A Whole New (Digital) World: Online Experiences at the Eastman Museum during 2020

Kate Meyers Emery
Dec 17, 2020 · 10 min read

Since March, when the New York State on PAUSE plan was put in place, the museum had been increasingly using digital tools to reach our communities: staff members were making short iPhone videos at home, we were repurposing onsite content for a digital audience, and we were quickly crafting virtual versions of our exhibitions using the random assortment of technology we had at our disposal.

In July 2020, the George Eastman Museum was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities: NEH CARES grant, which provided us with funds to support the participation of seventeen staff members in sustaining, expanding, and institutionalizing the museum’s digital programs, and an ArtBridges Foundation grant that would supply us with the technology to improve our methods.

These two grants greatly helped us expand our online programming and presence — both improving the quality and increasing the frequency. The grant also gave staff across the museum the flexibility to be creative and try different methods of online engagement. And it provided new opportunities for collaboration among staff: many of the staff working on the grant-funded initiatives had not previously been as involved with digital engagement.

As part of the grant, we created an impressive lineup of free online programs and experiences for an international audience. Since the end of July, we’ve created:

  • 10 virtual talks
  • 4 Historic Process demonstrations
  • 3 Virtual Discovery Room videos & activities
  • 5 Darkroom Magic videos
  • 7 virtual tours
  • 5 audio tours
  • 18 introductions to recorded interviews from the Silver Voices project
  • 20 digitized films from the collection, most of which have video introductions by staff members and invited guests
  • 40 Dryden Theatre Recommends videos

As we have produced, edited, and promoted these various programs, we have been tracking the response from our communities. The goal of this grant was to explore some of the various ways we could reach current and new audiences, take some risks, and use what we learned to create better programs in the future.

We have learned a lot from this process, from all of the different ways you can use Zoom to what type of video content our audiences prefer. It’s been an exciting experiment, and we are looking forward to continuing to grow many of these programs over the next year

Ten virtual talks

Our Zoom-based webinars have become one of the primary ways that our audience can have direct access to members of the museum’s staff and learn more about the work we are doing. Many of these are virtual continuations of our onsite lecture series, such as Focus 45 and our curator’s talks. Every talk is recorded and shared on YouTube, making it available to everyone.

Four Historic Process Demonstrations, featuring Mark Osterman, Process Historian

Since March, our onsite workshops have been suspended due to the close proximity and small areas within which the participants and staff members must work. While some workshops have continued online as virtual tutorials, we wanted to find a way to keep our audience engaged and expand the reach of workshops beyond those who can traditionally attend onsite. The audience for these has been very international, with over 50% watching from outside the United States.

Three Virtual Discovery Room Videos & Activities

Similar to workshops, our hands-on area in the museum, the Discovery Room, has been closed since March. In order to continue engaging families and individuals of all ages, we wanted to find a mix of activities that would be easy to do at home, requiring very little supplies or things that are easily found around your home, that also had a connection to our collections.

Five Darkroom Magic Videos, featuring Nick Brandreth, Historic Process Specialist

At the beginning of 2020, we decided to start a video series that would demystify what happens in the darkroom, and share some of the magic behind historic photographic processes. With stay at home orders, we wanted to continue creating these, shifting some of the focus towards activities you could learn and do at home.

Seven Virtual Matterport Tours

360 Virtual Tours have given us a way to invite our audience into our exhibitions whether they are able to visit or not, sharing the individual works, wall text, audio and video components, and a feel of the space as a whole. They have also proven to be a fun way for schools to take virtual field trips, given guests a peek inside spaces they wouldn’t normally see like our Conservation Lab, and provided a way to share updates to the space including health and safety measures with guests who aren’t ready to visit.

Five Audio Tours

Audio tours have always been an important component of our exhibitions. However, with COVID-19, we’ve been unable to have docent led tours and these have been the primary way that guests can gain insight into our spaces. These tours are educational, insightful, and fun, accessible onsite via our mobile tour (eastman.oncell.com) and online SoundCloud and the virtual tours.

18 introductions to interviews from the Silver Voices project

Silver Voices is an IMLS funded project at the museum to digitize recorded interviews with photographers, individuals from the film industry, and conservators. In order to add more context to these, staff members recorded introductions to a select number of interviews to share a little about the individuals and their contribution to the field.

Photography Oral History Project

  • Lisette Model, introduction by Lisa Hostetler, Curator in Charge of the Department of Photography
  • Paul Vanderbilt, introduction by Jamie M. Allen, Stephen B. and Janice G. Ashley Associate Curator in the Department of Photography
  • Frederick Sommerby Jamie M. Allen, Stephen B. and Janice G. Ashley Associate Curator in the Department of Photography
  • Andres Kertesz, introduction by Meghan L. Jordan, Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Photography
  • Jacob Deschin, introduction by Meghan L. Jordan, Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Photography
  • Roy Sieber, introduction by Ken Fox, Head of Libraries and Archives
  • Joe Munroe, introduction by Ken Fox, Head of Libraries and Archives

George Pratt Cinema Oral Histories

  • Buster Keaton, introduction by Nancy Kauffman, Archivist in the Stills, Posters and Paper Collection
  • James Wong Howe, introduction by Liana Kroll, Head of Information, Research, and Access in the Moving Image Department
  • Alice Terry, introduction by Nancy Kauffman, Archivist in the Stills, Posters and Paper Collection
  • Ramon Navarro, introduction by Caroline Yeager, Associate Curator in the Moving Image Department
  • Roy & Marjorie Overbaugh, introduction by Nancy Kauffman, Archivist in the Stills, Posters and Paper Collection
  • Lillian Gish, introduction by Peter Bagrov, Curator in Charge of the Moving Image Department
  • Hal Mohr, introduction by Liana Kroll, Head of Information, Research, and Access in the Moving Image Department
  • Mary Pickford, introduction by Sheryl Smith, Dryden Theatre Manager
  • Frank Lloyd, introduction by Nancy Kauffman, Archivist in the Stills, Posters and Paper Collection
  • Gilbert Anderson, introduction by Ken Fox, Head of Libraries and Archives
  • Leo Carillo, introduction by Ken Fox, Head of Libraries and Archives

Twenty digitized films from the collection with introductions

With the closure of the Dryden Theatre, our film fans had no way to access our collection. While there is no way to replace the experience of watching a film in the theater, we decided to share digitized selections from our collection, including short films, screen tests, promotional films, and more. Many of these include introductions by museum staff and friends of the museum that share the context of production and some of the things that make them interesting.

Forty Dryden Theatre Recommends videos, featuring Jared Case, Manager of the Dryden

In order to keep engaging our Dryden Theatre fans, we created these introductions, similar to the ones film fans would get while watching a screening at the theater. In these, Jared Case, Curator of Film Exhibitions for the Dryden Theatre, shares a recommendation for a film that can be found streaming online, noting some of the history and context of the film, sometimes with special guests and Q&As.

See all introductions here: Dryden Theatre Recommends

Select introductions:

Thank you!

Beyond the staff whose names you see above, this project would not have been possible without the many people working behind the scenes (and behind the screens). This project impacted everyone at the museum, from our onsite maintenance team and security who helped make sure the spaces were clear and ready to be filmed and recorded for 360 tours, to the team that edited the videos, gathered content, designed assets, cleared rights, checked captions, edited scripts, and pulled everything together, to the team who helped to promote and share the final products. It was a full museum team effort.

Generous support for these projects provided by Art Bridges.

This project has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: NEH CARES. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

George Eastman Museum

Articles from the staff, students, volunteers, and fans of…

George Eastman Museum

Articles from the staff, students, volunteers, and fans of the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY.

Kate Meyers Emery

Written by

PhD, Roc native, Digital evangelist. Manager of Digital Engagement at @eastmanmuseum. @SUNYgeneseo @EdinburghUni + @michiganstateu alum. Opinions my own

George Eastman Museum

Articles from the staff, students, volunteers, and fans of the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY.