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Some Museums Have Found A New Audience Online


Museums depend on visitors, people to actually see art, sculpture, exhibits, tours and presentations. But visitors are impossible to safely invite during a pandemic.

CHRISTY COLEMAN: I had been on the job about six weeks when the governor of Virginia issued his mandate of shutting down all state and state-supported facilities and going into lockdown.

SIMON: That's Christy Coleman, executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

COLEMAN: Predominantly, the goal was to ensure that we could keep our staff employed.

SIMON: And that meant some furloughs. It also meant looking at what their museums could do online. Christy Coleman says her staff decided to build upon what they already had on their website for students. They created a new program for children and adults called History at Home.


JAMIE: Good morning, everybody. My name is Jamie, and this is Russell behind me. Say hi, Russell.

RUSSELL: (Unintelligible).

JAMIE: And we are coming to you live from a Powhatan dugout canoe.

COLEMAN: One of the first things that we tried to do is the guided tour of our different museums and facilities and really digging in on a specific topic. We did online lectures. We did more interactives, so there were things that kids could do at home with objects in their own house.


JAMIE: So the first ingredient in your basket is going to be some sort of rope. So even if you have yarn - yarn works really well, but sometimes you might have other kinds of crafting rope around your house.

COLEMAN: It wasn't just video clips. People were able to talk back, come into the chat, ask questions, dig as deep as they wanted with that program.


SAM MCGOWAN: Hey, guys. I'm Sam McGowan out here at Paspahegh town at the Jamestown settlement. We're going to talk a little bit about hide tanning today.

COLEMAN: And so we saw our engagement online go up considerably. I think at one point we were over 1.3 million engagements through those links which was an extraordinary explosion of growth. And it also made clear that we had to have a cleaner Web presence (laughter). So we're working on that.


COLEMAN: In addition to the pandemic in 2020, we also had to really pay close attention to the social unrest that was highlighting a variety of inequities in American society. And for Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, the brand for 25 years had been history is fun. We recognized that that was no longer appropriate for us. History is engaging. History can be painful. History can be inspiring. It can be all of those things. But to say history is fun was kind of tone-deaf.


COLEMAN: The one thing that has become more abundantly clear to all of us at the foundation is a deepened commitment to our mission that we tell this story of the convergence of cultures - European, Indigenous and African. The lessons that we've learned during this period, I think, will stay with us and be the genesis of even more robust concepting around how we can reach and engage people not just around the country but hopefully around the world at some point because this is a global story. Yeah.

SIMON: Christy Coleman of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. Their museums are now open to a limited number of visitors, but History at Home is still online.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.