Spring is typically the busiest time of year for the Charlotte Museum of History. That’s when school field trips come filing through the museum and grounds, as students throughout the area get their first glimpse of Mecklenburg County’s oldest home, the 1774 Hezekiah Alexander Homesite.
But when the coronavirus outbreak began to spread throughout the United States, and schools started to cancel outings before moving to remote learning, entirely, visitors to the museum began to taper off.
And when a North Carolina stay-at-home order was issued on March 30, the museum’s president and CEO Adria Focht knew it was time to switch gears.
“Our first concern is how do we now meet these K-12 students who are not going to be able to have these, what I would I consider, ‘formative experiences,’” Focht said. “Those field trips are the No. 1 way that people will always remember the Hezekiah Alexander Homesite.”
What Focht and the museum came up with is a virtual experience of the museum that has content geared toward those K-12 students who are now at home, and toward adults who are struggling to make sense of the pandemic’s place in history. The content is being posted to museum's website at charlottemuseum.org/digital and its Facebook page.
Unexpected Homeschoolers” is a series of videos and activities aimed at kids K-12 to learn more about Charlotte’s history. Episode 1 is “Early Charlotte,” and gives a video tour of the popular diorama of 1775 Charlotte that is housed in the museum.
For adults, the museum is offering “Lunch & Learn,” where noon Zoom meetings feature lectures by area scholars. Thursday’s initial offering was presented by Dr. Brian Madison Jones, Johnson C. Smith University professor, who spoke about the mobilization of morale and spirit in 20th century America during trying times.
“The No. 1 thing we're trying to do is to provide historical context on the pandemic," Focht said. “So, trying to provide sort of hope and inspiration, learning how as Americans we've come together in our communities to support one another and to come through pandemics in the past.”
While the museum is able to reach the community with its outreach, there still won’t be any visitors until at least the end of the month. Focht said the non-profit has lost 50% of its income for the foreseeable future, and is looking to monetize the content it’s now producing – hopefully through sponsorship.
“Our current content is really pretty dependent on in-real life, physical experiences -- we curate Mecklenburg County's oldest home,” Focht said, “and that tactile experience of actually walking on those floors and touching that stone and seeing that home for yourself is a big part of the experience.
“(But) this is a realm that we've always wanted to go in. And we've sort of dabbled in it before. So it wasn't hard to pivot quickly and just say, ‘What of our existing content can we provide digitally? How can we serve our community with content and programming that they're looking for right now?’”
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