Kids' Helipad & Interactive Helicopters
Our most popular spaces are our kids’ helipad area and then our interactive helicopters. Both of those spaces are meant to be really heavily hands on. They’re supposed to engage all ages, but especially those learners who might not be reading yet but who can really experience things using their other senses. We use helicopters as a gateway to STEM education, and we feel like those hands-on experiences help to make that connection between helicopters and aviation to larger concepts for people of all ages.
So, we have had to think through what spaces have to close because they’re just too high touch we can’t keep them open, versus what we can keep open if we make sure to clean more heavily, and to make sure that people understand really what the experience is going to be like in the new normal that we’re all having to deal with.
Pandemic Experience & Other Museums
Catherine Cooper: From speaking with colleagues who work at other small museums, how similar or different have their pandemic experiences been from yours at the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center?
Allison Titman: My friends and colleagues have really had a variety of experiences. For me, I’ve been at the helicopter museum less than a year, so I was still in a phase of doing some organizational transformation in terms of our goals and our programming and what we were really trying to put in place to build on for the future. So, I have colleagues whose institutions are more settled who have solid programs in place, who have been able to make really impressive pivots into virtual programming. Friends are doing things like virtual story times, and turning an education program that was previously in person into a zoom-based experience. And then being able to reach out to institutions like local libraries that are looking for virtual programming and partner with them.
I used to be on the Board of the Greenbelt Museum in Greenbelt, Maryland and as they think about reopening, they’re seeing a phased approach, where the first thing they bring back is their walking tours of Greenbelt. That’s an outdoor experience that people can engage in more safely, whereas the museum itself is a house from the late 1930s that’s less than 1000 square feet. So, you can’t put too many people in there at one time at this point.
So, people are really thinking through what kind of existing programming they have and how to pivot to make it fit our current conditions. And then we’re all dealing with some uncertainty around the future. Whether that’s financial uncertainty, whether it’s not knowing if visitors are going to come rushing back to our institutions when we reopen or whether it’s going to be a trickle at first. And then how people will respond as we have to make adjustments over time. If we can’t have our signature events or if we have to really reduce our capacity, will our audiences understand why and really work with us to follow the safety protocols we feel like we have to put in place.
How Can the Public Help?
Catherine Cooper: How can members of the public help small museums at this time?
Allison Titman: So, during the pandemic I got a new phone system at the museum because we had a traditional system where the phones rang to our desks, which didn’t work when we weren’t at our desks. So now the museum’s phone rings through to my cell phone, and I’m the frontline staff picking up all the calls.
So, the first thing the public could do that would be really helpful is just to be understanding. I know that there are people who really want to get out of the house, and who really need a place to take their bored kids now that their summer breaks have started, but some museums just aren’t permitted to be open yet, and some are still putting their safety practices and protocols in place and aren’t ready.
So, members of the public should just keep an eye on museums’ Facebook pages, websites, anywhere they’re posting information to see when they’re reopening, if they’ve had to adjust their hours, if they’re asking people to buy tickets online in advance. It’s really helpful if people take a second to plan their visit and to look up the information before making a phone call or before just showing up. And then if the public really care about an institution, it’s great if there is a way for them to financially support that museum. If they can’t do that, can they share the museum’s Facebook post, or forward the emails, or tell their friends how long they’ve been a member of the museum and what a great experience that’s been? So, whether people have dollars or can just extend the museums reach, that’s all really helpful right now.
I think right now, we’re all trying to figure out what the future looks like. And we’re having to think about the short term because that’s where our heads are, that’s where we’re all working. Either our museums have just reopened their doors or they’re working towards that, decisions are having to be really immediate.
What I think is coming, and we’re starting to have to grapple with, are the longer-term implications of this pandemic and what the lessons we take away from it are.