Anthony Hirschel and Amita Banerji
DescriptionAmita Banerji (65) speaks to her colleague Anthony "Tony" Hirschel (63) about how the pandemic has transformed the arts, the digital expansion of audiences for the National Indo-American Museum (NIAM), the importance of creating and maintaining strong connections with community members and businesses, and the economic challenges for nonprofit organizations.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Anthony Hirschel
- Amita Banerji
Recording LocationVirtual Recording
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00:02 Hi, this is Tony Herschel. I'm 63 years old and I'm here in Naperville, Illinois on November 12th, 2020. I am glad to be having conversation today with Amita. Banerjee. Someone a friend. I came to know last year when I began working as a consultant with an organization that she has served for a long time the national indo-american museum. I was just based in Chicago.
00:32 Hello, my name is Amitabh and itchy and I am talking from Northbrook, Illinois today. I am 65 years old and I am thrilled to be having this conversation with Tony harsh on my partner. He has been a true Rock for the national indo-american museum where I volunteer as a director in the in the board of directors. And as I said Tony has been a true rock and a tremendous consultant and a man for all of us at the Museum and I'm very very grateful to him to be sharing this time with me.
01:16 Thank you, because that was very generous. It's been it's been a privilege for me to work with the museum. So we're here today to talk about the ways in which cultural organizations and in particular in your case that the national indo-american museum have weathered the storm of the the the pandemic of covid-19 over the last many months and with light appears months yet to go. And that's that the best of the Chicago Cultural Alliance which was interested in me stories of artistic resilience. So I thought it we might just Begin by talking a little about how I in general how your museum has been responding to this crisis.
02:07 It's been a challenge, you know.
02:12 It's been a challenge because you know where we've been into this pandemic for the last eight nine months and there seems to be no end in sight even though we are seeing some glimmerings of you know vaccines Etc. There's been some talk in the last few days, and I'm really thrilled about that.
02:33 So initially, we were a little shell-shocked naturally in March, you know, we had all our plans made for the rest of the year for summer specially which is a very busy time for us. So initially, I think we were a little shell-shocked and people kind of all over the map. It's really put back memes achievements for a while, you know, maybe a couple of years. So but after the initial shock, we have learned to accept your limitations and we focused on what how we can preserve the Arts our artists are institution and over these months we've learned to deal with how we going to go forward. So we've become more resilient. We're not standing still we are focusing on our work our most important thing our audiences and our donors and
03:31 A big part of our adult audience is also a volunteers and we are planning carefully how to move forward and we are moving forward. Now, we've been all this day has come this seems to have come or higher responsibilities of being a museum, which is really a portal a conduit between the Indian American community and the great Community surrounding us. So that rule has kind of heightened itself and given us forced to rethink who we are and we are working with it.
04:12 So I meet I can just save from you know, the my colleagues that made the clients. I work with across the country. I think what you're experiencing as a smaller organization is really not very different from what small and large organizations are facing. All of them were shell-shocked. All of them have had to revise their thinking about how they're going to be sustainable and organizations into the future because they have that so many of the models on which their work was based have gone right out the window as with the coconut crisis, but I mean museums of course theaters all of them are really struggling now to see how they can continue to connect. And so maybe I would just ask you about our first interest right now about how how many mm has been communicating with the with the audiences that it had.
05:12 Been serving and that it hoped to be serving as it went forward as there was a mean of course. There was also the plan to move into a new building and begin to have a physical space that people could visit and that's on hold out. How have you been reaching out to connect to go back a little history was born in 2008 and we have always being a virtual Museum a digital Museum and being a digital Museum of the responsibility of interfacing with our audience through our programs to our Publications to our events and our virtual galleries have always been very very important and very strong.
05:59 Now with the pandemic what has happened is we have had to kind of repaint all our programs which we are so famous for and we do so well and all these have always been face-to-face programs. These have always been in person where we meet and greet and do a lot of things together. We have had to read Hangul that and change our focus and bring everything into a virtual platform.
06:31 So that's what we've been doing. And like I said initially we were kind of thinking how we going to get through this and what are we going to do? We took comfort and advice from the art was industry like the Chicago Cultural Alliance like other museums what they are doing and a we look towards one particular Museum called the damn house, which is the German American Museum in Chicago.
07:00 Country found that they were doing some virtual cooking demonstrations.
07:08 And the way they were doing it that they were focusing on these chefs. These restaurants back was suffering from the pandemic and they were they were telling the story to the audience and trying to highlight their you know their lack of their lack of what's the word. I'm looking for hear the people who come and you know by your people that guests at the restaurant so I still beat these restaurant owners goes come and tell their stories and they were highlighting them and they were also doing a little cooking demonstration and teaching something to the audience all in a little fun and all with a small donation or ticket sales. So we like that idea and we very quickly regrouped and turn towards the Indian America.
08:08 Desperado chefs and restaurant owners in the area and they were really very eager to kind of work with us to tell their stories and to share their you know, what they were going through with us. So that's one thing we did on the on the museum building front. Yes. What has happened is
08:32 Never having a building and always being a virtual Museum. We were always ready to have a space a house a building where which we could go on our own, you know, the national indo-american museum a real brick-and-mortar Museum 2 years ago a very generous donor gave us a building and this year. We was supposed to inaugurate that building in Lombard, Illinois with the inauguration. We were supposed to have an art exhibition which was sponsored by the National Endowment of the Arts called emerge art and identity of the Indian diaspora and we were supposed to inaugurate both in May 2020 with the pandemic we've now had to postpone until May 20-21 and maybe if the fandemic allows we can have them all.
09:33 A smaller tiered opening next year and have a small group events, you know, like really smaller much smaller, maybe much more intimate. So and take the whole opening of the brick-and-mortar museum and the
09:52 Art exhibition together in smaller bikes. So that's what how it has affected us. But there is one thing we have continued to pursue even before we received the building in Lombard, Illinois as our first written by a brick-and-mortar Space. Jam has always wanted and has been seeking for a Chicago City space where all the museums are. We have always wanted and had been looking for a city space to call. I do have a couple of small galleries there an office there. Right right in the middle of the museum campus has somewhere around there.
10:40 That has continued We are continuing wholeheartedly to look for that space and we hope to you know, at the end of all this be able to fulfil that need for Neo.
10:56 That's great. I think but I think that you know, again the challenge that that name is facing is very much typical of what's been happening with other organizations. Like the ones that I know. How do you how do you feel Liam has done in in maintaining connections with people who who had been supporting it and it have the expectation that certain kinds of services would be delivered in certain ways. And now of course that's that's not happening at least not on the original timetable. It's really unknown when you'll be able to deliver things in the way that you would want some Vision. So how have people really been responding to this change in Direction obviously know that you're not responsible for covid-19, you know any but they still but they're still things that they had hoped to see in exchange for the support that they'd offered in the end. They are being forced to wait.
11:56 Tony and I think like all other art institutions are there museums our neum has found it, you know a bit of a challenge to always keep in touch with all our audiences, but we have we have what we have done is Liam has some very core programs that we do, you know, and I won't name them there are five or six that we do you can always go to www.com. Org and find out more about these programs.
12:31 So what we have done is we have taken those programs or 405 of the core programs and turned it on to a virtual platform a digital platform.
12:44 So that's what we've been able to do and it I have to say in the last eight nine months. We have been able to deliver about 9 programs to our credit programs. That would be a meet and greet kind of a program in in-person program with taking them and turned it into virtual programs and that has been you know, we'd be successfully able to do them as far as program quality goes.
13:18 Is it the same as having an in-person program? Probably not but we don't know when we can go back to these people are going to come and visit our museums and galleries. So we have had to turn to this and slowly we are getting better at it and we're finding more success and we hope to be able to continue this and you know, keep up and keep in touch with our audiences. I think, you know, everyone that had delivered services in person, but it was in a museum gallery or was a symphony orchestra and people would come to the concert hall or a theater company blessed to have 200 theater companies in Chicago, but all of them have been forced to think about new ways of conducting business and and connecting with people who might otherwise in a field address.
14:18 Can I think everybody everybody understood that the digital aspect the online component of what they could offer was important but they but you know, they weren't they hadn't had varying degrees of investment in it and varying degrees of success with it and this turbocharged those efforts because everybody understood it was in many ways. The only opportunity they would have for a considerable period in the unknown. Connecting and so everyone has worked very hard and I think many organizations and say that they're they're getting more used to it and they're getting better at it as a learning process along the way and so I you know, I think it's been but I think it's been very hard because it also has been speaking now from the perspective of art museums in which I worked for so long. We always talked about the importance of seeing the original work of art.
15:12 But if you're not allowing, if you can't allow people to come see it and you still want to indicate that your institution has some importance in society. You have to come out you have to do some fancy footwork. I and I think that's that's the way it is. So it is it is really effective thinking but when when all these organizations know that it's even when things become more normal more like they were before where there's a vax.