By Tim Hunt
Museum on Main pivots to virtual and growsUploaded: Jul 15, 2021
When Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a statewide lockdown of California March 17, 2020, nobody could imagine what lay ahead.
For Museum on Main Executive Director Jim DeMersman it meant immediately shifting his four-person team to working from home and shuttering the museum. With the exception two weeks in November 2020, the museum remained shut until March 23, 2021—a year. Remember three weeks to bend the curve?
That meant any earned income potentially was gone so it required a rethinking of how to continue to provide its services and do so virtually. One of the most popular events is the Ghost Walk every October. In 2020, for the first time, it was done virtually (the same was true for almost all events in California that were staged). That approach allowed the museum to hire professional actors for the first time. It went so well with audiences “around the world” DeMersman told the Pleasanton Men’s Club. There will be a virtual version this year when the in-person event will resume.
The museum’s annual February fundraiser went virtual and hit its financial goal. It was one of the few museums that continued to accept traveling exhibits and showed them virtually on YouTube and other platforms.
The popular Ed Kinney Speaker Series was moved to a virtual platform in 2020 and, given the uncertainties earlier this year, remained virtual in 2021. The city of Pleasanton has reopened the Firehouse Arts Center, but it is limiting capacity. In the virtual format, the museum considers one ticket/one screen so if two people are sharing one screen they can gift a ticket to others. The virtual approach also removes the capacity limits for programs that routinely sold out.
DeMersman also had the time to write grants and was successful with entities striving to maintain cultural organizations. The museum received two payroll protection grants that also helped with the budget. He said they ended both 2020 and 2021 fiscal years in the black, something that would have been hard to imagine in April 2020.
The shutdown also allowed the staff to attend to its list of projects such as updating and improving the website as well as launching additional social media platforms.
He noted that being a small organization they were able to pivot and innovate much easier than large museums. It has given him a bit of pause in asking how big the 4,400 square foot museum wants to grow. Under his leadership, annual visits have grown from 9,000 to 30,000—he’s still got the goal of 50,000 in mind.
Moving forward they will continue some virtual programming that exposed the museum and its programs to a much wider audience. In typical times, about 80% of visitors live in the Tri-Valley.
DeMersman invited club members to come check out the museum which underwent a major renovation to its permanent exhibit a couple of years ago.
It was uplifting to hear how one non-profit not only survived, but grew in the pandemic year. Although, they are well past the time to welcome people back because DeMersman said his staff are all “people people.”