An Online Transition: the Effects of COVID-19 on Arts & Crafts Organizations
by Kate Nixon
03/30/20 update: this article has been updated to include information and events from The Gamble House Conservancy.
“Closed until further notice.” “Closed Temporarily.”
Those two statements have been seen everywhere in the past week, posted on doors, websites, and social media all over the country.
Several businesses have shut down their storefronts and historic sites have temporarily closed their doors to the public, waiting for the word when they can re-open. The iconic Fallingwater site has published on their website “During this time of closures and cancellations, we encourage you to reflect on the value of arts and cultural organizations like Fallingwater and others that will suffer financial setbacks due to the impact of COVID-19. We truly appreciate your consideration of Fallingwater and our counterparts around the world during a very challenging time.”
So much of our interpretive programming has been about experiencing Craftsman Farms—seeing the buildings and landscape, interacting with a docent on tour, and examining furniture, metalwork and textiles in our collections. Now, those physical experiences must become virtual, and we want them to be meaningful. – Vonda Givens, Executive Director at the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms
It is difficult enough to try to create enough sales to make up for a minimum two-week shutdown if your business is small and non-essential, but what does one do to stay in consumer’s minds during this challenging time? In a world where online purchasing, communications and the transition to online education and events is beginning to become our new temporary normal, businesses have allowed for the big switch to the online marketplace and in today’s economy, their online presence is what is keeping them alive through the next weeks – and potentially the next few months.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, for example, had implemented online educational resources long before the threat of COVID-19, but now finds themselves communicating exclusively online and getting visitors re-acquainted with their website. “We are focusing on promoting these online resources to our audience, making suggestions and directing them to other pages on our website that they may not have known about,” says Christine Trevino, a communications officer for the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust. “…[we] continue to update [our] audience through our website, regular e-blasts, and social media posts.”
The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms in Morris Plains, NJ utilizes a printed and mailed newsletter to keep in touch with supporters. Since the pandemic, the newsletters had to be put on hold. E-blasts, social media and direct mail like postcards, which are quicker to produce and distribute, help to fill in the gap for communications. The Stickley Museum had been on Facebook and Instagram for a long time, but the instant engagement that social media provided prompted discussions about more substantial online content. Now that the doors have been shut to the public, these ideas inspired their way forward.
“So much of our interpretive programming has been about experiencing Craftsman Farms—seeing the buildings and landscape, interacting with a docent on tour, and examining furniture, metalwork and textiles in our collections,” says Vonda Givens, Executive Director at the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms. “Now, those physical experiences must become virtual, and we want them to be meaningful.”
In addition to keeping audiences engaged, organizations must also keep their regular volunteers connected and engaged in further training. At the Gamble House in Pasadena in California, such efforts have been made to keep volunteer docents trained and optimistic about returning back to work. “Online curator-led discussions are being organized to keep our volunteer docents engaged and excited about a return to touring,” says Heather Marquez, manager of the Gamble House Conservancy. “Topics of the discussions will be taken from now canceled docent training classes and previously planned on-going education events. Zoom has quickly become a key component of daily operations and outreach, staff has fully embraced this new way of communicating during this challenging time.”
Some organizations made the decision to close in order to avoid the spread of the Coronavirus, taking a few steps ahead of government procedure. The famed Frank Lloyd Wright-paradise Taliesin West has published this statement on their website: “While our tour experiences do not meet the current CDC requirements for closure, everyone must do their part to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. If you had tickets to visit us, instead of seeking a refund, please consider a donation of the ticket purchase price that goes back to the organization. Or, convert that money toward a membership so you can stay engaged and plan future visits at Taliesin West.”
The Roycroft Campus Corporation, another small non-profit, has decided to close through the month of April. On their website, they are among the many who say “Although we understand the gravity of this situation, as a small non-profit we are dependent on the revenue generated from your patronage through programming and sales at our artisan gallery and gift shop. If you are able to do so, we hope you will consider making a donation or becoming a member to help us sustain our preservation and restoration efforts during this time of uncertainty.”
Outdoor and Online content Brings the History to Your Home
And yet, in the midst of this transition, organizations are rising to the occasion with content that is more accessible than ever. The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms will be kicking off their virtual programs with a popular introductory Arts and Crafts course, offered years ago onsite by Jonathan Clancy, who recently joined the staff as the Director of Collections and Preservation. Clancy, who has been a seminar speaker twice at the Arts and Crafts Conference, offered to update the course and make it more of-this-moment. “Living the Simple Life: The Arts and Crafts Movement at Home” will be offered in 4 Saturday sessions, beginning Saturday, April 4 at 1 p.m. EST. Led by Jonathan Clancy, who will often be joined by a special guest, and moderated by Executive Director Vonda Givens, sessions will be live on the Zoom platform. Attendees, who can purchase the entire course or individual sessions, will be sent a direct link.
In addition, content for kids will be available. Projects like homemade tin can stilts and marbelized paper, adapted from Girl Scout workshops and Fall Family Day, the Stickley Museum’s biggest annual family program, will be made available for a wide variety of users, who can use simple instructions to try them at home.
Organizations have also taken to creating playlists of music and other media for their supporters while digging past media out of their archives to re-publish. The Gamble House Conservancy is following this trend. “We are also ramping up production of digital content for social media including recommend reading and watch lists, staff favorites, images from the Archives and more,” says Marquez.
Meanwhile, Taliesin Preservation out of Spring Green, WI offers a number of Taliesin Experiences during Covid-19, including “Virtual Taliesin” a free 360-degree curated VR tour, where you can get the equivalent of a tour with high quality images of each room. All you need is your computer or laptop. Additionally, the Taliesin Preservation has added the Welsh Hills Trail tour among its outdoor and social-distance friendly activities still offered. Likewise, Boettcher Mansion out of Golden, CO has closed, but is encouraging people to explore their outdoor historic context exhibits and hike the nearby forest and meadow trails of the Lookout Mountain Nature Preserve.
Museums are closed, but have taken to posting free educational material you can view with a mobile device. As the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s statement on their website reads, “you will find links to free enriching and inspiring content for you to Watch, Listen, Learn, Read, and Browse at home.” This inspiring content includes documentaries and short films produced by the museum, soundtracks and audio tracks inspired by art and the museum’s exhibits, free online courses and lectures on demand, and more. Other museums, such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, directs interested users to their extensive YouTube channel, where you can watch “Fakes, Forgeries, and Mysteries” where museum experts solve art mysteries or for the younger art fan, you can download one of their online learning resources documents.
The Copper Shop, known for its artisan selections on the grounds of the Roycroft Campus Corporation, has spent time setting up a virtual retail shopping opportunity for those who would still like to purchase items from the Copper Shop – an opportunity expected to be up running soon.
Please visit the websites and social media profiles of your favorite Arts and Crafts organizations to receive the latest updates.
Updates from Arts and Crafts Organizations
Frank Lloyd Wright Trust
The Trust’s annual Wright Plus Architectural Housewalk has been rescheduled for Saturday, June 27. The housewalk will still take place in Oak Park and River Forest, Illinois. Additionally, the Trust’s regional day trip, Wright in the Region: From American Home to Modern Workplace has also been rescheduled for Monday, June 29.
The Gamble House
This summer the Gamble House will once again open its servants’ quarters for “Upstairs Downstairs” tours. Visitors to the Gamble House from July 16th through August 2nd will be able to compare the living quarters of the Gamble family with those “in service.”
Wendy Kaplan, Los Angeles County Museum of Art Curator of Decorative Arts and Design will be joining us Saturday, June 27 at 6:30pm to present the lecture “What Can A Woman Do? Women in the Arts and Crafts Movement.” The lecture will be followed by a reception and book signing. Details and tickets are available online at gamblehouse.org/events, $10 Friends of the Gamble House members, $15 non-members.
The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms
Our next exhibition Things Wrought by the United Crafts: An Expression of Modern Life was to begin onsite on May 30 in the North Cottage. This exhibition will still take place, but it will most likely begin online, in virtual format, until we can install it onsite. The virtual exhibition will build upon the exhibition preview, New Perspectives on the Workshop of Gustave Stickley, that was developed for the Arts and Crafts Conference in February. The in-depth online content produced for the preview is still available and give our audience an idea of what’s to come