Albany Institute of History and Art puts exhibitions and programs online during COVID-19 pandemic

The Albany Institute of History and Art is closed until April 30 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

By Joe McQueen

This story has been updated.

ALBANY, N.Y. – The Albany Institute of History and Art has put two of their exhibitions online after a March 21st decision to close the museum to visitors until April 30 due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The museum began by making the inside galleries available on social media and on their website in late March and early April. The digitized  sections include The Making of the Hudson River School, and New York’s Capital Region in 50 Objects.

“We were able to respond very quickly because we already had a lot of content on there already, we gathered many resources and put them online over the years,” Sarah Clowe, the museum’s Director of Art Programs, said. “We are also looking at how we can use some of our planned resources and programs we already had in motion when the crisis hit.”

Visitors can also take a look at the interior of the museum while it’s closed. Their galleries and exhibitions were already made available on Google maps in 2014. Through Google, people can interactively move around inside the building and view it’s different parts.

“We’re reminding people we did that if they really want to go and wander through a time capsule of the museum of what it looked like in 2014,” Aine Leader-Nagy, spokesperson of the museum, said.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the museum started to take a toll on its daily activities. It’s exhibits attract around 35,000 visitors annually. All events planned for this spring, had to be postponed.

The education department will not be able to host field trips with local schools which will have an impact on their regular visitation, Leader-Nagy said.

“We’ve lost admissions revenue, supplemental revenue related to purchases from our shop and cafe, class and event registrations, and we had to postpone our museum gala, which is our largest fundraiser event of the year,” she said.

The content they share online and on social media consists of old paintings, sculptures, and old artifacts dating back to the 1700s.

Since moving much of that content on social media, the museum’s pages, email and social mediay have experienced an increase in online visitors and contacts, asking about their content.

“We’ve been noticing that people have been paying attention because we have been getting calls and outreach from organizations that are interested in re-sharing content,” Leader-Nagy said. “Were trying to be a reliable partner and resource for people as they’re figuring out what they’re doing with their own time.”

The educational lessons the museum offers can help teachers with their curriculums, particularly when it comes to history. About 80 percent of their field trips are about Ancient Egypt since that is what is part of their curriculum, Clowe said.

“We have a very robust collection of lessons that were originally crafted to go along with our mystery of the Albany mummies exhibition which closed in 2014,” Clowe said. “It was then expanded and showcased on research done on our mummies that we had in our collection since the 1900s.”

The museum’s closure along with other local galleries closing due to coronavirus has already taken a toll on the local economy. Meave McEneny, the program coordinator at Discover Albany, a local tourism promotion agency, says they fear the number of layoffs that could happen.

“Our creative economy is very strong in Albany, that is a lot of people that can be laid off,” she continued. “It’s going to be very important for advocacy when we’re looking at making sure our museums and cultural institutions are represented.”

The creative economy employs 47,282 people and generates more than $1.4 billion in the Capital Region. It’s the fourth largest employment sector in the region.

The coronavirus pandemic has already caused museums across the Capital Region to lay off employees. According to the Museum Association of New York, eight museums in the Capital Region have laid off 21 full-time employees, along with 41 part-time employees due to COVID-19.

The museum’s online content has received some positive feedback from people in the community. Bob Foody, 69, a retired attorney from Clifton Park, NY, thinks it’s great that the museum offers their content digitally.

“Since people aren’t physically able to get to the institute, they can access the materials online which I think is great,” Foody said. “They have a lot of talented people working there, and they have a lot of interesting content. Putting it online gives a lot of people who have never been there a chance to see it.”