How Small Museums Around Denver Are Surviving the Pandemic Together

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When the COVID-19 restrictions took place, uncertainty loomed around the local cultural organizations. Museums, as pillars of every community, require frequent interaction with said community in order to thrive. So, how can museums survive during a time when social distancing is mandatory?

Larger museums, like the Denver Art Museum and The Denver Museum of Nature and Science, opened mid-summer with safety protocols in place. However, for smaller museums that rely mostly on volunteers and donations, the transition has not been as easy.

As a result, smaller museums, like Museo de las Americas, joined forces and created what they call the Small Museum Block Party.

The Block Party is Born

Forney Museum

Photo courtesy of Forney Museum.

When everything was thrown into disarray due to the pandemic, the museum directors reached out to help each other. Museo’s media manager, Simone Groene-Nieto, said it was a way to formulate a strategy for how they were going to stay open and make it through the pandemic.

The Small Museum Block Party, as the directors lovingly named, includes five museums- The National Ballpark Museum, The Black America West Museum, The Forney Museum of Transportation, the Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys, and Museo de las Americas. The party started as frequent Zoom meetings to give each organization a helping hand.

“They call themselves the block party because of that sense of community,” said Groene-Nieto,  “and because of the way that small museums are so deeply connected to our local neighborhoods and local communities.”

In these meetings, leadership pulled together ideas that would help with re-opening. They discussed pandemic related topics, like how to enforce mask policy before the statewide order was issued.  Together, they came up with various ways to keep people safe while engaging inside their spaces.

The uniqueness of Denver’s small museums

Photo Courtesy of Museo de las Americas via Facebook

Photo Courtesy of Museo de las Americas via Facebook

The larger cultural institutions help define a city’s character on a national scale. However, the eclectic smaller museums allow locals to dive deeper into unexpected niches of the city’s culture.

For Museo de las Americas, that means representing Latino art and culture in Denver in a way bigger museums can’t. “They might have an exhibit that focuses on inclusive voices,” said Groene-Nieto, “but we are able to provide a sustainable focus on issues in the art world that might get lost in larger organizations.”

Adapting to the ‘New Normal’

jamie chichuan

Art by Jamie Chichuan

Some museums like the Black American West Museum are temporarily closed but others are slowly opening up again. Museo de las Americas shifted its strategy and opted for a hybrid digital service model. In May, the museum hosted an online show The Art of Being Alone: Artists in Quarantine. Additionally, it hosted a digital installation for Pride Month in June.

“It is not easy in 2020 being a museum or an art gallery but I think we have done the best we could and had some good results with that,” said Groene-Nieto.

Even with their tenacious approach, smaller museums are still struggling. Museo de las Americas has seen a decline in daily visitors since its reopening. However, Groene-Nieto hopes the museum’s innovative approach will keep the community engaged.

“We have been hit harder but also maybe are better able to sustain those losses because it is easier for us to pivot and change how we do things and move events online really quickly. We might be a little bit more nimble than larger organizations.”