‘Tis the season to express gratitude, and as hard as this year has been, I am finding my list longer and a little different than usual.
Generosity – I love the Mr. Rogers quote about when there is a crisis we should “look for the helpers.” I have been practicing that for a long time and with the pandemic, there are so many places I have seen them. The Michigan museum community is no exception. Right from the start, I saw examples of generosity from our colleagues. For some, like our COVID Crusader Award recipients last week, that meant raiding the collections supply closets to find extra gloves and masks to bring to local hospitals, making masks to share, or helping at food banks. For others, like the Colleague Champions, it was stepping up in a certain way to help the museum continue to serve the community even when closed or to support a co-worker who was struggling.
For me, there were three ways I got to “see the helpers” in action, and it was such a privilege. One example was the response to the call for help in Midland. I was concerned that the holiday weekend and COVID-19 would make it hard for people to be able to respond. Silly me. I should have known that a global pandemic is nothing when a museum person knows the clock is ticking to get items out of a high-humidity situation.
Other “helpers” I saw were all of the people who attended, and continue to attend, the Colleague Chat programs. I know that the primary motivation for most who join the Zoom calls is to see what everyone else is doing, but on those calls, people have been so quick to share what they know and resources they have found. I stopped counting the times that people told me that a Colleague Chat made a huge difference in helping them deal with the crisis.
Finally, there were several groups of MMA members who served on various teams this year, and they made all the difference in MMA’s ability to support the community. They helped figure out online programs (online programs team), hosted fun events (online events and awards teams), strategized about funding sources (revenue team), and made the hard decisions that had to be made (MMA Board of Directors).
As I pondered my gratitude for generosity related to the pandemic, I thought of so many other ways that the museum community is generous to and through MMA. I think that generosity is literally the glue that holds the Michigan Museums Association together.
Another thing I am grateful for this year is resilience. Museums are a tricky business, and not for the faint of heart, in my opinion. Funding on a good day is a monumental challenge. In a crisis, it is a nightmare. Also challenging is stewarding a collection when you are working from home, serving visitors who cannot come to you, and managing volunteers who cannot be onsite. I am sure each of you can add several items to this list. However, we could also put together another list of all the ways people have tried to address these same challenges – shifting fundraisers online, hooking up computers so collections software can be used remotely, creating Facebook live tours and educational programs, and finding new things volunteers can do from home. It has been an amazing experience to see in action, and it is what makes me feel optimistic about the ability of museums to get through this crisis.
I am also grateful for advocacy. I have seen so many people advocating in one way or the other for the museum community. Some joined calls with state legislators this spring to share how the pandemic was impacting museums and how MCACA funding is so critical for many. Others sent emails to state and federal legislators about NEA, NEH and IMLS funding and asking for additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program. I have even seen people on Facebook promoting the fundraisers of other museums, or of Museum Store Sunday coming up.
Another way I have seen advocacy in action is through so many who have been very vocal about social justice and racial equity in museums. This is an area where museums and the museum community often fail, and is something that not everyone considers a priority or is comfortable talking about. But I have seen more push back and action this year than ever before and, for the first time in my career, I see signs that change may be more than cosmetic.
My final point of gratitude is for those who came before and what they have done to leave a strong foundation for those of us here now. For Michigan’s museums, that meant endowments or millages or investment accounts that could provide funding streams when earned revenue was not possible. It was volunteers and staff who had created a culture and mindset that meant a museum could respond quickly to new needs. And it was leadership who built strong relationships with the community so that new forms of support could be found.
One of the reasons that MMA is able to be so resilient and responsive right now is because generations of the museum community have worked tirelessly to build a strong organization. I love reading the minutes for MMA board meetings ten, twenty, thirty and forty years ago. All of them record conversations about how best to serve the Michigan museum community and what will help the organization grow. All of them include discussions about how to fund MMA and what will help the most in the long run. Because of all of these things, instead of having to hunker down or spend all of our time trying to figure out how to get to the next month when the crisis hit, we could invest in new technology and try new things to serve the community. Those that have served MMA in the past left a strong foundation, and when storms blew away the sides of the house, we stayed in the basement (and jumped on Zoom – lol).
There is so much more I could say about generosity, resilience, advocacy foundations, and especially gratitude. I hope you are able to see examples of all of these things in your museum and your life and I am thankful that we can see so many here at MMA.
Lisa Craig Brisson