As physical doors to museums close due to COVID-19, virtual doors open wide


Courtesy / The Rapidian

Mary Dupuis, Staff Reporter

As Michigan enters into Governor Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order, seemingly everything is being forced to close, including museums. Even before the Governor’s Executive Order was passed, many museums decided to close their doors to the public to protect the safety and health of their patrons. 

However, some museums in the Grand Rapids area have refused to let this pandemic stop them from reaching the hearts of the public. A new era of virtual museum tours and livestreaming is here, and these museums are taking full advantage of it. 

The Grand Rapids Public Museum, the Grand Rapids Art Museum and Frederik Meijer Gardens have all become a vessel for creativity and inspiration through virtual tours and scheduled live streams while the public must stay at home.

The shift to virtuality by the Grand Rapids Public Museum was vast. Prior to the pandemic, they had an online collection database of more than 250,000 artifacts and specimens at But, there are new additions to go along with this as well. 

The museum currently offers a live stream of two 10-month-old Lake Sturgeons featured in their Grand Fish, Grand River exhibition. Coupled with this are an online tutorial of how to curate your own museum collection for the “Community Gallery,” and Virtual Discovery Kits to highlight artifacts and specimens from a local, national and global level to keep kids engaged. 

Vice President of Marketing and PR at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, Katie Kocienksi, said she is very happy that these new virtual services allow the museum to stay connected with their patrons. 

“We hope that the community continues to stay engaged with the museum and continues to learn, explore and be curious during this time period,” Kocienski said. “I love that we’re able to share more behind the scenes content of the museum to connect with the community and hope that our followers enjoy it.”

Courtesy / Grand Rapids Public Museum

The Grand Rapids Art Museum is on a similar track, utilizing their social media to spread information as well as live stream events. 

On their website people are encouraged to continue interacting with the museum in a virtual way. Many resources are being offered to keep the mind, as well as any kids, busy while at home. You can view videos of interviews with artists whose work is featured in the museum, download the museum’s digital publications and interactives, and explore the museum’s collection of lesson plans and art activities for infants and young learners.

The museum has also provided ways to be involved with the artwork itself.  In addition to  the virtual tours on their website, they are also hosting special livestreams, such as an in-home yoga session led by AM Yoga in place of the yoga at the museum and images from their gallery titled “Useful Beauty: Design Highlights from the Permanent Collection.”

In the COVID-19 update statement on the museum’s website patrons were encouraged to stay involved with the facility and follow their activity using the hashtag #grandrapidsartmuseum on social media. 

Frederik Meijer Gardens are also doing their best to remain a positive, influential presence in the community. They are currently posting regularly on the Facebook page, exploring the different aspects of the gardens, from the art to the butterflies, and are hosting live virtual visits every day at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The Director of Communications for the gardens, John VanderHaagen, said that members from many different departments came together to plan and create content to stream for the public. 

“The communications department knew that it was essential to remain in contact with our guests,” VanderHaagen said. “Utilizing the tools available, most notably Facebook Live, we created a content calendar and began recruiting staff members from across many departments to participate through reading stories or sharing a bit about what they do in their jobs.” 

VanderHaagen hopes that through these services the gardens are able to provide the public with a needed moment of relief. 

Courtesy / Frederik Meijer Gardens

“My favorite part about this is being able to continue to offer guests and followers a glimpse into what is happening at Meijer Gardens. The response from our audience has been overwhelming,” VanderHaagen said. “We hope that by offering a look into the gardens we are able to provide a distraction and a few minutes of joy and peace.”

VanderHaagen said that while the gardens are undergoing a difficult time because of having to close to the public, they are very grateful for the opportunities the internet has provided. 

“We’ve been amazed by the support and positivity of our guests and followers in this unfortunate time of closing and are thankful that these tools exist to remain in close contact and communication with them while we’re temporarily closed to the public,” VanderHaagen said. “We look forward to the day when we can welcome our members, guests, volunteers and staff back to Meijer Gardens and begin to regain a sense of normalcy.”

Based on the positive reaction and high amounts of public interactivity with the museums and their virtual opportunities, the Grand Rapids Public Museum is planning to continue to keep these online interactions available once they are open again. 

“We are seeing an increase in engagement, especially in our digital collections now that we have been promoting these activities that people can do from the comfort of their homes,” Kocienski said. “Once the museum reopens we will continue to offer digital content balanced with sharing experiences that people can have in person at the museum.”

VanderHaagen said that the gardens have also noticed an increase in engagement with their online resources since the pandemic. However, they plan to shift their focus back to getting guests to visit in person as soon as they are able.