What started as a necessity to move Fort Walla Walla Museum’s exhibits online at the start of the pandemic has grown into a new way to reach a broader audience — even after the museum has reopened physically.
Staff and volunteers at the museum, located on the site of Walla Walla’s 19th century military fort, adapted quickly to pandemic limitations to find ways to continue offering programming.
The creative response from Jennifer Pecora, communications manager, Groover Snell, executive assistant, and James Payne, executive director, as well as dedicated volunteers put the museum’s exhibits and some programs online.
The pandemic hit right as the museum was about to welcome its spring school tours that draw as many as 5,000 students from Washington and Idaho each year. It also put a great deal of stress on staff.
Challenges were everywhere: How to connect with those who would otherwise tour in person and the technology needed to accomplish that, as well as financial challenges resulting from not being open.
When the museum was able to reopen in late August, the hours were adjusted to Friday-Sunday, noon-5 p.m., Payne said.
“All of the exhibits listed on the website can be seen in person at the museum,” Pecora said.
“The new special exhibit, ‘Rhythm in the Blues,’ opened at the end of February, a few short weeks before we closed. We’re sure that many people didn’t get a chance to come out and see the exhibit yet.
“It talks about music in the Walla Walla Valley, its use in the military, the local people who made music, the schools and teachers that inspired new generations of musicians, and some musical artifacts. There was also a refresh of our popular Lloyd exhibit, so there are new Plateau Indian artifacts from that exciting collection on display.”
Docent tours were put online to keep the operation running, as well as give some continuity to students counting on the tours.
The COVID-19 adjustments actually became a way to expand participation in events that used to rely on limited seating capacity.
Online there’s no limit to how many can participate remotely.
“We’ve started offering Museum After Hours as a virtual program,” Pecora said.
“We’re working on booking speakers who are comfortable participating in the experience digitally.
“Before we closed, we hit an all-time high Facebook interest count for a Museum After Hours program. Well over 300 people were interested in this talk. Of course, our Grand Hall cannot accommodate that many visitors, so a virtual format is ideal.”
She said the program “Paper Dolls, Pinups and Pistol Packin’ Mamas — The WASPs of WWII” will be presented by storyteller Rebecca Hom.
The Women Airforce Service Pilots were sent to bases around the country, ferrying planes for male pilots to fly overseas.
The women also towed targets for ground artillery training and repaired and tested planes before delivery.
During the two years of the program, the women flew more than 60 million miles.
Hom will talk about some of the Washington women involved, the controversies of the program itself and changing perspectives of women as pilots.
The program has been scheduled for Nov. 19. Details with the Zoom link for registration will be available on the website at fwwm.org/virtual-events.
For the centennial celebration of suffrage, the museum set up an exhibit of educational panels describing the journey for women to voting rights.
“The National Archives Museum and Washington State Historical Society designed some amazing panels showcasing Washington state’s road to suffrage in 1910, a decade before the women’s vote was recognized federally,” Pecora said.
“The panels then talk about the battle for the 19th Amendment across the country, who benefited from its passage and who was still not served by it. The panels are hung in the museum’s Grand Hall, and there are some items from the museum exhibited and mannequins dressed in the style of the time.”