Cleaning and maintenance materials litter the entryway of an otherwise empty Maine Maritime Museum. Due to COVID-19, the museum has been closed to visitors since mid-March. Photo courtesy of Amy Lent

BATH — After Bath’s Maine Maritime Museum closed in mid-March due to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, museum staff went to work making museum materials accessible online and transcribing books and journals in the collection so they’re searchable online.

Last year, Maine Maritime Museum became the first museum in the state to collaborate with Google Arts in Culture, according to Amy Lent, the executive director. The partnership allowed the museum to exhibit its collection of paintings online.

“Our collection is accessible whether we’re open or not,” said Lent.

The museum also has published short informational videos about some exhibit items that are posted on the museum’s YouTube account. In one video, Collections Manager Kelly Page goes through an old apothecary chest ships used to carry to aid injured and ailing sailors, which is filled with everything from mercury powder to bandages made from eel skins.

In another video series, Kurt Spiridakis, director of watercraft and traditional skills, teaches people how to build a boat in their living room.

Lent said the videos began as a way to continue educational programming now that students can’t visit the museum in person.

“Teachers have had to create all this online learning material, which is completely overwhelming, so these videos can help supplement,” said Lent.

While Lent doesn’t know how much the museum has lost in revenue since closing, she said the museum would “lose a lot of revenue during this closure, there’s no question about it … but we can survive for a little while.”

According to Lent, attendance for a typical March would be about 1,600, roughly 3% of annual attendance, and grows by about 50% into April, with about 2,500 visitors. Historically, attendance is highest in June, July and August, which together account for 50% of annual attendance.

Lent said the museum has made cuts to its annual $3 million budget in order to stay open, but said the museum is not willing to sacrifice things that would negatively impact visitors’ experiences or lay off any of its 26 year-round employees.

“This is the strategy we took during the recession and it worked then so I’m hoping it works now,” said Lent.

Staff at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum have taken a similar approach, taking their collections online.

Anne Goodyear, co-director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, said the museum’s 20,000-plus items are available on its “visit from home” page on its website.

“We’re more than just a building,” said Frank Goodyear, the other co-director. “Museums are educational resources. … Now we’re exploring what’s possible for us in the virtual world.”

Frank Goodyear said the museum welcomes anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 visitors annually.

“We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to serve our audiences virtually,” said Anne Goodyear. “We feel this enhanced electronic infrastructure allows us to serve an additional public. Art is such an important creative resource, and now it’s available 24/7.”

In the coming weeks, Anne Goodyear said the museum will publish video lectures and interviews with artists that will be available online.

“The fact that (the closure) is stimulating new content is very exciting,” said Anne Goodyear.

Both the art museum and Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum are supported by Bowdoin College and charge admittance, meaning neither are losing revenue by being closed.

Jenevieve LeMoine, curator and registrar at the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, says the museum began a scavenger hunt to boost public engagement. Each day the museum posts a different item on its social media accounts, and people are able to search for things using the museum’s online collections.

“We’ve been adding hundreds of records to our database with photos,” said LeMoine.

“People can look at past exhibits too. Usually, we’re so swamped with having to deal with physical items that putting things online isn’t a priority, but now it’s our only option.”


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