Frederica Wald

Frederica “Freddi” Wald has been an innovator and creative leader in the strategic marketing and creative world for almost twenty years. Today, Wald works as Head of Membership at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she oversees the world’s largest museum membership program through multi-channel marketing and engagement strategies. For many people within the arts and cultural industry, the question of how COVID-19 will affect institutions remains largely unanswered. Today, Ms. Wald will discuss how COVID-19 has affected the arts community and her thoughts on the future of cultural institutions.

Within the United States, there are currently over 35,000 public and privately owned museums. Some of the most visited public museum in the U.S., the National History Museum in Washington D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, have documented close to 7.4 million visitors in a single year. However, many studies have shown a sharp decline in museum attendance by the American People within the last twenty years. The National Endowment for the Arts has reported 18.7% of U.S. adults visited a museum or gallery in 2015, while in 2002, that number was 26.5%. Many cultural institutions across America have stretched their budgets even further by offering free admission to attract new audiences and guests. For the 2021 National Budget proposal, President Trump once again asked for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services destructive and uninformed move Many museums are now relying on loyal patrons, fundraisers, and private donations to keep their doors open. These loyal supporters have played an enormous part in cultural institutions’ ability to remain open and allowing them to focus on navigating a new reality, responding to CDC guidelines, and prioritizing health and safety measures. 

For museums, theatre, dance, and other arts and cultural industries, the COVID-19 virus has impacted almost every aspect of their organization. These impacts have ranged from limiting exhibitions and visitors, shutdowns or lengthy “pauses” of entire industries like Broadway, on site gift shop protocol, dining and food services, children’s museum initiatives, funding concerns, and human resource issues. COVID-19’s highly ineffective, airborne qualities have affected impacted not only visitor health concerns but also staff health concerns. Many organizations require staggered entry times for guests to adequately protect staff and visitors and added multiple hand-sanitizing stations across their institution. In addition to this new protocol, museums have also proactively asked guests to socially distance from each other by placing markers on gallery floors. And implementing timed  reservations to ensure the government guided capacity allowed. This spacing concern and need for social distancing have. created vulnerabilities even with the most loyal, generous arts advocates and patrons.

Cultural institutions across the country are implementing the following concepts and solutions in preparation for the difficult Winter phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Online Tickets and Temperature Checkpoint

While many art and cultural institutions have already made the transition to online paperless tickets, the public may still see a shift in the museum’s policies regarding hands-free tickets and membership policies. An example of this is Beijing’s Palace Museum, which has begun utilizing facial recognition technology to combat traditional ticketing. Even with new implementations of online tickets, lobby spaces may also see major changes. Some institutions have even started to consider completely removing their entrance lobbies to discourage crowding in a single area. However, other institutions have developed a new use for their lobby or outside gathering spaces as a makeshift temperature testing checkpoint. Many museums all throughout Europe have begun to employ the use of non-contact infrared thermometer testing for guest entry, to great success.  

No Touch/Hands-Free Exhibits 

Some children’s museums, are making the massive shift from “touch exhibits” to “hands-free exhibits.” This has proved a great challenge, as many of these museums rely on their exhibits’ interactive quality to attract visitors. However, in light of the pandemic and its methods of spreading, children’s museums have started looking at other avenues that would allow children to interact with the exhibits safely. Disposable devices, or one-use devices, are now being viewed as the best option for these touch museums. Disposable (recyclable) devices such as Google Cardboard, 3D glasses, or virtual tools such as Android or Apple apps can be used to promote engagement with an exhibit while limiting person-to-person contact. This also solves another problem of social distancing and viewing space. A disposable device, such as Google Cardboard, could allow someone to view a piece of artwork from a safe distance while still allowing the viewer a close examination of the artwork’s details. 

Virtual and Online Content 

Around the globe, museums and cultural centers have switched to virtual and online content to help reduce guests’ exposure while allowing communities continued access to their institution’s collection, exhibits and personalities. Galas, discussions, video lectures, concerts, and live community events have been just some of the events that have moved into a virtual space. While imperfect, this change has brought museum voices, exhibits, and cultural discussions into visitor homes, in a safe and convenient manner. This hybrid blended model of both on-site and online experiences will only become more prevalent and necessary as we navigate the upcoming post-pandemic months and rebuild and reimagine our cultural landscape for the future.

For more information on the future of art and cultural institutions and how the COVID-19 virus has affected the arts industry, check back in on for frequent updates.