"This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment," Serena Barnett begins. "We wanted to commemorate this event with a special exhibit saluting many of the women in America who contributed to the National Women's Suffrage Movement and those who have in these past 100 years used their democratic voices to make a difference in our society."
Of course, like so many other institutions, the Rogers Historical Museum faced a challenge. Its doors are closed to visitors due to covid-19 concerns. And "Influential Women of Arkansas: From the Suffragettes to Today" was intended to fill the museum's Trammel Gallery.
"We still wanted to offer this exhibit for the 19th Amendment centennial," Barnett underscores. "Also, as this is an election year, we wanted to reinforce the importance of Americans making their voices heard through their Constitutional right to vote. Reformatting the exhibit as a virtual exhibit was a natural solution to ensure our community would still be able to view it in a timely manner."
Online exhibits do have advantages, Barnett admits. For one thing, it is accessible to anyone, anywhere. For another, it can remain open indefinitely. And finally, the AT HOME Kid's Craft Corner, scheduled for 2 p.m. Sept. 19 on the museum's Facebook page, can tie into the virtual exhibit.
"Kids will learn about the suffragists and how they marched in the streets," Barnett describes. "We'll show them how to design their own flag, using supplies found around the house, to wave in honor of the suffragists who fought for the right to vote for all Americans!"
But the "Influential Women" exhibit is only one small part of what's been going on behind the scenes since the museum closed its doors to the public in mid-March.
"Museum staff have continued coming into work, and we've used this time to make some changes to some of the exhibits," Barnett says. "We've done some redecorating in the Children's Gallery, added a barn to the Natural State exhibit and expanded the Monte Ne exhibit. We've added some new objects in other areas of the gallery as well. You'll just have to wait for when we reopen to see them for yourself!
"We're also using this time to do some maintenance on the historic Hawkins House," she adds. "Every 10 to 15 years, the house needs to have a fresh coat of paint and minor repairs tended to. Beginning mid-September, we will be repainting both inside and outside. Much of the house is empty right now as we have begun removing the collection items in preparation for the upcoming work.
"Collections staff have been busy digitizing objects for our new online collections database," Barnett continues. "Of the 51,000-plus objects in our collection that have been catalogued, we currently have over 3,000 records with over 4,000 images now available, and we are adding more all the time."
And "education staff have been working on creating virtual programs, such as AT HOME Kid's Craft Corner, our monthly history craft lesson. As in-classroom programming will not be happening this year, they are also developing a virtual museum platform for teachers to access online content through videos and downloadable activities."
It has been quite the learning curve, adds Ashley Sayers, one of the museum's two education assistants.
"I would say that the challenge of going virtual would definitely be learning how to use video editing software," she says. "Before this, neither Glen Christophersen, our other museum educator, nor I, had ever used any kind of video editing software. We were learning to use it as we were making the videos for the Kid's Craft Corner, and we had to learn a lot very quickly.
"The rewards to going virtual would probably also be learning how to use video editing software, because now we have a new skill -- and also still being able to reach our visitors and still provide them with educational programs."
Like Barnett, Sayers thinks there are some benefits to "going virtual," among them being able to shoot more videos on location to support whatever topic they're discussing. "We are also able to reach more people by going virtual than we could physically.
"Schools and parents can go to our website, www.rogershistoricalmuseum.org, and find a list of the programs that we are offering this year, as well as the program descriptions and the curriculum frameworks that each program meets," she explains. "In September, they will be able to begin signing up for all the programs they want, also by going to our website, and once they do that, they will be sent a link where they can access the program. We are currently working on the best platform to use for teachers and parents to use their link and access the programs they signed up for."
But she misses getting to know the students most of all.
"I think the first thing that Glen and I want to do when we can do a live education program is just talk to the students and ask how they are and build those relationships up again," she says. "We're really glad that we can still connect to them virtually during the pandemic, but we're so used to being able to interact with the students in real time and get to know them a little bit because that was a big part of our job, so it's been a little weird for us not to have that aspect of the job for the last few months."
Barnett says she still has no date set for the museum to physically reopen.
"As the museum is a department of the city of Rogers, we are taking our lead from the mayor and City Council," she explains. "When they feel that we can safely reopen, we will. Until then, we don't know when that will be, and so we're making the best of the situation that we can.
"We are currently working on protocols to follow," she adds. "Some of the purpose of redesigning some of our galleries was to restructure the exhibits so that they don't require touch interactions. When we do reopen, we want to make it as safe of an environment as possible for our visitors, volunteers and staff."
But when she can, Barnett knows what she wants to do first.
"If possible, I'd like to have a special event to welcome our visitors back and showcase all the work we've done behind closed doors."
Rogers Historical Museum