The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 presented Milwaukee museums and cultural institutions with perhaps their most significant challenge in the last century. Faced with facility closures that literally happened overnight and lasted for months, museum staffs, working remotely, were forced to figure out how they would continue their missions without the benefit of their physical buildings and collections. How would they continue educating their visitors through virtual experiences? How would they remain relevant to the public? And how would they ensure that their finances remained strong enough to weather the pandemic so they could reopen?
This exhibit provides some insight into how three very different museums in Milwaukee attempted to meet those challenges – Jewish Museum of Milwaukee, Lynden Sculpture Garden and Milwaukee Public Museum. It explores how their leadership viewed the COVID-19 dilemma six to eight weeks after the pandemic, and Wisconsin's "Safer At Home" order, forced their closure.
The story of the pandemic’s effect on museum operations is told through oral histories of top executives at the three institutions. Included in the exhibit are examples of actual webpages, emails, virtual tours and exhibits, webinars, newsletters and media reports that trace the ingenious ways these Milwaukee museum professionals, and their brilliant staffs volunteers employed, and how they all worked together tirelessly to keep their institutions and their missions front and center in the minds of their members, donors and the general public--all while working in near isolation from their homes.