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Museums boost their online presence, making art available to all

"I think we are really in a transitional moment where this is going to change museum businesses, I think forever."

PORTLAND, Maine — Museums are interactive, and that couldn't be more true for the Children's Museum and Theatre of Maine. Kids touch, hear, and play with exhibits that help them learn. "As an institution that is focused on being facility based, and in-person work, we had to scramble a little for sure," says executive director, Julie Butcher Pezzino. 

Working from home, the team live streams new educational programming on its website: Kitetails.org. Instructors are conducting up close and personal visits with sea creatures and conducting yoga classes from their living rooms."We are featuring everything from STEM to performing arts. We just completed a play writing challenge where we had a couple dozen young people from Presque Isle to Biddeford writing plays. We are also working hard to diversify our age range," says Pezzino. While they continue to learn, she recognizes that they offer tools that parents need now, more than ever. 

Those sentiments were echoed in an email to members from Mark Bessire, the director of the Portland Museum of Art, "We are Portland and Maine's museum and we are here for you. We are not going to ask you for anything right now, we're here to serve you." Bessire says museums are so incredibly important for so many, which is why much of the artwork can be viewed online; as can films - followed up by important dialogue. 

"Museums are actually like sanctuaries where people like to come in crisis - where people like to come together. The irony of this is that we are not allowed to come together." The PMA closed its doors to the public early on in March; Bessire says since then, online traffic has increased by 150%. "What we're seeing across the country and other museums is, we were not fully understanding the robust power of being online with cultural programming, and I think we are really in a transitional moment where this is going to change museum businesses, I think forever."

Online at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, visitors will find lectures; and a massive collection of art that can be viewed closer than they would be in person. "One of the things we are lauching soon are a series of interviews with artists and art historians that really respond to the moment at hand," says co-director, Anne Goodyear. "I think it does provide an exciting moment for those of us who curate culture through museums, to think about what it means to meet someone quite literally where they are."

On the same Brunswick campus, the staff at the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum has created a virtual scavenger hunt - inviting online visitors to explore the digital collection. 

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