By Sarah Christy
Friday the 13th of March was the last time I worked in my office at International House Philadelphia. Just six weeks prior, after six years with the nonprofit organization in various roles, I was promoted to Chief Operating Officer. The organization was already in the midst of a transition, having announced last fall that we would be selling our building and transitioning away from our legacy housing and film programs to find newly relevant ways to support Philadelphia’s international community. Just a month and a half into this new role, we made the difficult decision to significantly reduce operations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In very little time I was tasked with drafting a Continuity of Operations plan, setting up technological infrastructure to facilitate working from home, creating a plan to maintain our 14-story building on Chestnut Street while adhering to social distancing guidelines, and interpreting a very dense piece of government legislation with the passage of the CARES Act. All of us are experiencing massive disruptions in our work and home routines as a result of this pandemic and I feel incredibly lucky to continue to have work during these uncertain times. And although I never anticipated that my first few months as COO would be spent in my living room, it has forced me to be innovative, adaptable, and forward-thinking – all tools that will serve me well as I continue my career in the nonprofit arts field.
At the same time, I am currently in my last quarter in the Arts Administration program and completing my thesis. I am fortunate that I conducted my primary research prior to the pandemic when so much changed in our field. After relying heavily on late nights at the Hagerty Library to be most productive, it has been a challenge at times to focus on coursework after sitting at the same desk in my apartment all day long. Finding ways to connect with others and the arts I am so passionate about, whether through Zoom meetings with my advisor, sharing experiences over social media with my classmates, or digital programming from Philadelphia’s diverse arts and culture community, has been helpful. I will miss the opportunity to celebrate our accomplishments in person at graduation in June, but know that the connections made through Drexel’s AAML program will continue long after I submit my final thesis in just a month’s time.
With the recent announcement that the budget proposal put forth by Mayor Kenney includes cutting Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy along with the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, it is increasingly clear that this public health crisis will have significant implications on our field for years to come. Seeing the passion and connection of our community makes me confident that we will rise to this challenging time. Armed with the knowledge and experiences we’ve gained at Drexel, we will continue to advocate for the importance of the arts and push our sector to continue to make an impact in new ways.
By Kandra Bolden
Our last full day in the office was Monday, March 16 and like many of my colleagues, I was not expecting to be out for any extended period of time. We all arrived the next morning to news that the PMA would be closing their offices and that we would not be permitted back into the building. Still not fully comprehending the severity of the situation, my colleagues and I packed up some of our personal items and lugged them home expecting we’d be back to “normal” by the end of the month. In the following days, our department director and program managers, under the direction of HR and the Executive Offices, met to go over who would be deemed as essential staff and confirm which employees would need computers to access email from home. It was decided that for the time being, only personnel such as Development Director, Director of Development Operations, and Gift Processing Specialist would be required to come to the museum once a week to perform those essential duties on behalf of our department.
For my team, specifically, the transition to working from home was quite difficult. I work on a team that is responsible for donor engagement, communication, and stewardship so our focus within those first few weeks involved rapidly pushing out cancellation emails and following-up with donors not accessible via email. Between the months of April and June we had about 10-15 events scheduled including a large-scale exhibition opening and a very exclusive dinner celebrating our most generous annual donors. Creating and delivering clear lines of communication between our department and donors was our top priority. Another priority and concern for our department was access; without access to our files and donor database, there was a lack of functionality for many of our teams which only brought on more stress for my colleagues and I. Tensions also grew considerably within these first few weeks as news of furloughs and staff reductions traveled from our colleagues at neighboring museums. With the status of our employment coming into question, it quickly became even more difficult to manage this expedited workload and overall uncertainty. To counteract staff confusion, my team met via video call daily as both a personal and work-related check-in.
Fast forward to present times, we were one of few organizations to maintain all staff with tiered pay reductions. Working from home is still an adjustment for me but has become a bit easier as the days go on. I’ve also recently been one of the few in my department granted VPN remote access to our PMA network, which has made a significant difference in how I can contribute to the department. Our main focus has now shifted to finding innovative ways to engage with our donors and ensuring that they continue to feel connected to the museum. In order to maintain a level of trust and transparency, the communications our team has been responsible for has needed to contain accurate information and be as consistent as possible with all other COVID-19 related language coming from the museum. One lesson I believe all of the PMA has learned (largely over the last few months, but specifically during this time of quarantine) is that communication and transparency is key. Externally, open communication with members, donors, and the general public has become quite crucial as the PMA fulfills its role as the cultural heart of the city. Internally, lines and boundaries between various positions has been blurred and its become crucial for all front-facing departments across the institution to be on one accord at all times. Over the past month, I’ve really had to learn to adjust for the good of the team and become more comfortable taking on duties and projects I’d never handled before. We still have our issues and kinks, but we’re slowly getting acclimated to this new system and learning to be more patient with each other in these uncertain times.
By Youyou Zhang
Being back in the United States after a week of quarantine in China, I anticipated a pandemic here. I'm sure no one has ever been through anything like this before. Everything changed so quickly that it caught people off guard. Working from home is now the status quo for most people. Professors and students in our college are also trying their best to overcome the difficulties of working remotely. I'm about to finish my thesis in this current climate, and I don’t feel worried, because my thesis advisor is still helping me both academically and in life. Nothing seems to have changed except that meeting has turned into a video or phone call, while getting along a bit more with a sense of caring for each other. As a result of the social distancing policy, the reduction of going out also makes me pay more attention to my thesis and things that I have to do. Besides modifying the thesis, I now cook, practice yoga, read books, and watch TV shows every day. I wasn’t used to staying alone before but now seem to have some enjoyment the life in the quarantine. No matter how the outside world changes, your rhythm is important, and I believe my professors and classmates are understanding of this. I hope everyone stays safe and well in this tough time.
Greetings, Arts Administration & Museum Leadership Alumni, Students, and Friends,
We hope you’re staying safe and well in these challenging times. We know that, at a minimum, you and your families are adjusting to a lack of normalcy and human contact. Some of you may also be dealing with more serious concerns about financial security, employment, health and safety. We want you to know that you are in our thoughts, and we would love to hear from you. We’re also including some resources and updates below that you may find helpful.
Despite the current challenges we face, we know that our students and alumni are the dynamic leaders our field needs. Times of extreme disruption are also times of innovation. Your education, knowledge, and the networks you’ve built will help you create the future of our field. Your Drexel family is here to support you and help in any way. We look forward to keeping in touch and to staying connected with you all.