How have museums adapted during the pandemic?

How have museums adapted during the pandemic?

One year ago, the pandemic began shutting down so much of what makes our lives richer. This included museums, where tourists and residents alike visit and learn more about art, science and cultures within and beyond the U.S. As the pandemic lingered on, many museums wondered if they would survive the shutdown.

Now, museums in the District are adapting to the new normal online. Many exhibits have navigated to the internet and curators continue to innovate with virtual content. This also created new avenues for those with disabilities to access that content.

We’re talking to curators from across the District about how museums have sustained themselves online and how they’ve made their content accessible for audiences at home.

Produced by Richard Cunningham


  • Melanie Adams Director, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum; @SmithsonianACM
  • Rebecca Roberts Curator of Programming, Planet Word Museum; @PlanetWordDC
  • Beth Ziebarth Director, Smithsonian Institution Accessibility Program; @access_si


  • 12:00:14

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Last year the pandemic was just beginning to upend our lives. This included local museums, which closed their doors to tourists and residents. That included the massive Smithsonian system and its string of major museums on the mall. For smaller private museums, shutting down was a big blow, and it wasn't clear whether all would survive the shutdown.

  • 12:00:40

    KOJO NNAMDIOne year into the pandemic and many museums have adapted, many exhibits are now online and curators host virtual programs to share their expertise in innovative ways. In this second installment of our March Kojo Connects series on how the pandemic has affected the arts and culture in our region, we're talking to curators about how museums have been faring during the pandemic and how they've made their content accessible for audiences at home. You can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Have you virtually visited a museum or gallery?

  • 12:01:16

    KOJO NNAMDIWhat was the experience like? We'd like to know 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow, email to, or go to our website and join the conversation there. Joining us now is Rebecca Roberts, Curator of Programming at Planet Word. Rebecca, great to talk to you again.

  • 12:01:37

    REBECCA ROBERTSSo happy to be here.

  • 12:01:38

    NNAMDIAlso with us is Melanie Adams, Director of the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. Melanie Adams, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:01:47

    MELANIE ADAMSThank you for having me.

  • 12:01:48

    NNAMDIAnd Beth Ziebarth, Director of the Smithsonian's Office of Accessibility. Beth Ziebarth, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:01:55

    BETH ZIEBARTHThank you so much. I am happy to be here.

  • 12:01:58

    NNAMDIBeth, I'll start with you. Tell us a little bit more about your roll at the Smithsonian and why it's been such a critical role over this past year, the Office of Accessibility.

  • 12:02:08

    ZIEBARTHYes. My office Access Smithsonian works with all the museums and the zoo on providing accessibility for visitors with disabilities. And so as we closed our museums and started to plan for the eventual reopening, we needed to develop a playbook, consolidated research and materials that was created by a diverse team to support the museums as they reopen to the public. And in that playbook we really needed to think about how our different policies and procedures would impact visitors with disabilities.

  • 12:02:54

    ZIEBARTHSo accessibility is in the details and we needed to think about everything from the time ticketing process and website accessibility, the face covering policy, signage that we were communicating our different policies and procedures to visitors and how that information would be conveyed to people who couldn't read the signs, accessible equipment like loaner wheelchairs, seating in the museums whether we were going to allow people to use benches or siting in the museums. Things like staffing levels and then we moved to online programs.

  • 12:03:42

    ZIEBARTHSo many of the museums are now, you know, happily providing online programs. And when we reopen we will have probably a combination, a hybrid of in-person visits and online.

  • 12:03:58

    NNAMDIThe Smithsonian system is the largest museum system not only in the country, but in the world. What were some highlights on the program when the museums first closed a year ago?

  • 12:04:11

    ZIEBARTHYeah. I'll share come examples from my office. We have one program called see me at the Smithsonian, which is a program with individuals with dementia and their care partners where we discuss and engage with some sunny collections. And programs are currently held online the first and third Wednesday of the month. We also hold programming with larger groups in community locations like Mary's House for older adults, LGBTQ friendly residents that provides safe and affordable communal environments to adults over 60.

  • 12:04:46

    ZIEBARTHAnd this spring we're going to begin offering Spanish language programming once a month. So we know that during the pandemic isolation and loneliness are significant issues for older adults and individuals with dementia. And online programing can help eliminate some of those potential barriers that people have for participation such as transportation to museum parking, navigating an unfamiliar building, physical effort to reach a program site. So it's been quite successful.

  • 12:05:20

    NNAMDIWhat have you been hearing from museum aficionados about your virtual content and are there any silver linings from this past year?

  • 12:05:28

    ZIEBARTHYeah. I think, you know, I have some quotes from some of the people who have dementia who have participated in our programs. And one person said, "In this time of isolation where we can't be with people in person. It's just lovely to be with people through the screen. Still nice that we get to share things." And I really love this one. "Humanity reunited and revived."

  • 12:06:00

    NNAMDI"Humanity reunited and revived." We'd like to hear from you. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Have you virtually visited a museum or gallery? Tell us what the experience is like. Our region is full of museums. What's your favorite? When was the last time you visited and have you visited it virtually? 800-433-8850. Melanie Adams, tell us about the Anacostia Museum and its role. It's a Smithsonian museum, but one with an interesting history and a slightly different mission.

  • 12:06:31

    ADAMSIt is. Thank you very much. The Anacostia Community Museum, we were actually founded in 1967. So as you mentioned we've always been a Smithsonian museum. But we were really found during the racial unrest that was taking place in the country at that time. And the secretary at the time Dylan Ripley really recognized it was important to provide a space and opportunity for African American stories, and so what he did, he worked with the community to look for a space east of the river.

  • 12:07:04

    ADAMSSo our first location was down on Nickels Avenue, which is now MLK in a former movie theater. And we have since moved a little up the hill up Morris Road there into another space. But over these last almost 53, 54 years, the Anacostia Community Museum has been in place to serve the needs of the community. And while the pandemic has been horrible for so many reasons as well as a lot of the social justice issues that have come about during this year, I feel like ACM has really been positioned to thrive during this time.

  • 12:07:43

    ADAMSSo similar to what Beth said, we've obviously done some online virtual programs. We had two great series. The first one was called "Take Time Thursdays" because one of the things we recognized was this was new for all of us. So we started these programs. I guess we closed with everyone else somewhere around March 11th or 12. In about April and these were very casual types of programs.

  • 12:08:11

    ADAMSSo it's everything from cooking to arts and culture to finance just things you may need to know during this pandemic. The other program we did during this time was something called inspire action, and that was really developed after the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis. And how could we have people examine specific issues and really inspire them to act. But one of the things that I'm really excited about that we did was while we understood that people couldn't come to us, we found a way to go to the people. And we did this through an exhibit.

  • 12:08:49

    ADAMSWe originally were scheduled to have an exhibit called "Men of Change: Power, Triumph and Truth" which was developed by our Smithsonian Institute traveling exhibit services. So they developed this wonderful exhibit with support from the Ford Motor Company Funding Community Services and it was supposed to be located in our building. Well, we knew that was not going to happen. So we worked with sites to reimagine this exhibit. And now it is placed in the Deanwood community.

  • 12:09:18

    ADAMSAnd it is a wonderful partnership. We worked with the Ron Brown School for Boys, the Dean with Recreation Center as well as the Dean with Library. And the exhibit is spread out among a two block radius among those different sites. And it's the majority of the exhibit is there. So it's a little different than the indoor exhibit. But you still really get the flavor and the important nature of this "Men of Change" exhibit.

  • 12:09:45

    NNAMDIIf you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you'd like to call the number is 800-433-8850 or you can send us a tweet @kojoshow. You can go to our website join the conversations there. Have you virtually visited a museum or gallery? Tell us what that experience was like. Rebecca Roberts, Planet Word is a new museum. For our listeners who have not heard of it, what is Planet Word and where did the idea come from?

  • 12:10:14

    ROBERTSRight. What is a word museum? It's a question we get a lot. So Planet Word is a brand new museum of words and language. We are in the historic Franklin School at the corner of 13th and K. And when you explore words and language in a museum setting you have to be really creative. We are not a traditional, you know, artifacts behind glass, text on a wall kind of an experience.

  • 12:10:35

    ROBERTSSo everything is immersive. It's voice activated. It is user directed. And so you learn how words enter the English language. You learn how languages vary around the globe. You learn how babies acquire language. And then you get to play with words and language in so many different contexts. So we have a karaoke room. We have a joke telling gallery. We have a speech making gallery. We have a magical library, which is really sort of jaw dropping.

  • 12:11:02

    ROBERTSAnd so by the end of this experience you come away thinking about the beauty of words, the unbelievable adaptation in evolution of the English language, but also the power and importance of words. Yes, it's fun. Yes, it is a little jaw dropping. But it is also -- words matter. And because English evolves for all us and there is no such thing as Standard English we all have that power to make it change. And so we should take that power seriously and think through how we each use our words.

  • 12:11:35

    ROBERTSSo we opened for five weekends in October starting October 22nd. And it was great. It was just great to be open for a little while, see how people interacted with these exhibits that we had planned for so long. Watch people's aw and joy and wonder at these experiences that we had just been hoping, hoping to see real humans use. And then on November 23rd we decided with the spike in cases locally and with our fellow colleagues at other cultural institutions making the decision to close again that we would join in supporting the safety of the community by doing that as well.

  • 12:12:13

    NNAMDIA lot of people would say that opening a new museum in D.C. is brave period. But Planet Word opened as you just pointed out in October of 2020 in the midst of a pandemic. And now you're doing most of your programing virtually like the other museums. We're going to have to take a short break. But if you have called stay on the line, we will get to your calls. If you have a question or comment the number is 800-433-8850.

  • 12:12:37

    NNAMDIA listener tweeted, "I was able to offer a virtual tour of the National Museum of Mexican Art based in Chicago to our San Antonio residents. And the shift of virtual allowed my work to be featured in a San Francisco based museum, an opportunity I attribute to our receptiveness to geographic dispersion." 800-433-8850 is the number to call. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:13:29

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about how museums in this region have been faring during the pandemic and how they have changed how they present their exhibits. We're talking with Beth Ziebarth, the Director of the Smithsonian's Office of Accessibility. Rebecca Roberts is Curator of Programing at Planet Word. And Melanie Adams is Director of the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. And, Melanie, I think our caller Nanasi in Washington D.C. may have a challenge for you. Nanasi, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:14:03

    NANASIKojo Nnamdi?

  • 12:14:04

    NNAMDIYes, ma'am.

  • 12:14:05

    NANASIOkay. You know me by another name, but I'm going to make this short. I live in what is now called Deanwood. And I didn't know about this exhibition. I don't drive. I'm 70 something and I don't have children like you do. So I don't have anybody to take me there. How do I get there? How do I get -- I'm in the Deanwood neighborhood, how do I get to this wonderful exhibition, oh my God, "Men of Change." I didn't get the rest of it. Power something.

  • 12:14:39

    NNAMDIMelanie Adams.

  • 12:14:40

    ADAMSNo. So thank you for asking. One of the things that we can considered when we put this exhibit in the Deanwood Community is it is right across from the Deanwood Metro Station. And so people who have visited -- you can take the Deanwood Metro and it stops right there and it's just right across the street there at the rec center. So that is one of the things we took into account in the placement of the exhibit.

  • 12:15:07

    NNAMDIAnd Nanasi, nice to hear from you. Good luck visiting the exhibit in Deanwood. Here now is Mary in Annandale. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:15:19

    MARYHi, thanks so much for having me on the air. So we virtually visited the Mutter Museum up in Philadelphia and went also when COVID kind of lulled a little bit over the summer, and had a really great experience. It felt really safe. And their online exhibit had included so much of what they had in the museum. It made it really accessible. They did 3D modelings so you could see all the way around it just like you would be able to in the museum. And we just really had a nice time. And we've been super excited about all of the different things that the Smithsonian has had.

  • 12:15:54

    MARYI've participated in a few of chats including the Professors and Pints that has gone virtual now. And it's just been awesome. And I'm so glad that the Office of Accessibility, which does great things for folks like me with disabilities to be able to get into the museums is doing so much more. So thank you guys so much for that.

  • 12:16:15

    NNAMDIWell, for people who are not familiar with the Mutter Museum, tell us what we can see there.

  • 12:16:20

    MARYSo the museum is filled with basically medical oddities. They have things like Einstein's brain, the largest megacolon ever removed from a person and just all kinds of crazy medical oddities as well as talking about the way that the 1918 pandemic hit Philadelphia.

  • 12:16:40

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for sharing that with us. Speaking of medical objects, Beth Ziebarth, the Smithsonian is collecting items from the pandemic like the first vile of the COVID-19 vaccine. What is the importance of documenting the pandemic while its happening?

  • 12:16:58

    ZIEBARTHThere's so many implications in the scientific and medical events as well as the effects and responses in areas of business work, politics, culture, you know, in terms of the pandemic effects. So our National Museum of American History and probably some of our other museums are collecting to be able to, you know, reflect on the pandemic in the future.

  • 12:17:30

    NNAMDIRebecca Roberts, the Planet Word isn't obviously your typical museum. And there is a particular exhibit that's really interesting. Tell us about the structural speaking willow tree. What is that?

  • 12:17:46

    ROBERTSWell, you can actually see the speaking willow from the street. So the historic Franklin School, the entrance is on 13th Street, but that has stairs and 13th Street is a hill and that's not accessible. So we actually moved the entrance to the museum around the corner on K Street, which is a grade. And then to make sure people knew there was something special there because we had now just hidden the entrance to the museum, our Founder Ann Freedman commissioned this extraordinary work of art from Artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer.

  • 12:18:17

    ROBERTSAnd it's called the speaking willow. And it is this sculptural tree, but at the end of every branch there's a speaker, a little translucent cup that is motion activated. And as you walk under the tree these different speakers activate and they each speak a different language. So this tree speaks 360 languages. And because a lot of the speakers are close together, you often activate more than one.

  • 12:18:43

    ROBERTSSo as you move under this tree you hear this extraordinary babble of global language all around you. And you can try to sort of standstill and identify the one directly over you or you can move around and hear, you know, the entire globe as you go. We sometimes see kids racing around in circles under the tree to try to activate all of the speakers in a circle at once, but it also tells you from the very beginning before you've even walked into the museum that this is going to be a different kind of experience. That this is a museum that's going to talk to you. It's going to expect you to talk about. Your physical body is going to be part of how you experience this entire museum.

  • 12:19:25

    NNAMDIPlanet Word is located at the Franklin School building on 13th and K Street. Many Washingtonians know it. We love it. It's a historic and beautiful building. But there have been years -- no, decades of debate about what the city should do with it. Can you talk a little bit about the building and how Planet Word got interested in it?

  • 12:19:44

    ROBERTSThe building dates to 1869. It's an Adolf Cluss building. So like the arts and industries building at the Smithsonian or Easter Market or the Sumner School, it is a redbrick building with towers and weather veins and it's quite dramatic. And it was a co-ed public high school originally. In fact, the first co-ed public high school in Washington all white, of course, in 1869. And that's why it has two front doors and it is in fact perfectly symmetrical, because although it was co-ed, having the boys and girls in class together was a bridge too far in the late 19th century.

  • 12:20:21

    ROBERTSSo the fact that every room on the north side is exactly mirrored on the south side actually makes it a very nice space for a museum. And it was a school for a while. It was then a teacher training school, a Normer (sp?) School for a while. For the bulk of the 20th century was DCPS administrative offices. And then for a time it was a homeless shelter. And then it was abandoned. So it is an unbelievably gorgeous building. It is historically protected both exterior and interior.

  • 12:20:53

    ROBERTSInside it has amazing original tile floors, beautiful banisters going up and down the stairs, windows looking out on Franklin Square that are just kind of breathtaking. So it's a gorgeous building that needed some love, needed some help. And so before any exhibits were installed the entire building was rehabbed and brought back to its former glory. And places where things couldn't be rehabilitated like the frescos in the assembly room, the great hall, they were recreated and protected the original -- frescos were protected but then recreated on top of them. So it's really beautiful. We can't wait to welcome back in person.

  • 12:21:39

    NNAMDIAfter all those iterations that building went through, what was the process for convincing the city to turn it into a museum?

  • 12:21:48

    ROBERTSWell, you know, we take that legacy pretty seriously that it's been an educational institution. I think that there is a through line there in terms of public education. Museums do education in a different way, right? We are informal even optional to learn in a museum. But it's not a departure from the mission of the building. And so, you know, it has been a place where Washingtonians have learned for over 150 years. And we're just the next iteration of that mission.

  • 12:22:19

    NNAMDIGoing to take a break very shortly, but you can call us at 800-433-8850. We got a tweet from Marcia who said, "With all of the technology now available in teaching and education, will our experience of museums be different after the pandemic? Beth Ziebarth, we got about a minute to answer that.

  • 12:22:41

    ZIEBARTHYes. It will be.

  • 12:22:43

    NNAMDIIn a word.

  • 12:22:44

    ZIEBARTHThere will be new technologies especially to make sure that people feel comfortable with tactile experiences or touch experiences in museums, but there's lots of encouraging new ways to -- innovative ways to provide access to people with disabilities too.

  • 12:23:03

    NNAMDIAnd so that's going to be going on long after this pandemic is over. 800-433-8850. If you have called stay on the line. Have you heard about D.C.'s newest museum of the word? Have you virtually visited a museum or gallery? Would you feel comfortable going to a museum in person right now? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:24:03

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We've been talking about how museums in this region have been faring during the pandemic. We're talking with Beth Ziebarth, the director of the Smithsonian's Office of Accessibility. Rebecca Roberts is curator of programming at Planet Word, and Melanie Adams is director of Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. Taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow. You can send email to And, I guess, Melanie Adams and Rebecca Roberts, I'll put the same question to you that Beth Ziebarth just answered. And that is, will the programs that you're offering virtually online continue after the pandemic? Are we likely to see a permanent change in how museums operate? Melanie Adams?

  • 12:24:52

    ADAMSSure. I agree with that. We're definitely going to see a hybrid model of those online opportunities, as well as in person. And the really nice thing about online is the access. When I'm talking about access, I'm talking geographical. So, for our online programs, we're getting people from all over the world tuning in. So, it would be a shame for us, once we're able to open back up, to go back to being only in person. So, it really does open up opportunities to create more of a hybrid model.

  • 12:25:24

    NNAMDIRebecca Roberts.

  • 12:25:25

    ROBERTSI completely agree. And, you know, we've had to experiment with what virtual programming does well, especially in an immersive museum. A sort of less-satisfying version of the in-person experience isn't what virtual programming's good for. We don't want a sort of JV version of what you'd get in the museum. But what virtual programming does really well is it allows us to book speakers from all over the world -- from all over the world, simultaneously.

  • 12:25:51

    ROBERTSI mean, we recently had a conversation about the power of hip-hop, where we had guests in Mexico City and Milwaukee and Iraq, and audience members from all over the world. And there's a certain intimacy of interaction on Zoom, we're finding, where people are more comfortable jumping in on the chat than they might not be raising their hand in an auditorium or going up to a microphone in the aisle of an auditorium.

  • 12:26:15

    ROBERTSAnd so, we have been able to expand what we can bring and learn from our audience in a two-way street. So, no question, we will absolutely keep up virtual programming after we're able to welcome people in person to the museum. It's just making us a more robust curriculum with a stronger museum experience.

  • 12:26:36

    NNAMDIHere now is Hammond in Arlington, Virginia. Hammond, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:26:42

    HAMMONDHey, Kojo, thank you all so much for taking my call. My wife and I miss museums in a big way, like everybody else, I'm sure. But I did want to say that we are taking a number of these Zoom classes with the Smithsonian Associates, and we are thoroughly enjoying this. It's just a gigantic (word?). We're taking this whole series on botanical gardens of the world, and the first program was just fabulous, and we're just totally looking forward to the next. And I hope y'all will, you know, keep some of that going when you open back up. Thank you.

  • 12:27:17

    NNAMDIHammond, thank you very much for your call. Can you offer him that assurance, Beth Ziebarth?

  • 12:27:22

    ZIEBARTHI think that the Smithsonian Associates have found this to be a very -- you know, an excellent way for them to make their programs available across the country, as Melanie and our other guest have remarked on. And so, I think that Smithsonian Associates, like everyone else, will probably be considering a hybrid. I've taken some of those Smithsonian Associates courses myself, and I'm enjoying them, too. I'm next going to be doing neighborhood walks through Dublin and several other cities. So, I think that'll be fun. (laugh)

  • 12:28:01

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Hammond. You, too, can call us if you have a question or comment about museums at 800-433-8850. Here's Judith in McLean, Virginia. Judith, your turn.

  • 12:28:14

    JUDITHThank you, Kojo. I'm privileged to serve on the board of a tiny museum that was built by the descendants of slaves in the neighborhood where I and many of the descendants still live. One of the things that we have tried to do is get with the rest of the world, and we have Zoom meetings and a board of directors. And we have a video screen where we tell the history of the Church Museum. This church has a huge interest, because so many of the museums are very powerful, these people you're interviewing.

  • 12:29:02

    JUDITHBut what has been somewhat discouraging to us is we have not found an association of museums from these ancient slave churches to network with. And I'd like to know if any of the panel can familiarize us with other options for networking, in terms of what we seek to do and racial reconciliation and history and justice.

  • 12:29:36

    NNAMDIMelanie Adams, apparently, this is a museum that was created by people who were enslaved. You might be able to give Judith some insight.

  • 12:29:45

    ADAMSAnd, Judith, can you just remind me, which state are you located in?

  • 12:29:49

    JUDITHYes. I'm in McLean, Virginia.

  • 12:29:51

    ADAMSOkay, you're in Virginia. So, what I would say is there are actually a lot of resources, because a lot of museums are doing this work now around enslaved communities. So, I would look first at the Association of African-American Museums. That's one great resource. The second one would be the American Alliance of Museums. So, you have an AAAM, and then an AAM. And then you could also look at AASLH, which is the American Association of State and Local Historical Societies.

  • 12:30:25

    ADAMSAnd then, finally, Virginia has a wonderful museum association. So, the Virginia Museum Association would be another one, and you would find places in there that are doing very work, like Monticello, Montpellier, a lot of other sites that are struggling with how to include enslaved narratives in their work.

  • 12:30:48

    NNAMDIJudith, thank you very much for your call, and good luck to you. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. Do you think virtual museum tours should continue after the pandemic? Why or why not? 800-433-8850. Rebecca Roberts, you have an event coming up next week called Diversities, Languages and Innovation. What can you tell us about this event?

  • 12:31:13

    ROBERTSDiversities is a series that we have been producing in collaboration with shared studios. Shared studios, in the before times, had this whole network of physical portals around the world. Most of them are shipping containers, where you walk into the container and you're connected full screen, full body size with somebody in another part of the world. And it facilitates these intimate, interesting conversations globally.

  • 12:31:39

    ROBERTSWhen we went to virtual, we were able to connect more than one place at a time. So, this Diversities series explores the power of language to effect change. And so, we talked about the language of music and activism. We've talked about the language of health messaging and how you target different messages to different populations and how you combat disinformation in health messaging.

  • 12:32:07

    ROBERTSThe one coming up next week on March 17th at 11:00 is about the language of innovation. And, again, guests all over the world who not only have interesting things going on in their locality, but really interesting things to add to each other. Because when you gather people who have similar, but different perspectives on the same topic, it becomes broader than the sum of its parts.

  • 12:32:31

    ROBERTSAnd I think that's something that all of us in cultural institutions are discovering with this kind of virtual programming, that, you know, more than a panel on a stage in an auditorium, this ability to have speakers of various perspectives plus the audience perspective gathered in real time online is really creating something new. And the audience is becoming more sophisticated, more adept to the technology, more willing to jump in.

  • 12:32:57

    ROBERTSSo, as we've been doing these programs, Diversities and others, I've just been so impressed with the people who are attending them and what they're bringing to the event and how it's really making it even more successful.

  • 12:33:10

    NNAMDIYou said Diversities and others. Tell us a little bit about some of the others.

  • 12:33:15

    ROBERTSOh, we've been having so much fun with our virtual programming. We've explored how to build a crossword puzzle and how the very weird world of competitive crossword puzzles with Adrian Raphel. We've explored what makes the lyrics of a good love song. We broke down -- you know, for Valentine's Day, of course -- some of our favorite love songs with Professor Adam Bradley at UCLA to talk about some of the songwriting techniques that different lyricists use.

  • 12:33:47

    ROBERTSWe had a moment -- actually, this was really important to me. We had planned a program on January 7th about poetry with Naomi Shihab Nye and James Crews. And I moderate these programs, and I sort of woke up that morning and thought, who is going to want to talk about poetry today? January 6th was traumatic. It was all we were talking about. We were all so undone. And I worried that we were being kind of irrelevant.

  • 12:34:14

    ROBERTSAnd I so underestimated the people who wanted to find solace and wisdom in poetry, that there was something comforting and important, and a long-range vision of how the world goes in poetry. And it's not a place I have sought solace before, but I underestimated the number of people who wanted to do that. And it was one of our best-attended, most successful programs. And it just reminded me again why Word Museum is important, because there are people all over who understand the power and beauty of words, and look to that power and beauty in times of trauma. And so, we've had totally fun programs, and also some very important programs.

  • 12:34:59

    NNAMDII could have certainly used some poetry on the morning of January 7th, so kudos to you...

  • 12:35:03


  • 12:35:03

    NNAMDI...kudos to you for doing that. Here is Penny, in Montgomery Village. Penny, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:35:10

    PENNYHey, Kojo and hi, Beth. This is Penny Reeder. I have a question about the panda cam. Is there a way you guys could add some audio description to this panda cam? I could see how you wouldn't be able to do it 24 hours a day. But when the new panda was born, I really wanted to know what he looked like, and there's no description at all. Is there a way to do that?

  • 12:35:34

    ZIEBARTHThat's a great -- hello, Penny. Yes. It's good to hear you, and I will talk with my colleagues at the zoo. It's a good point. We need to describe the cute panda. So, I'll work on that.

  • 12:35:52

    NNAMDIAnd speaking of that, Beth, the Smithsonian Museums, the Natural History Air and Space and the zoo are so important to parents, not only tourists, but locally. Any advice for parents who are missing those great experiences with kids and are desperate for rainy day weekend plans?

  • 12:36:13

    ZIEBARTHYeah, sure. Well, we run a program out of our office called Morning at the Museum, which is a free, sensory-friendly program for families of children, teens and young adults with disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, autism, sensory processing disorders and other cognitive disabilities. So, I'll talk a little bit about that, but some of the things that we are doing relate to the family programs that are going on in the different museums.

  • 12:36:44

    ZIEBARTHSo, you know, prior to the pandemic, families who participated at Morning of the Museum came to the museums before public hours and had the opportunity to explore and participate in activities without some of the environmental concerns that they had. But now, we talked with families as the pandemic closed in on us, and we surveyed a 2,000-member list of families to see what they would like to have available to them.

  • 12:37:23

    ZIEBARTHThey were reporting that they were already experiencing Zoom fatigue with online school, but they would appreciate a weekly list of online resources or activities that they might add to their days. And then, recently, we started advertising museum family programs to our list, where we worked with educators to tweak their activities to work well for kids with disabilities.

  • 12:37:46

    ZIEBARTHAnd one program that was recently held was at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Museum of Asian Art. They worked on this together, where they did a wearable art program, which was quite popular. You just use things found in the house to create your own wearable art. And it was very popular.

  • 12:38:09

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Jenna from the Smithsonian who said: The Smithsonian Associates' each livestream programs on Zoom relies on two to three volunteers to manage the Q and A box, chat and screen sharing introductory slides. It has been an exciting way to welcome remote volunteers from all over the U.S. Not only do we have program attendees from around the world, we have volunteers from Maine to Memphis and from New Jersey to Texas. It's been a wonderful silver lining. And I'm guessing, Beth Ziebarth, the silver lining that you hope to continue after this pandemic is over.

  • 12:38:45

    ZIEBARTHAbsolutely. I think that we have, as you've heard from all of the panelists and the people calling in, that online programming is here to stay, that this is a great way for us to expand our offerings to an ever-wider audience.

  • 12:39:05

    NNAMDIHere, now, is Claudia, who identifies as a fourth grader at Washington Union Public Charter School. Claudia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:39:17

    CLAUDIAHello. My name Claudia (word?), and I go to -- and I live in D.C., and my school is Washington Union PCS. And we used to have field trips to museums, and it was so much fun. And now, I can only do it virtually. So, sometimes with my friends, I go to the virtual museums.

  • 12:39:56

    NNAMDIAnd do you enjoy it, Claudia?

  • 12:39:59

    CLAUDIAYes. It is so much fun looking at the architecture and the space planets. And I just love museums and those kinds of things.

  • 12:40:12

    NNAMDIWell, maybe our guests can tell you what their plans are for reopening their museums. I will start with you, Beth Ziebarth. What's the plan for reopening the Smithsonians?

  • 12:40:26

    ZIEBARTHWell, Claudia, I appreciate your interest in museums, and I hope that someday you'll be a curator or somebody who works in one of our museums. But we don't know for sure when we will be opening, but it will be sometime this spring. We'll open in phases, as we did last summer, making decisions about reopening, keeping in mind health and wellbeing of our visitors, staff and volunteers. And we are really looking forward to having the public back in the museums for in-person visits, as well as online. (laugh)

  • 12:41:02

    NNAMDIIs that a plan you'll follow, Melanie Adams?

  • 12:41:05

    ADAMSThat is the plan, but, as I mentioned, with Men of Change, how we have that exhibit outside, we'll actually be opening an exhibit on April 17th outside called "Food For the People: Eating and Activism in Greater Washington. So, that will be located outside, on our plaza.

  • 12:41:24

    NNAMDIAnd how about you, Rebecca Roberts?

  • 12:41:24

    ADAMSAnd I want to say something about virtual programs, Kojo.

  • 12:41:27


  • 12:41:28

    ROBERTSSo, Claudia, we miss you, too. We miss field trips. We love them in museums. And so, virtual field trips is one of the first things we developed when we realized that we wouldn't be able to welcome school groups. Because even after the museum reopens, I think that school groups are going to lag behind in terms of their ability to come see us. So, our education program manager, Kaitlin Miller, developed virtual field trips right out of the gate around some of the stuff you can learn in Planet Word. And they've been so enormously popular.

  • 12:41:59

    ROBERTSI think teachers are desperate for some content that is delivered by somebody else and is engaging and informal and, in our case, you know, confirms to ELA standards. But you can find virtual field trips from museums all over. And it's, again, an opportunity to learn from an institution that might not be in your backyard, that might not be something you can take a bus to. So, we are desperate to have real, live field trips back, but, in the meantime, virtual field trips has been another real boon, a silver lining from this pandemic experience.

  • 12:42:34

    NNAMDIClaudia, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. How have the museums you love been surviving through the pandemic? Do you know? 800-433-8850. Melanie Adams, when you talk about doing Men of Change Outdoors, what have you learned about your own profession during this pandemic?

  • 12:42:57

    ADAMSOne of the things I learned is that we need to be more flexible and less, I guess, set in our ways. Because I think there's always pushback of, oh, you can't go outdoors, or what is that going to mean? How do you count your audience? Like all these things in question. But I think what we've really learned is the community is hungry for us to be in their backyard, and they would love to partner with us. So, we've just met some great people working on this exhibit that we wouldn't have met if it were indoors. So, I would just encourage museums to take a risk.

  • 12:43:36

    NNAMDIWould you say that your community and your audience have actually grown during this pandemic?

  • 12:43:43

    ADAMSOh, definitely. Definitely. Men of Change is being seen, I would estimate, by more people outside than it would be by people who were actually coming to our museum, just by virtue of the space it's in.

  • 12:43:57

    NNAMDIBeth Ziebarth, last year the Smithsonian opened up the Native-American Veterans Memorial during the pandemic. What was that like, holding a ceremony for a new memorial online, and what advantages did that have or what disadvantages were there to it?

  • 12:44:14

    ZIEBARTHYeah, it was such an exciting experience to have the memorial open on the grounds of the National Museum of American Indian. And we certainly had to pivot to doing an online opening ceremony instead of a in-person ceremony. But the advantage is that people from, you know, all parts of Indian country could participate, from Alaska to, you know, the tip of Florida. So, I think that that's one advantage. And I believe the museum is hoping to have an in-person ceremony down the road, once we get past the pandemic.

  • 12:45:01

    NNAMDITell us about the Smithsonian Accessibility Innovation Fund. What is it, and how does it work?

  • 12:45:09

    ZIEBARTHSure. Well, while we're teleworking, we continue to plan for new and better ways to engage visitors with disabilities. And my office manages an annual pool of funds to encourage innovative ways to provide accessibility. And one of the projects it'll highlight establishes a new method, a medium for visual description of museum artwork and objects.

  • 12:45:34

    ZIEBARTHSo, for a visitor who's blind or has low vision, they will be able to use a handheld device or their smart phone to scan a painting. And they will hear different tones for different colors and visual descriptions, so they can better form an understanding of the composition of the artwork in their mind's eye.

  • 12:45:57

    NNAMDIHere now is Stanley in Mount Rainier, Maryland. Stanley, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:46:03

    STANLEYThank you for taking my call, Kojo. I wanted to say, first of all, I have thoroughly enjoyed some online programming from different museums and individuals and other outside organizations. I've recently taken a tour of some of the highlights of the African-American Museum, which I've not yet had a chance to see. But beyond that, since you were not bound by either time or space, some groups have given virtual tours from multiple museums.

  • 12:46:35

    STANLEYFor instance, one recently gave a tour of one of the French impressionists, based on paintings that are in the National Gallery, as well as museums in Baltimore and Richmond. And I think that's wonderful to realize that you have much fewer constraints when you can do these programs online. So, my question is: Do you think that the museums are open to doing some collaboration and showing special programming that exhibits artwork from the different museums, together at one time?

  • 12:47:15

    NNAMDIBeth Ziebarth?

  • 12:47:17

    ZIEBARTHYeah, I think the collaboration has always been high on our agenda in museums. And I think that the idea of being able to share collections with visitors through an online experience means that we don't have to ship, you know, artwork, loaned artwork or loaned objects. So, that's a good advantage.

  • 12:47:47

    NNAMDIAnd thank you very much for your call, Stanley.

  • 12:47:48

    ROBERTS(overlapping) (unintelligible) some interesting...

  • 12:47:50

    NNAMDIWe've only got about 30 seconds. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:47:53

    ROBERTSSo, for instance, we collaborated with the Museum of Math in New York to talk about where language and math intersect. So, not just collections, but there's some really interesting somatic collaborations out there that virtual programming allows you to take advantage of.

  • 12:48:07

    NNAMDIRebecca Roberts is the curator of programming at Planet Word. Melanie Adams is director of the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, and Beth Ziebarth is director of the Smithsonian's Office of Accessibility. Thank you all for joining us. Today's show on how D.C. museums have adapted during the pandemic was produced by Richard Cunningham.

  • 12:48:26

    NNAMDIComing up tomorrow on The Politics Hour, Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton of Virginia joins us to talk about the massive stimulus plan which President Joe Biden is expected to sign this week, and her thoughts about the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol. Then Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Navarro discusses disparities with the vaccine rollout and what the lucent coronavirus restrictions will mean for Maryland's most populous county. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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