A Whole New (Digital) World: Online Experiences at the Eastman Museum during 2020
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.
- A History of Photography: Commemorating the Ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, featuring Lisa Hostetler, Curator in Charge of the Department of Photography
- Handheld Precision Cameras, featuring Todd Gustavson, Curator of the Technology Collection
- New Directions in the Menschel Library, featuring Ken Fox, Head of Libraries and Archives
- Artist’s Talk with James Welling, featuring Lesley Martin, Creative Director of Aperture
- Artist’s Talk with Kota Ezawa, featuring Bruce Barnes, Ron and Donna Fielding Director
- Spirit Photography: History and Creation, featuring Heather Shannon, Associate Curator in the Department of Photography, and Nick Brandreth, Historic Process Specialist
- Gathering Clouds Panel, featuring Alejandro Cartagena, Sean McFarland, Will Wilson, and Heather Shannon
- A Photographic Truth, featuring Mark Osterman, Process Historian
- Gathering Clouds Panel, featuring Sharon Harper, Nick Marshall, Penelope Umbrico, Byron Wolfe, and Heather Shannon
- Not Just Cameras, featuring Erin Fisher, Technology Collection Manager
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.
- Clouds & Combination Printing
- Early Optics in Photography
- Early Silver Processes
- Nineteenth Century Retouching Techniques
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.
- Anna Atkins Storytime & Sun Print Activity, featuring Emily Phoenix, Chief Object Preparator
- Women’s Rights Children’s Book Recommendations & Suffrage Postcard Coloring Pages, by Jamie M. Allen, Stephen B. and Janice G. Ashley Associate Curator in the Department of Photography
- Snowflake Bentley & Snowflake Activity, featuring Meghan L. Jordan, Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Photography and staff from the Rochester Museum and Science Center
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.
- How to make a Dichroic Solution
- Make your own iPhone Spirit Photograph
- How to make a Salted Paper Print
- How to make a 35mm Daguerreotype
- How to make Paper Developer
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.
- History of Photography: Commemorating the Nineteenth Amendment
- Gathering Clouds: Photographs from the Nineteenth Century to Today
- James Welling: Choreograph
- George Eastman’s Historic Mansion
- Eastman Museum Conservation Lab
- Thomas Tischer Visitor Center
- Holiday Decorated Historic Mansion and Sweet Creations Gingerbread Display
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.
- Gathering Clouds: Photographs from the Nineteenth Century to Today
- Contemporary Artist’s Tour
- Meteorological Tour
- James Welling: Choreograph, featuring James Welling
- 100 Years Ago: George Eastman in 1920, featuring Jesse Peers, Archivist in the Legacy Collection
- Stacey Steers: Night Reels, featuring Stacey Steers
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.
- 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
- 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.
- [The Black Pirate — Mary Pickford Technicolor №2 Test] (US 1926), introduction by Anthony L’Abbate, Preservation Manager in the Moving Image Department
- Colorful Fashions from Paris Displayed by Hope Hampton — McCall’s Color Fashion News (US 1926), introduction by Anthony L’Abbate, Preservation Manager in the Moving Image Department
- [The Gaucho — Outtakes of Technicolor Inserts] (US 1927), introduction by Anthony L’Abbate, Preservation Manager in the Moving Image Department
- [Unidentified Edison film] (ca. 1895)
- [Unidentified comedy: Two Bachelors Get Engaged] (US ca. 1910)
- 5 on 105 (US 1974), introduction by Erin Fisher, Technology Collection Manager
- Stairs I: Geneva (Switzerland 1994), introduction by Nick Marshall, Manager of Exhibitions and Programs
- Love or Justice? [The Woman of It] (US 1917), introduction by Bryan Burns, Preservation Officer in the Moving Image Department
- Forcing the Force [Hoodwinking the Police] (US 1914), introduction by Sheryl Smith, Dryden Theatre Manager
- It Never Happened (US 1934), introduction by Peter Bagrov, Curator in Charge of the Moving Image Department
- Eyes of Science (US 1930), introduction by Gordon Nelson, Digital Archivist in the Moving Image Department
- The Stolen Voice (US 1915), introduction by Caroline Yeager, Associate Curator in the Moving Image Department
- Hollywouldn’t (US 1925), introduction by Caroline Yeager, Associate Curator in the Moving Image Department
- The Trespasser (US 1929), introduction by Peter Bagrov, Curator in Charge of the Moving Image Department
- Movie Actor (US 1932), introduction by Caroline Yeager, Associate Curator in the Moving Image Department
- The Flute of Krishna (US 1926), introduction by Janet Eilber, Artistic Director, Martha Graham Dance Company
- Montage Series: Montage I: Paint and Painter (US ca. 1959); Montage II: Ephemeral Blue (US ca. 1960); Montage IV: The Garden of Eden (US 1962); Montage V: How to Play Pinball (US 1963), introductions by Gordon Nelson, Digital Archivist in the Moving Image Department
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
- Q&A with Director April Wright
- Beverly (2019), featuring Charles Benoit
- Crime Wave (1985), featuring Mike White
- King Kong (1933), featuring Anthony L’Abbate
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.