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Reflection: Why We Think Historic Sites Will Survive COVID-19

Apr 10 2020

Reflection: Why We Think Historic Sites Will Survive COVID-19

This weekend, many will be observing Easter, which represents a celebration of rebirth. In a way, our heritage sites will also experience a “rebirth” when they are able to open again to the public. Yesterday in our blog post, Webinar Notes: Historic Sites and COVID-19, we outlined some of the ways that historic sites can currently adapt to present circumstances while also preparing for the future.

In keeping with this weekend’s theme of hope, our staff brainstormed some ideas we wanted to share, about the reasons we believe historic sites are well-equipped to survive in a post-COVID-19 world.  

1 – Though some sites had begun to engage visitors with more tactile encounters through “hands-on learning” or “experiential demonstration,” for the most part the delicate nature of heritage collections requires a “look but don’t touch” presentation, creating a sanitary environment that visitors will welcome when they again venture out.

2 – The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of learning outside of school. We have had to adjust to self-directed education, and online resources for home study are invaluable. Sites exist to educate and will continue to do so, both online and in-person. In fact, our heritage educators are well-equipped to fill some of the gaps that parents are experiencing as they oversee their children’s schooling-from-home, and are already seeking ways to share that expertise.

3 – The daily number of visitors to many historic sites tends to be smaller and more controlled than other attractions, either limited by tour size or safety capacity. Sites are planning for social distancing measures that can continue to be enforced while also maintaining a familiar welcoming environment.

4 – Many sites already have rules of entry for visitors, whether prohibiting food and drinks or requiring bag and coat checks, making it easier to enforce potentially stricter health or security measures going forward.

5 -Historic sites work hard to accommodate a broad audience of interests. If we’re looking for solitary reflection, we explore an exhibit. If we want to socialize, make new friends, and give back to the community, we attend a fundraiser. If we’re interested in immersing ourselves in history, we join a lecture. As a reaction to COVID-19, these sites are adapting their programming to create the empathetic audience engagement visitors will need, as described in a highly recommended blog post by Peak Experience.

6 – As nonprofits, historic sites are experts at doing a lot on limited budgets. Even if funding becomes a challenge in an uncertain economic climate, they will work tirelessly to find a way to optimize their resources to continue to keep their doors open to the public.

7 – These sites exist because they are significant. People will always care about the past and its impact on the human experience. One of the reasons historic sites are popular is they evoke nostalgia for a particular time and place. A recent article in Popular Science explains that nostalgia can be a beneficial coping mechanism.

8 – COVID-19 has forced many of us to put our lives on pause, and when the pandemic has passed, we can move forward with intent. Museums and historic sites encourage introspection. They give us a chance to slow down, to read as much about the exhibit as we want, stay among the collections as long as we desire, wander in the gardens, and take time to reflect upon all we have seen and learned.

Our final message to our partner sites: when thinking ahead to how you can make the most of your operations after COVID-19, remember to focus on your strengths and your stories. They will matter more than ever.