the creation of engaging new content for children and families to use online while confined at home.
A Virtual Museum
Hundreds of thousands of users from around the world sought out the Museum’s website to engage with activities such as the Museum’s virtual tour, its Beyond the Chalkboard learning content, its 100 Ways to Play activities, and the regular daily postings of new creative content developed by Museum educators. In addition, the Museum undertook several new related initiatives, including creation of a virtual summer camp called Explore It for Sun Life Corporation employees and their families, the launch of a new Museum Podcast, Big & Little, and a partnership with Penguin Young Readers, to jointly develop an exclusive digital version of their Mad Libs word game.
A Plan for Reopening
In parallel to these efforts, the Museum launched an internal initiative to plan for a safe reopening of the physical Museum. Research was conducted to understand parent and caregiver concerns about safety, social distancing, and their expectations for what processes should be in place to ensure a safe Museum visit. A comprehensive examination of the Museum’s exhibits was conducted to assess what exhibits could be opened safely, how loose parts could be cleaned and reused, how exhibit components could be cleaned, and what modifications to exhibits would need to take place to open. In addition, the Museum undertook a thorough review of overall cleaning and safety, including procedures to minimize touch points in the ticketing, admissions, and overall visit experience.
During this process of decision making and reinventing Museum operations, the paramount concern and guide was the safety of staff and visitors. With the dedication of multiple teams, working mostly remotely, the Museum successfully reopened in July with limited capacity in keeping with state and city guidelines.
Visitors have returned and given the Museum high marks for safety and the overall experience, with 84 percent saying they were very likely or likely to recommend a visit to the Museum to friends or family members.
A Cultural Shift
The Museum’s culture was confronted with the need to change from a physical destination— tactile, social, personal, and hosting thousands of visitors—to a remote and virtual workplace. This required a rapid technology re-boot, accomplished by our IT team, to enable communications and collaboration. It required staff to go through a period of learning how to be effective and productive working remotely, and how to balance work and personal time, as well as taking steps to stay healthy and care for family members. Job content and priorites changed overnight, from shaping experiences for in-person visitors to creating online content, and from business as usual to the requirement to think outside the box to create value and support children and families. The culture continues to adapt to a “new normal,” but has proven itself to be agile and responsive to change.