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How Are Cultural Venues Adapting Programs in 2021?

HubSpot Video

March 11, 2021

Open or closed, cultural venues have been forced to significantly change the way they welcome visitors in 2021.

Given visitor count restrictions, reduced hours, masks, and social distancing, many museums, botanical gardens, galleries, and others have turned to more equitable, digital experiences to engage a larger sector of the public — even limited- or non-English-speaking visitors. 

Guide by Cell CEO Dave Asheim and Will Lach, Director of Sales at Eriksen Translations, spotlighted innovative venues around the country that have adapted visitor engagement to capture the attention of 2021 audiences, virtually and in-person.

In this webinar, you will learn:

  • What cultural venues have offered as alternative at-home experiences 
  • How closed venues are maximizing their reach with non-English-speaking visitors in the community or from afar
  • What engagement strategies work (and what don’t!) when reopening with limited docents and no group tours

 View Slides

Full Transcript

Dave Asheim  0:00  :  Little bit about Guide by Cell and then we'll talk about Will's company. I started this company about 14 years ago. We're focused exclusively on the mobile side. Our company provides the technology for mobile engagement, audio tours, smartphone tours, scavenger hunts, all kinds of things. We would not do the content. We would rely on organizations like Will's to produce the content since they're much more of an expert in that then we are. I'm lucky to have the director of sales, Will here. And Will maybe just give us a little background on your organization. You've been around a long time. You've been to a lot of museum conferences. So probably many of the folks on the call have heard of or seen your organization. But tell us about it.

Will Lach  0:57   : Yeah, we've been around for 35 years. This is our 35th year. We were founded by a Norwegian who came to New York in the 70's to be an actress, and she brought her typewriter with her and the rest is history. She married an artist and gradually we started doing work with museums. Now we are really the premier language service provider of cultural institutions. We work with everyone from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Getty, from the Art Institute of Chicago to the MFA, Houston. We do everything from translation to live zoom captioning a lot of that this year. We do typesetting we do audio recording, all in more than 100 languages.

Dave Asheim  1:42   : And I'm sure it's not just art museums anymore, right Will? You've branched off the last 10 years to give us some of the more far flung regions that you work on.

Will Lach  1:55    : Yes, sure. We've worked in for the US Capitol Visitor Center. Right now we're working with the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Museum. You name it. We work with a small community center in the Bronx known as Casita Maria. We work with the Dallas Museum of Art. We work the National Park Service.  We work with the tallest observation deck in the Western Hemisphere in New York, that's known as The Edge at Hudson Yards. So yeah, so we cover all kinds of institutions, for visitors, museums, science museums, planetariums, zoos.

Dave Asheim  2:34    : Yeah, you name it. And it's not just about language translation, right? Because it's a lot broader than that. So maybe just make sure that everybody on the call knows the extent because I think some some folks might think, "Oh, this is if I want a tour in Spanish, this is the only thing that you guys would do."

Will Lach  2:56    : Yeah, no, it's not just translation. It's everything from captioning to audio descriptions. If you're watching a planet for the American Museum of Natural History, or you're going to watch the planetarium show, and you need it described to you, we will do that. So it's quite the range of services. 

Dave Asheim  3:21    : And a few different languages are spoken in some of these cities around around the country. Any trends that you have seen?

Will Lach  3:32    :  The biggest trend is really how multilingual United States is because, you know, everyone thinks of New York is the Big Apple. There's 20 million people in the metropolitan area and 190 languages spoken. But then even in a city like Seattle, which has maybe 4 million people in the greater metropolitan area, still has about 160 languages spoken. So you have these much smaller areas where people are speaking other languages, and they're comfortable speaking them at home. So this chart shows the languages spoken at home throughout the US. Maybe columns one and two are quite familiar. There's Spanish and Chinese and Hindi and Portuguese, but you start going into column three, and you have languages like Gujarati and Lugo, which are Indian subcontinent languages, that is quite amazing with 410,000 people speaking. And then go down to the fourth column, and it gets even more interesting. You have 160,000 people in this country speaking Navajo.

Dave Asheim  4:38    : That is amazing numbers. Maybe it would be interesting in the chat window, you folks that are on the webinar with us today, if there are some dialects that you either are reaching out to or you would like to reach out to, because you happen to be situated in a certain town with a lot of Portuguese people or something, let us know in the chat window, what languages are really important to where you folks are located. Today we're going to talk about a couple things. One is what have institutions been doing over the last six to nine months to try to keep the flames of engagement going. And Will's going to talk from his experience. And I'll talk from my experience. And then we're going to chat a little bit later about, what are all the things that Will and I are hearing from our audience and our clients that they plan on doing going forward. So those of you on the call can get an idea for what people are spending, and when they're going to roll things out. But maybe we'll just start off, we'll just have a little discussion here about what is it that you saw in the first six months? And what kinds of things that people do to really keep at least the fires going?

Will Lach  6:14    : Yeah, that's an interesting question. Everything from engaging their visitors through video, through converting audio tours into podcasts that they can listen to at home. Doing tours at home that relate to works in a museum, even if you're not at the museum. So a lot of long distance really creative ways of long distance learning. 

Dave Asheim  6:47   : Did people have a good sense for what they wanted to do? Or were they just kind of winging it? I mean, this was a bit new territory for most of us. Was there a roadmap or do you think people just?

Will Lach  7:01    : I think there may have been, even though they had to work by the seat of their pants. And you know, most of these institutions are, of course, our education professionals. So they know all the tricks in the book about ways to engage people and children. And it's exciting to see what came of it. It really is. I mean, it's a challenging year for museums. The estimate is that third of them are closed and are closed for good from American Alliance of Museums. So it's been a tough year, but it's amazing what good has come out of it.

Dave Asheim  7:30    : Yeah. Well, let's show a few. I'm going to share my screen. Let's show a few examples that you have seen some use cases. We've got four or five use cases here. Take us through this first one. This is pretty fascinating. And how did this come about and what can you tell us about this?

Will Lach  7:50    : So this is the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. They opened a second branch on the waterfront in East Boston known as the Watershed. That's a bilingual museum because the community there is Spanish speaking. So when the pandemic hit, the director of the museum established the food pantry there, which is very exciting. And then gradually, they got the idea to establish artistic nourishment for school children scenarios. So with food distribution, there were art kits that were created with local Boston artists including art supplies. The artists include very interesting range of artists from Mark Dion to Elise Patterson, who's a disabled dancer teaching about how do people get active. There was a composer who they included a set of professional drumsticks in the art kit. So the art was taken, the idea of art is taking in a very liberal way, exciting. And these were distributed to, they help to reach over 5,000 Boston school kids by the end of June. They're doing this whole series of places. So that is one one way of distributing art to school kids and really doing it in a real special way.

Dave Asheim  9:12    : Wow. And those school kids will never forget this because it's hands on. It's not like they're just looking at something.  They're doing something. You can see based on some of these pictures. It's just a very participatory way to do it. And it's not just for children of a certain economic status that can afford it. That's the other thing. That's pretty awesome about this.

Will Lach  9:35    : Yes. It's  pretty amazing. And it's great that they include all the supplies because you know, you're at home I had when I had two kids, it was always like, where are the crayons? Where's this?  It's crazy. So for these kids, they got everything they need, in great professional direction in English and in Spanish. We did the translations for that.

Dave Asheim  10:03    : Any word that they may try this in a different flavor in the next six to 12 months? What's your feeling about what the ICA folks thought about this? 

Will Lach  10:14   : It's gotten great praise. There was a feature on it recently in WBUR, the public radio out there. So it's really exciting to see the positive feedback, and I hope they'll continue to consider reaching out to the community as they do, but in a really creative way.

Dave Asheim  10:34    : What were the titles of the people at the museum that worked with you? Were they education? Are they public program? What were they?

Will Lach  10:42    : Yes, Director of Education. Monica Garza is one of the people that we work with. And she's amazing. And then there were other people involved in the project as well.

Dave Asheim  10:54    : Beautiful. All right. And if you folks, as I'm flipping through these slides have questions for Will, put them in the chat window, and we'll relay them over to Will. Alright, Crystal Bridges, let me know how many of you have been Crystal Bridges, one of the most unbelievable places in the United States. It's as awesome as you see here in this picture. You just can't believe how gorgeous Crystal Bridges is. Will tell us a little bit about for those of us that don't know, where's Crystal Bridges located, how did it come about, and then talk about the program.

Will Lach  11:35    : Sure, Crystal Bridges is located in Bentonville, Arkansas, and it was founded by Alice Walton, who's, of course, the Walmart heiress. And it's an amazing place. I've never been there. But when they were set to open in 2011, they were estimating 150,000 visitors in 2019. There were 700,000 visitors. So I think you can say it's a phenomenal success. I can't think of a superlative bigger than that. There needs to be one. Yeah, so they've opened this Museum of American Art. It has everything from colonial works to great contemporary works. They've opened a second site in downtown Bentonville in a former cheese factory. That's a performance contemporary art space, which is very cool, known as the Momentary. So they've got two sites. It's a great venue. And they're doing really exciting things with their community.

Dave Asheim  12:33    : What precipitated this create together? And once again, who did you work with? And how did it all come about? And what were they trying to accomplish? 

Will Lach  12:43    : Good questions. We worked with the Education team. And I think all of these museums were trying to reach out, figure out ways to reach out to their community and people who needed it during the pandemic. In Crystal Bridges case, they distributed art kitsin the lobby, for donation or free, whatever you want to give if you wanted. For again, they came with art supplies, really fun projects, in Spanish and in English. So it's really interesting to see a museum that's not quite 10 years old doing the same thing. Of course, Bentonville is a big city, but it's not like Boston or New York, still pulling their weight in this area. It is really impressive.

Dave Asheim  13:36   : Well, and such a give back to the community, just like the museum. I don't know that they charge admission. I can't remember. But I know that they just have become like you said just one of the landmark institutions in Arkansas. It's just an amazing, amazing place. This area that you can see that overlooks the water, that's where you can sit and have lunch or coffee. It's spectacular.

Will Lach  13:59    : Yeah, they're trails there. In addition to the Spanish speaking community, there's a Marshalese population. Those are people from the Marshall Islands, obviously. And we've done translations for them into marshalese as well. So they're very focused on the community. It's a beautiful place. It's an amazing collection. It's really quite, quite something. It really is.

Dave Asheim  14:22    : Alright, Guggenheim. Everybody on the call I'm sure it's familiar with the Guggenheim. Probably many of you have been to the Guggenheim. What were they trying to accomplish during this period where museums were shut down or limited capacity?

Will Lach  14:38    : Yeah, their take is interesting. You know, they created art kits to be straight distributed to children of essential workers. So that's really a great mission. They partnered with the artistic fellowship, Next Haven, which is based in New Haven, and it's run of course by the artist Titus Kaphar for artists of color. So artists were doing very creative, really these art kits or works of art in theirself. They're doing very creative projects for kids. Keeping a dream journal, thinking about caregiving for kids, and really incredible. And they were distributed through regional enrichment centers in New York City, 37 sites. So these are sites that were established after the pandemic where essential workers could drop off their kids for school and for daycare. Children of transit workers, children of hospital workers. They were also distributed at Montefiore Hospital also. That's the eighth largest hospital in the country in the Bronx. So this is interesting. You know, they're focusing on essential workers. And it's great that they had a way to do that through the regional enrichment centers.

Dave Asheim  15:57    : What was the role that you guys played in helping them execute this?

Will Lach  16:01    : Again, we did translations of the the kits into Spanish again, here. Spanish is such a big language. Of course, there were 185 languages in New York City. You can't do 185 different kits. Even if you made them, distributing them would be a nightmare. So we did translations, we did typesetting, in some cases of these cases where you've created this great project. And so we'll take the project, we will also lay it out and proofread it to make sure it's typeset properly. So that's yet another service we offer. It's great. These art kits and everyone's doing it in a different creative fashion.

Dave Asheim  16:44    : Were some of the projects ever put on display? Do you know?

Will Lach  16:48    : Were they put on display? That's a good question. I don't think at the museum. I have not seen them. 

Dave Asheim  17:03    : LACMA, Southern California, going through lots of changes, of course, but still servicing a huge population. And everybody in Southern California knows and loves LACMA. So tell us about this project. 

Will Lach  17:17    : This is a series of videos that they did. And they're on YouTube. You can check them out, called LACMA Make Art at Home. And in this case, we did explore some really interesting languages. LA as you know, as I said earlier, has 185 languages about spoken. We did transcription, translating and captioning of about seven different videos that were created by their art educators. Everything from making a flipbook to a collage to painting your pattern of portraits driven by their art educators. And the languages are really interesting languages include Japanese, Armenian, Farsi, which of course is people from Iran speak Farsi, Spanish, of course, simplified Chinese, Russian, Korean. So some very interesting languages, interesting language combinations, we translated from Spanish into Chinese. So really, as multilingual and as interesting as LA itself.

Dave Asheim  18:29    : Will we've got a question from Sarah, about how does some of this apply to other types of venues, whether it's history museums in Sarah's case or other kinds of venues, maybe talk a little bit about some other projects that you've done and or just this kind of thing that you're talking about translate to museums like history museum? 

Will Lach  18:51    : That's a great question and thank you, Sarah. We are doing a project with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York. And their focus is primary source documents and teaching kids about history. So a lot of pieces in the collection relate to Alexander Hamilton. They're based in New York. So they have a program with Lin Manuel Miranda, of course, that's related to Hamilton, and using primary source documents in the museum to encourage kids to talk about history. So this is an online program that we've been translating into Spanish. I don't think it's up yet in Spanish. We're still in the process. It's exciting. It's really interesting to get kids to think about making creative works based on history using rap or music or poetry. So that's one example that's not just about art.

Dave Asheim  19:53    : Great. All right, let me just take a break for just a second.  Thanks Will for that. We're going to spend just maybe five minutes or so talking a bit about the mobile side. And I think half of you said that you've been using or you have used some kind of mobile engagement. What we found when COVID hit is probably within 90 days, quite a few organizations just either shut their doors, or were in limbo. They just didn't know what to do. And I think you related to that, too, Will that it just became very uncertain. Come summer, we started to, I guess, resurface and our clients were looking for ways to not engage people at the museum, but if they were outdoor venues, say, or in your case, if you have a history center, or you have history museums, that maybe your buildings that are outside, they were bringing people to some of these venues with scavenger hunts and some fun things to do on site, even though the building itself might be closed. But then there are quite a few organizations, and I'll show you a few in just a second, that we're trying to come up with at-home projects. It might be a scavenger hunt around my neighborhood, or I might create some audio files that could be part of a tour for my eighth grade class. So that has been a challenge because I don't think museums and cultural centers ever really thought that they were trying to reach people in their living room, but over the last six months, really that's what has happened. If I want to stay in touch, I've got to find out how I can do that in your four or five examples, Will, were perfect to do that. Let me share my screen and show you just a few that we've put together here for our presentation. This is a historical tour in Philadelphia Fairmont Park. Has anybody ever been to Fairmont Park? It's one of the big parks right downtown in Philadelphia. There are many different historic sites and homes. And what the folks at Fairmont Park decided to do is come up with an audio guide. Audio guides, they've been around for 10 or 15 years. With our help, they put together a little phone number and different stops and then they put little plaques in front of these buildings. So at least, if Will and I happen to be walking in downtown Philadelphia, and we come across this historical building, we can take out our phone and listen to nine or 10 or 11 different things that maybe the curator or the docent or somebody there would have recorded. They also would put the phone number and information about this on their website. And then because all of the software that we provide is SaaS-based, cloud based, they could log in to see when did people access content. And it turns out that probably 40% to 50% of the access times were 6 pm till eight o'clock in the morning. So a lot of people probably from around the world are stumbling on the Fairmont Park site, maybe doing some research. And then they just pick up their phone and they dial these numbers. So it's not as good as a self-guided docent, I mean, a docent-led tour, but in today's day and age, it's better than just having your door shut with nothing at all to do. Some of our organizations too Will have done various languages. So there might be one number for English and another number for Spanish or French or Mandarin. Missouri Botanical Garden is one of the great gardens in the country. If you've never been, find yourself a way to get to St. Louis sometime.They created some scavenger hunts. So they were open with some limited capacity. They use our software to build this mobile site. It's not an app. It's a mobile site where folks who have come into the garden can scan a QR code or they can send a text message and then get this popping up on their phone. And so they did some of the tour things that we saw with Fairmont, but they also created all kinds of fun little questions. So you see here on the right side: Where is she? Prairie garden rock garden, so you had to go take your family and go find these various sculptures and answer these questions. And if you wanted to, you could get points for this. You could really make it very engaging, or you could just make it kind of fun and let people go off adventure. But if you folks that are on the call, are working in an outdoor setting, these kinds of self guided little interactions are super easy to set up and their reviews on TripAdvisor on Yelp are fantastic. So we've read some of these comments and I guess the press has been just super for curating kind of a tour of the Missouri Botanical Garden during a time when I really needed to have this kind of encouragement and when there really weren't group tours that I could, I could jump in on. A couple more: Storm King has some amazing sculptures. You can see a one, a red one right there in the background. And they have created mobile guided tours. And you can see on the right, here's a little map that we can provide our clients where you can put little pushpins and I can walk to the Martha Tuttle sculpture, and then I can go over here to see the Kiki Smith river life. So it provides you with some interpretation, and there's a wayfinding that you can access on your phone as well. Once again, let's just try to replace temporarily lots of signs and or people that can normally give you these tours. And since we're all supposed to be social distancing, they are providing all this extra content at people's fingertips. Will let's just chat for a second. Your organization is the big player in this space. What kinds of phone calls are you receiving now? What's what do you think people are looking to do? As reopening starts to come? What are some of the projects that are kind of kicking around your desk these days, that the people on the on the on the webinar or this love to know about?

Will Lach  27:16    : That's a great question. Everything from things as basic as COVID protocols, to projects that institutions have been wanting to launch, and now that they're reopening, they're finally launching them. So exciting. So institutions that are reopening, and now they're really thinking about going fully bilingual or now they're thinking about a certain type of audio tour that they've been planning. So it's exciting to see institutions that are reopening. Some are fully open. Some are opening gradually. Some like Southern California and DC are still closed, but others elsewhere are opening so but I think everyone has big plans ahead. So that's exciting.

Dave Asheim  28:08    : The trend that we saw over the summer was coming up with activities that extend the venue, from a physical venue to my neighborhood or things I can do at home. Has that died down, or do you think that it will shift right back to the physical site?

Will Lach  28:32    : That's anyone's guess. I think I think institutions are seeing how much interest there has been in engaging people digitally. audiences digitally. How they can do it, because they were forced to do it. I think everyone would love to get back to in person visits. We'll see when that really takes off. But I think there's gonna be a lot of continued interest in engaging digitally through learning through this. 

Dave Asheim  29:03    : I do, too. Laura asked a question in the chat about mobile guides, mobile screen readers. The thing about mobile tools, we have quite a few visually impaired projects going on, where the organization will find someone that can interpret for the visually impaired, and they'll create these mp3 files that folks can dial and press different keys to hear about. So for the visually impaired that's been quite successful. And on the mobile guides, yes, because these are not apps, but all the content sits within the phone. If a person needs to have the text to speech read, then our tools work with that and can read any content that is placed on these phones. So that is a popular thing to do. Reach out to organizations like Will is talking about that are maybe the Spanish and some of these other groups, and or folks that have some other kind of accessibility issue. What other questions do you folks that are listening in have? Will, what are you finding in terms of budgeting and money? And are these organizations, have they kind of shut down their budgets? Or do you think that the boards and management are starting to loosen things up? What are you seeing in terms of the willingness for organizations to spend money on some of these activities?

Will Lach  30:47    : Well, there's no doubt that it's been a very challenging year for even really large institutions have noted their deaccessioning practices that they're allowing them by large institutions and smaller institutions are hurt that much more. But somehow, they've still managed to continue with many of these programs which is really inspiring. And it's inspiring because the focus on multilingual visitors. These are community-based clearly, because a lot of the tourists are not here. But they're focusing on their communities which is really a great sense of way to use multilingual contacts. You can focus on your tourists, which is great, focusing on communities even I think even greater.

Dave Asheim  31:33    : Yep. I agree. Dina has a question. I can't read exhibit titles and labels. Dina the way our clients have done that is they place a little QR code next to that and when the QR code is scanned, it will pop up a mobile page and there could be a big play button that would read whatever was attached to that QR code. So pretty popular to do. Natalie Fisher has got a question about how easy is it to set these things up? From our perspective, it's technology that can be turned on within a day or so. And it's all self serve. If you want help with translation and content, then we turn to folks like Will. Will, from your perspective, from the time of inception to launching, of course, it kind of depends on how complex but the average project, Will, what's kind of the timing for you guys to get involved and help fulfill an average project?

Will Lach  32:39    : For straight up translation, it's going to be so many 1000s of words a day. There's always a learning curve with a new institution. Quality is very important too, I should add. So you know, all of the translations there are two native speaking subject matter experts. We encourage the institutions to have reviewers that review the content. So before it gets launched, it's really perfect. So it's not rushed. Once established relationships that we have with institutions can go very quickly, but a translation takes a certain amount of time. It's done, right. And then an audio tour, of course, as you know, takes time because you have to get the voices and website translation, the same thing. So there are steps. Does it take months? If it's huge, it could, but it doesn't have to. It could take weeks.

Dave Asheim  33:39    : Yeah, right. It depends on how many words and how complex and how many different languages but yes, a couple of weeks. I'm sure that you will have your work done before the project is ready to launch to the to the public. Typically, you're not the one holding up. I'm sure it's the exact opposite. Michelle asked a question. If it's not an app, how does the tech work? I'll just put in the chat window everybody if you want to see something live, send a text message to 56512 and in the message, put the word Poydras. Poydras is an area in New Orleans where there are some absolutely amazing sculptures. So imagine you're walking around this area, and you see this fantastic sculpture. But it could be a fantastic building or tree or arboretum or anything. And there's a little sign here that says, "Want to learn about this artist?  Text or scan a QR code, ABC." So go ahead, Michelle and Dina and everybody else on your phone. Go ahead and send a text message with the word Poydras. Don't misspell it. It's a hard word to spell. You'll get a link back. You tap the link, and you go to a little menu of content. So it's just a really fast way to deliver an experience to somebody, especially when you don't have your staff around. That is what is just so important, and especially over the next six to 12 months, I'm guessing that many of your venues are not going to be fully staffed and have lots and lots of volunteers walking around. Maybe by the fall, but certainly not over the spring in the summer. So these mobile services, along with the help from Will's company can really be helpful. Any more question for Will or I about engagement? Would love to answer anything more before we break? We've been talking for 35 minutes or so. So it's almost time to break. But if you've got more questions, let me know. As I said, we're going to send everybody a copy of the presentation, as well as the PowerPoint slides. If anything caught your eye from Will's company, please reach out to Will let me bring them back up. Will, your contact info,  here is Will's phone number and email and mine as well. So if no more questions, then maybe we'll take a break. Will any final words about what people should be thinking of as organizations begin to open up again?

Will Lach  36:51    : The only thing is that what a year it's been. It's been so inspiring to see people soldiering on and still engauging if you're a visitor and still putting things out there, if you're involved in a museum, it's been very inspiring to me, and making me very optimistic.

Dave Asheim  37:06    : I agree. It's been the hardest year probably in the life of all of you that have been involved with the cultural sector, but you're coming out of it. We are all coming out of it. So I think it's going to improve pretty rapidly. That's my guess. Somebody asked about accessing the recording. We'll email it to you tomorrow. So you'll have it and it will also be on our website. All right. Well, thank you, everybody. Will,  it's been a pleasure to speak with you. Thanks so much. And we hope we'll be in touch with all of you very soon. Thanks a lot everybody.

How Are Cultural Venues Adapting Programs in 2021?