This article is part of the June 2020 issue of Hand to Hand, “Tightening Up: Streamlining Museum Operations.” Click here to read other articles in this issue.
By Mary Maher, Editor, Hand to Hand
In June 2019, I met with ACM staff to plan topics for the coming year. At the time, blips were showing up on ACM Executive Director Laura Huerta Migus’s broader nonprofit radar indicating an economic downturn coming soon. Exactly when or how bad, no one could say, but many people were certain that it would occur.
In that light, this issue, themed Tighten Up: Streamlining Museum Operations, was planned to focus on how children’s museums could maximize core operations, examine existing structures and practices, and fine-tune operations to be prepared to withstand “economic fluctuations and other curveballs.”
In the fall of that year, with the stock market booming and other economic indicators trending up, concerns about a downturn receded a bit. Nevertheless, with many museums working toward strengthening their financial positions for an always uncertain future, a focus on economic flexibility still seemed apt.
In late February 2020, as first drafts appeared, two of them mentioned operational issues related to current and anticipated problems with the emerging Coronavirus. The Hong Kong Children’s Discovery Center was actively dealing with that city’s full-blown health crisis. Ending the original version of her piece about financial planning lessons learned in the 2008 recession, Patty Belmonte, CEO of Hands On Children’s Museum (Olympia, Washington), said, “Right now I’m thinking…what if coronavirus spirals in the U.S.? We are making contingency plans for that scary possibility.”
Within two weeks, the “other curveballs” slammed home. Countries went from watching COVID-19 unfold in other places to an unprecedented nearly country-wide shut downs. In the U.S., all children’s museums closed within a week. Many staff were furloughed or let go. Remaining staff worked from home, revising budgets to keep their museums alive and creating new or packaging existing museum programs to stay connected to quarantined children whose educations were now being directed by their parents. With no “all-clear” date in sight, museums around the world monitored health-related developments while beginning the monumental task of preparing to safely reopen.
Amidst the field’s currently triaged efforts at survival, would the information gathered for this museum operations issue still be relevant, and would museum staff be in a mindset to find it useful? After much discussion and a thorough review and update of articles to respond to today’s priorities, a decision was made to proceed. As museums continue to plan both long- and short-term throughout this crisis, we are hopeful that readers will find the information helpful in reopening even stronger museums that will continue to serve the many children and families who sorely miss us.