Across the country, museums are struggling with lower revenue and foot traffic due to the pandemic.
Research done by the International Council of Museums and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization says nearly 90 percent of the world’s museums were forced to close because of COVID-10. The study says 13% of those museums may never reopen.
The CANDLES Holocaust Museum in Terre Haute is one Indiana museum that has felt the strain. It shut down due to COVID-19 for 13 weeks because of the pandemic and state health order. Now, the museum has reopened on a restricted schedule, letting the public in three days a week.
Leah Simpson is the director of the CANDLES Museum. She said along with COVID-19, the museum faces an added challenge – coping with the death of its founder, Holocaust survivor Eva Kor, who died in July 2019.
“That kind of made teachers and field trips step back to see what we were going to be able to offer," Simpson said. "We were just kind of rebounding from that in January, rebuilding our field trips, and then COVID hit.”
She said while the doors were closed, the museum adapted by holding more virtual educational events. Recently, the museum started a virtual speaker series called “Be The Change.”
“In a way it’s been fun because we get to reach people outside of Terre Haute," she said. "But there is something lost when you can’t sit and have a conversation and ask a question too.”
Though the museum is open to the public again, Simpson said because of Eva’s death, attendance will never be the same.
She said on the days they’re open now, an average of about 17 people come in. At the height of field trip season, the museum used to have groups of 150 students visit two or three days a week.
Operating under current circumstances is not sustainable, Simpson said. But staff members feel the museum’s mission to spread a message of hope, healing, respect, and forgiveness is needed now more than ever, and they want to keep operating a few days a week to stay connected with the public.
"We are in the middle of all sorts of social unjust or unrest issues and we really talk about how to empower the individual, how to forgive your worst enemy, and how to see the goodness in other people," she said. "I think our mission is still very much important and very much needed.”
Simpson said she has been in contact with directors of five other local museums who are experiencing similar challenges, and it’s important that they all work together as a united front.
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