Ketchikan has been “hunkering down” for more than a month now, and numerous community organizations have jumped at the opportunity to make sure people can stay connected and entertained while fighting the spread of the coronavirus — for Ketchikan Museums, this means bringing exhibits online and starting new projects.
“Ketchikan Museums From Home” is an expansive list containing links to exhibits, archives, games and activities culled from museums around the country, according to Erika Jayne Christian.
Christian, the program coordinator at the Tongass Historical Museum, spoke with the Daily News about the online program during a Wednesday morning phone interview.
“We’ve still been generating content and coming up with ways to engage with our community here, and so some of that has been really embracing the idea of museums from home,” Christian explained. “It’s become an international hashtag, that ‘#museumsfromhome,’ so we’re one of many, many museums who’s trying to share its content, to entertain, to inform — even if it’s just giving people a reason to smile or take a look deeper into our holdings.”
The list can be accessed by visiting https://www.ktn-ak.us/MuseumsFromHome.
“There are so many resources and so much content that’s being created online,” Christian said. “So we’ve done our best, too.”
The Tongass Historical Museum’s most recent special exhibit, “Into the Wind: Aviation as Southeast Alaska’s Lifeline,” is available in full online.
Patrons can click through a slideshow of the artifacts and photographs that are included in the physical exhibit, which was revealed in early March.
Only a couple weeks after the exhibit’s opening, a mandate from Gov. Mike Dunleavy closed museums and libraries to the public in order to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
Christian noted that “Into the Wind” is still scheduled to remain available until January.
Other exhibits and photographic slideshows from the Tongass Historical Museum and the Totem Heritage Center also are posted on the website.
However, It’s not just content from the Tongass Historical Museum that can be found on the site.
“We’ve always had information online about current exhibits and that sort of thing, but we’ve really branched out,” Christian said.
Christian and the staff at the museum have compiled a list of museums from across the globe to keep patrons curious and entertained.
The list includes notable names such as the Museum of Flight, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University.
It also boasts a few Alaska-centric options, such as links to the Alaska Digital Archives and the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak.
Some institutes on the list are completely digital, even without the gloom of a pandemic — Christian mentioned the Girl Museum as a personal favorite.
Christian told the Daily News that working to connect with online audiences has given her an appreciation for the new materials she has discovered as program coordinator.
“If anything, it’s made me want to visit those places and support those organizations and museums and historical societies more, just because it's visible and it's out there,” she said. “Some of these places I wouldn't even know much about.”
Christian said that the process of compiling the resource list took a couple of weeks, although she noted that museum staff had “been trickling things out pretty much from the beginning of things” — and that the collections staff at the museum had been working on online operations in preparation for dealing with coronavirus complications even before the mandate closed the museum’s doors.
“As soon as we were starting to have limited hours and then closing our doors, I know collections was on top of it, the entire museum,” she said. “We knew that we needed to be accessible to the public even if our doors were closed, so I’d say it probably took us two and a half, maybe three weeks from that start in March.”
Ketchikan Museums from Home went live during a “soft opening” in April.
“Larger projects like the virtual exhibit took us just a little bit more time,” Christian explained. “The framework was there for us, the content was there, it was just making certain that we could make it the most accessible that we could online.”
Christian said that making more online resources available for museum patrons has been a goal for Ketchikan Museums.
“It’s been really great for our active listening as far as what the community says they like,” Christian said.
Christian also said that having to adapt to the current crisis has presented another unique opportunity: pursuing a community-wide project.
Ketchikan Museums has been collecting oral anecdotes, interviews and stories to be archived for a “COVID-19 oral history project.”
“So often you’re in the midst of something — I know everyone’s been saying this is one of those kind of hinge points in history — and we really agree,” Christian said. “And so we’re going (to do) our best to start actively collecting those stories. “
Christian said that as a program coordinator who previously worked as a museum educator in Texas, oral history was a topic that she has been meaning to pursue for some time.
“So often we look back on events and we get the larger story; you know, we get the facts and the figures and how it affected life, but we miss the community stories,” she explained. “We miss the individual impact. And so being able to launch the COVID oral history project is really important to us, too.”
Christian said that contributions to the project could vary.
“If people have a story or an anecdote or they just kind of want to share how they’re feeling in these times, that’s all important information that we’d like to have in our archives,” she said.
Instructions on how to contribute to the oral history project can be found at https://www.ktn-ak.us/museums-oral-history-program-covid-19.