On October 7, the Worcester Art Museum (WAM) reopened its doors to the public after being closed for seven months due to COVID-19. Visitors are now expected to purchase tickets online and reserve a specific time that they would like to tour the museum. Guests are also expected to maintain social distancing state guidelines and wear a mask at all times while visiting WAM. Like many other businesses and organizations in the state of Massachuttes, March 13 was the last day the museum was open due to the statewide order limiting large social gatherings. To accommodate the shutdown, WAM quickly shifted its focus to virtual programming.
“We had two priorities in the beginning,” explained Julieane Frost, WAM’s Senior Marketing Manager. “Our overarching priority was that we had to keep all of our audiences engaged with the museum and we had to do that virtually; primarily through social media, through our e-blasts and our website. That was really the only way that we could really reach anybody.” The second priority Frost discussed was to keep the paying WAM members engaged and make sure they still get value out of their membership despite the museum’s closed doors.
One problem they soon realized is that the majority of their members are older and do not access social media, “They were missing a lot of the content that we were sending out there,” Frost commented, “I mean basically for a lot of our members we went silent after we closed, so we immediately pivoted to emailing them every week and sending them highlights of what was happening on social media.”
Despite the temporary closure, WAM continued to thrive over the summer. Because of COVID-19, the museum’s largest event and fundraiser of the year, a gala, was reimagined as a virtual give-a-thon.
“And believe it or not,” Frost added, “We surpassed our income for that event; we exceeded what we normally get with the gala at the museum. So, that was interesting and very exciting to see.”
Along with the virtual fundraising success, Frost explained that COVID-19 has opened a lot of doors for WAM, “One of the positives is that we are getting participation from people all over the world. We have [new] members who live in Africa, in Europe, in other parts of this country: Texas, Florida… and they are able to participate in these virtual programs; where if they were held on-site they wouldn’t be.”
She continued, “I think that people are getting comfortable with Zoom, especially if the weather is not very nice or the program is at night… it’s easy to just open up a Zoom event and participate in the comfort of your own home. This pandemic actually opens up opportunities for us to reach audiences beyond Worcester, beyond central Massachusetts.”
After months of virtual programming, the museum finally opened its doors to the general public on October 7 with much success. “The first weekend we had around and over 100 people visit per day… for being closed for seven months and only reopened for less than a week, that’s not bad, we are really happy with that,” Frost expressed.
As for the future of WAM, many programs until the end of the year will remain virtual or in a hybrid format. For the holiday season, the museum still plans on decorating, just on a smaller scale. Instead of weekly Sunday live music concerts, this holiday there might be a small group of musicians at the museum playing in the background. In 2021, the museum hopes that attendance will slowly rise over time and hopefully be back at full capacity in June of next year.
“We’re looking forward to next summer, we have this really exciting baseball jersey show opening up in time to see opening up the new baseball park in Worcester,” Frost said. And that will be the first time an art museum is going to have an exhibition centered on the baseball jersey as a design and fashion icon, so that’s going to be really fun!”
If you are a Clark University student interested in visiting the Worcester Art Museum (WAM), you get free admission because Clark is an institutional partner! Make sure to schedule your ticket online https://www.worcesterart.org/ and bring your Clark ID (and mask!) to the museum when you visit for a tour. If you would like to support WAM make sure to check out their website for up-to-date virtual programs and future exhibits.