Nonprofit sustainability looks different for each organization. For museums and other arts and cultural institutions, survival includes generating revenue by being open to the public. Arts and culture are driving forces that keep our residents fulfilled and bring visitors to our community for satisfying experiences. Travelers fill our hotels and restaurants, driven by our museums, nature centers and theaters. The arts and culture scene helps the Cedar Rapids economy thrive in ways it could not without it.
The African American Museum of Iowa (AAMI), like our arts and culture friends throughout the city, continues to feel the impact of having our doors closed since mid-March. And, with phased-in reopening across sectors, we feel the weight of not only reopening, but the responsibility of taking every precaution for community safety while fulfilling our mission to preserve, exhibit, and teach.
One thing we have all discovered is that when pushed against the wall, we have the creativity, ability, and drive to create avenues to help us push back. We are utilizing our passion for the mission and identifying every opportunity to give our audiences the experiences they desire. While social media has been a saving grace for many, within those platforms, the AAMI has been trying to share our stories by engaging our audiences. We have found that people value consistency, options and meaningful exchanges. By embracing our virtual opportunities instead of focusing on our limitations, doors open for us to continue educating on Iowa’s African American history and culture.
The museum’s team has been able to showcase our resources through weekly trivia videos that offer viewers a chance to test their knowledge and educate themselves on relevant local and national themes, such as black hair culture. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, hundreds of social media users listen and watch me take them on a brief but important journey.
While some programs and events have been canceled, our annual Juneteenth celebration is moving forward in a new format. The event has broadened our audience base by becoming a virtual experience, still promising a “stage” lineup, vendor participation, youth activities and “how to” craft and cooking lessons during our weeklong celebration. The celebration also includes a video presentation of Mayor Hart’s annual proclamation and remarks from our event sponsors, (Alliant Energy and Collins Community Credit Union) and our community partner (the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission).
While uncertainty abounds, the AAMI and our arts and culture neighbors are still planning to remain the economic forces that drive our community. We will open new exhibits that speak to our audiences. We will adapt our programs for community participation, and we will make our physical venues safe for the community to return.
LaNisha Cassell is executive director of the African American Museum of Iowa.