By Tara Backhouse, Carrie Dilley, Rebecca Petrie
BIG CYPRESS — The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, like most other departments within the Seminole Tribe and industry-wide, has adapted to changing operations and a greatly reduced staff over the past seven months.
Although we closed to visitors on March 14, we have strived to fulfill our mission during this time: to celebrate, preserve and interpret Seminole culture and history. Some staff have continued to work diligently on the projects they planned before the pandemic while others have shifted gears to fulfill new needs. We are excited for the day when we can reopen our doors to the Seminole community and to visitors far and wide, but in the meantime we are fortunate for the unique opportunities we have right now to connect in ways that we may not have been able to do before.
During the closure, “visitor services” has taken on a whole new meaning. Finding new ways to connect with our audience and remain relevant shapes our day-to-day tasks. Rather than viewing visitation as a tangible metric, counted by the number of people who tour the museum, we have begun to put more emphasis on views, impressions and engagements in the virtual world. Although these opportunities existed prior to the pandemic, we have seen an increase in the number of people who connect with us remotely.
Our doors have metaphorically opened through our new virtual tour, created in collaboration with Seminole Media Productions (SMP), where anyone worldwide can easily navigate through our galleries and boardwalk. This virtual tour is not intended to replace visiting the museum in person, and it would be impossible to replicate the immersive experience you get while at the museum, but it still ignites a spark in viewers, and hopefully challenges them to want to learn more.
Through our social media channels, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blog and YouTube, we take that engagement further. With our new education coordinator on board, we have begun planning ways to expand our relationships with educators from as near as the Ahfachkee School to places across the globe by providing resources and building our capacity for remote outreach and other learning opportunities.
The visitor services and development team is here to answer questions and provide thoughtful messaging that challenges the colonial narrative and breaks down the standards of traditional classroom education.
The online museum store was re-launched in August and the push was on to bring in our custom items and, as odd as it sounds, prepare for the holiday season. Face masks featuring Seminole patchwork designs were ordered and sold out as soon as the word hit the street that they were available (they were quickly reordered and were back in stock by early October). Baby blankets, ornaments that celebrated the museum’s alligator wrestler exhibit, and new book titles are all available. Orders can be placed via the online store (seminole-store.com ) or over the phone (863-227-3430).
We are currently working on a virtual marketplace scheduled to “go live” in November. Available through the museum’s website (ahtahthi.com ), we will be providing a space for Seminole and other Native American artists, artisans and crafters from all over the country to show their wares by linking their websites to ours. This is something that wouldn’t have been considered in past years. Vendors from across the country have been letting us know that they are excited to have a new outlet to sell during these challenging times.
The museum store may be “closed”, but we are open to providing the community with those items that, hopefully, bring comfort and joy into lives. That is a goal that everyone at the museum shares. Stay tuned for our next article where we’ll share updates about our upcoming exhibits, both virtual and in the gallery, as we prepare for our reopening to better serve the Seminole community.