History Goes Digital at the Santa Monica History Museum

Sara Crown, the museum’s archivist, gives tours of the exhibits.

While the Santa Monica History Museum has been closed to visitors since the outset of the pandemic, like many institutions, they have continued to provide access to the community’s history by pivoting to digital content.

In a period of social distancing, the museum has used social media and a revamped e-newsletter to stay in contact with their audience, providing numerous ways to learn and interact with the collections online. Their channel now hosts children’s craft activity tutorials, narrated tours of the permanent collection, narrated slide shows on aspects of Santa Monica history, excerpts from the museum’s oral history collection, and a popular “Throwback Thursday” lecture series. The live Zoom sessions have featured speakers on topics from the WWII Japanese internment camps to the building of Westwood. While the museum didn’t make much use of their channel prior to the pandemic, their subscriber base has increased by over 400% since the shutdown and has had a

corresponding uptick in content.

“I’m really excited to see what we’re able to do with this new online voice and to see what else we can do to keep people interested in the history of Santa Monica,” says Museum Manager John Klopping. “I think we’ve been doing a really great job of engaging people online, and I’m excited about all of these new areas that we’ve started exploring.”

As 2020 has shown, digital platforms are just one aspect of making a museum accessible. Following the protests against George Floyd’s murder in June, the museum held a “community listening session” to get feedback about how they can represent all of Santa Monica’s communities accurately and fairly. “We really want the museum to feel like it belongs to everyone in the community,”

John explained. “And we’re committed to ensuring that.” The museum’s plans for reopening include rigorous health precautions, but no firm date has been set as yet. Upon reopening, they will be moving to donation-based admissions. The museum had previously set admission fees.

In the wake of this year’s anxieties, John hopes the health precautions and donation-based admission will both encourage people to visit and “feel as safe as possible in our space.”

While the exhibit space remains closed, the museum is working on a video tour of their current “All Is Possible: Women’s Suffrage in California” exhibit, as well as creating a series of virtual GoogleArts & Culture exhibits. Their role as stewards of local history continues as they look to collect COVID-19-related images, stories, and paraphernalia to chronicle the city’s response to the pandemic for future generations.

The digital connections continue, too. The museum’s annual fund-raising gala on October 11 will take their live and silent auctions virtual for the first time. While free to attend, John hopes that dinner tickets, which include food pickup, will give guests a sense of occasion. Despite the museum’s change of venue from in-person to online, John says, “I have a lot of hope, and I do think that it’s going to be a very successful event.” For more information, visit santamonicahistory.org.

By Anne Wallentine


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