Moving Forward

When I wrote the first draft of this blog entry back in February, it was supposed to be a look back at my first six months as the new director of the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center. It was supposed to be me reflecting on how my role in the industry had changed. It was supposed to be about my vision for the future, things I had learned along the way, and all that. Well, then the world ended.

Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center, Enid, Oklahoma

And, I am not speaking tongue-in-cheek. We have experienced so many life-altering moments in the first six months of 2020 that a blog entry I wrote in February, filled with professional insight and vision for the future, might as well have been written a hundred years ago. The world of February has ended, and we as an industry—and as a society—are struggling to adapt.

Adapt.

As an industry, we have been doing things a certain way for a long time. So much so, that when we were abruptly put in a situation where we had to throw out the playbook and try to write a new one, we were left scratching our heads and trying to figure out what to do next. What does educational programming look like without any hands-on learning? What good is an exhibit as a story-telling tool when it isn’t accessible? How can you do anything at all when you don’t want people gathering? We’ve been doing things one way for a very long time.

As a new director, I’m going to lay out my approach for ways I have chosen to move forward.

  1. Don’t Forget Your Mission

The obstacle: At the Oklahoma Historical Society, our mission is to collect, preserve, and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma and its people. One way we choose to share the history and culture is through exhibits. We know that exhibits are great ways to leverage collections, using physical objects from our past that we have deemed historically or culturally significant to help tell a story. Though exhibits are a great way to fulfill our mission to share our history and culture, it isn’t the ONLY way we can share our stories. 

Our approach: We chose to focus our efforts on creating digital content on social media. We knew we needed to continue to share our stories, but we knew we knew that exhibits weren’t a compelling subject for a video walk-through. We tried it, but it just didn’t seem interesting. Exhibits are made to be experienced. They lose something when they cannot be. We still wanted to leverage our collection and tell stories, so we did just that. We eventually settled on several different video series that we release weekly. They all have different purposes. One video attempts to highlight the unique, weird, or otherwise interesting objects from our collection, while another focuses on submitting questions to our research center. But they all are ways for us to continue to tell our stories, and leverage our collection. 

2. Focus on Experiences

The obstacle: How do you create experiences when you can’t use your site in the same way—or at all? Even though you can’t use methods like hands-on learning, demonstrations, or even have large groups of people at all, you can still create experiences. They are just different.

Urban Hiking Adventure Kit

Our approach: We focused our efforts on creating interesting, singular experiences. When people can’t—or shouldn’t—gather in groups, then create experiences that are well-suited for social distancing. One of the key elements to a good educational program is discovery. Whether you discover something new, or rediscover an old way of doing things, it excites something deep within us. We took that idea literally and created an Urban Hiking Adventure Kit. At the core, it’s a historic walking tour. But it comes with a canvas shoulder bag, a walking stick, a water bottle, and a few other things…most importantly, a tri-fold map of a few key historic buildings and site around the city of Enid.

3. Rediscovering old Methods

The obstacle: We have all learned the industry standards in educational programming by creating good visitor experiences and know how to create compelling programming. But, as we have learned, the old mold just doesn’t work right now. 

Our approach: Honestly, I’ve found it helpful to go back to old playbooks. I think a lot of the programs and experiences that existed years ago all across our industry still have some use, especially during a global pandemic. Museum educators everywhere have mostly all abandoned scavenger hunts in their museum or walking tour brochures. But, if you tweak them a bit, they can still work.

Me stumbling onto the idea of the Urban Hiking Adventure Kits was twofold. First, I absolutely love going on walks across Enid and discovering new things. Sometimes, it’s a mural, sometimes it’s a road I haven’t wandered down, sometimes it’s an old historic building. Second, I was looking at old brochures from the area that we had in our archives. I stumbled across some walking tour brochures, photocopied on bright pink paper from what looked to be the late 1980s. There were almost a dozen different walking tours of old historic neighborhoods across Enid, made be a variety of different organizations. The direction I decided to take with our Adventure Kits was nothing new. It has literally been done dozens of times. It just needed a little bit of freshening up by adding more of an experience to the idea. And, really, there are so many old ideas that can still work, if you breathe new life into them, and add interesting and compelling experiences to them.

I don’t think my approach is all that different from any other museum or historic site director across the industry. But I do hope this helps give you some ideas for new ideas and directions to take as we labor through these difficult times!

Stay safe out there!

Author Jacob Krumwiede is the Director of the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid, Oklahoma

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