It has been five months since the state shut down and Lexington Historical Society closed its doors. I thought I would give our members and friends an update on how we have coped, what we have continued to do normally, and what we have done differently. And of course, how this might affect our future.
When we decided to close our museums and gift shop and work remotely on March 13, I thought it would last for a month; perhaps a bit more or a bit less. Our Treasurer suggested we should prepare for the fact that our museums may be shut down through Labor Day. When he suggested that, I thought he was being far too pessimistic: yet, here we are, in the middle of August, and our museums are still closed (on the inside at least). Sorry I doubted you, Dave.
Like everyone else, I was at a loss on how to proceed. How would we fulfill our mission? Would it even be possible without our museums open? Would we have to cancel our programs indefinitely? Could we even continue as an organization? These questions kept me up at night.
We began to explore our options, holding committee and staff meetings on Zoom to figure out how to proceed. We soon realized it might be possible to also hold a program via Zoom. After all, we had a full slate of programming scheduled for Patriots Day, just a few weeks away. It was worth a shot, right?
Sarah McDonough, our Programs Manager, contacted our scheduled speakers to find out if they would be willing to present their program virtually. Most agreed. Soon we had a full “Virtual Patriots’ Day” weekend planned, with several virtual programs scheduled all three days of the weekend and into the following week. Our Virtual Patriots’ Day was a smashing success. We attracted hundreds of people from all over the world, many of whom would not have been able to engage with us in a traditional format.
Over the course of spring and summer, we became virtual programming experts, hosting Q&As, lectures, collections presentations, tours, and even our First Shot! summer camp with sixteen children. We continue to plan our upcoming programs virtually, including those that are part of the town-wide “Lexington Remembers WWII” commemoration.
We have begun outdoor tours, offered with a guide, as well as self-guided with our online “Lexington by Foot and Phone” experience. While we have only seen a few visitors, it feels encouraging to offer some kind of in-person experience.
What we have learned over the course of the last five months is that, despite the pandemic and subsequent shutdown, we have been able to effectively fulfill our mission, and engage even more people than ever before. Because of the virtual format, physical and geographic barriers are removed allowing for a broader audience. I believe that even in a post-COVID-19 world, we will continue to offer many of our programs virtually because of what we have learned during this period.
I like to talk about the silver lining, and our ability to fulfill our mission during this time is certainly a silver lining. However, the pandemic has had a negative impact on Lexington Historical Society too. I would be remiss in my role as Executive Director to ignore it.
From March 13 until recently, we have had to furlough our guide staff, as we were unable to offer tours. Our guide staff members are our representatives to the community and to the world, as they are often the first to greet visitors when they walk through the doors of Buckman Tavern. To be unable to have our seasonal guide staff work in our museums was very unfortunate.
In addition, our wonderful volunteer greeters have been unable to give their time this summer, something we truly value at our organization. Every spring, summer, and fall, members of the community volunteer to greet visitors at Hancock-Clarke House and Munroe Tavern. They too serve as ambassadors, welcoming visitors from around the world, selling tickets, and offering information about Lexington, its history, and things to do in the surrounding area. Our volunteers are a major part of our team, and to not be able to offer them that experience was devastating.
Of course, one of the more lasting ways COVID has impacted us is financially. Because of this pandemic, we have lost the ability to rent the Depot, host field trips, open the museums, and hold traditional fundraisers. Without these activities, we will lose over a third of our revenue this year.
While we are being creative about the ways we can raise money, the fact remains that we will end the year in a deficit. Like most non-profit organizations, this leaves us wondering what we should expect for 2021. No one can fully predict what the 2021 tourist season will be like, if it even takes place, and we do not know if gatherings will be possible next year. Therefore, our revenue sources could, and most likely will, be affected by this pandemic well into 2021.
The future is unknown and we, along with most other museums, may have to reevaluate and change the way we do things to adapt to this New Normal. However, some things will never change. Lexington Historical Society was founded in 1886 as an organization dedicated to preserving Lexington’s history. Since then, the world has changed and our organization has changed, but we are still dedicated to preserving our four historic properties and fulfilling our promise to be a premier interpreter of the events of April 1775, and the faithful steward of all of the town's history through time.
We have always had wonderful support from our members, friends, and the community. We need your support now more than ever before. To help us continue our important work, please pitch in. No amount is too small. You can give online or mail a check to Lexington Historical Society, PO Box 514 Lexington, MA 02420.
My hope is that someday we can look back at this time with gratitude and pride: gratitude for the lessons it taught us and the ways it encouraged us to be more creative and pride in how we weathered the storm, survived it, and came out stronger than before.
Thank you for your support.
Yours in history,
Erica McAvoy, Executive Director
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.