Recap of Public Programs Meeting, July 28

At this meeting, representatives from 31 organizations (for a list of participants click here) across the AAO Network convened a call to check-in on everyone’s progress with virtual programming during COVID-19 and plans for virtual (and even some in-person) programming this fall. In addition to organizational updates from participants, the notes below summarize some of the larger discussion points.

Programming During Quarantine: Successes and Lessons Learned Updates from Several Meeting Attendees

Michael Wood shared on behalf of the Chicago Architecture Center, noting that the CAC has been busy with virtual programming, including several new editions to their What’s Next Series. In-person boat tours resumed in early July; CAC’s virtual walking tours have met with much public interest, but the overall capacity constraints due to public health concerns severely hampers the revenue making opportunities. In recent weeks, the CAC has embarked upon a process of researching and re-scripting tours to address missing narratives with an emphasis on previously untold stories and underrepresented voices.

As a case study, Greg Wessner discussed the trajectory of Open House New York’s Conversations on the City series, which began a couple of years ago as a live program, and sought to convene speakers from a variety of different disciplines. During COVID-19, the Conversations program transitioned to a virtual platform, and aimed to alleviate some of New Yorkers’ anxieties about the current crisis. In April and May, the programs were very well attended, though that number dipped significantly during the height of the protests in June, but bounced back in July. The series continues to try to speak to the moment, providing participants with a framework for understanding what is happening in our cities now, and what we might expect for the future. For the actual OHNY festival this October, they will be focusing mostly on virtual experiences, but are supplementing online tours with a collection of prompts and tools that encourage people to safely go out and explore the City on their own.

Anne Rieselbach of The Architectural League of New York discussed several of the League’s current programs, including the League Prize and the Emerging Voices series (found here) which is a great example of a program that successfully transitioned from live to virtual in the midst of the pandemic. In place of the League’s “First Fridays” in-person networking series that had featured tours of architecture firms’ offices, the League swapped in a new online program, “Expanding Modes of Practice” that has featured interviews with firms WXY, Justin Garrett Moore, and Interboro.

AIA San Francisco has offered a few successful multi-day meetings: it held a 2-day virtual symposium addressing the City’s housing challenges last month, and will continue the series with a 2-day virtual Design for Aging Symposium next month (originally scheduled for April). June’s symposium went well both in terms of program content and all technical issues, with average daily attendance hovering between 90 and 100 participants. AIASF’s new morning talks series Fresh Brew is now on its 10th or 11th segment, and has been welcoming a global audience during many of the sessions—a definite new benefit to virtual programming!

The Denver Architecture Foundation just announced the resumption of its first in-person walking tour for August, which will be capped at groups at 8 people. Sales have been brisk. We’re excited to hear a report at our next check-in come early fall.

The Miami Center for Architecture and Design hosted a successful Instagram Live tour of its current exhibit with an international curator. The outdoor Art Omi campus has remained open throughout the pandemic, and reports that visitorship has swelled, despite not scheduling public events. They are planning public tours outdoors for up to 30 people during October.

The group took some time to discuss ways their organizations were addressing the Black Lives Matter movement and issues of social justice and racial equity in their programming.

SPUR has been focused on programming related to broader equity issues, including long-term systemic issues that lead to displacement and racism in the built environment, including the ramifications of urban renewal. As Noah Christman noted, SPUR was an advocate of urban renewal in the 1950s and 60s, so SPUR’s programming this fall is going to be a long-overdue reckoning of the organization’s own past.

AIA San Francisco has put a great deal of effort into diversity programs, including an upcoming series focused on the cultural and political narratives of disenfranchised neighborhoods and the impacts of gentrification. In addition, AIASF’s Architecture and the City annual festival will be all virtual this year. However, AIASF did recently conduct a program that featured a live person-to-person interview broadcasted to a virtual audience which was very well-received.

Baltimore Architecture Foundation announced that it has just received a grant to bring the "Say It Loud" exhibition (curated by Pascale Sablan and designed by Manuel Miranda, and originally staged at the Center for Architecture in New York in 2017) to the Baltimore Center. The exhibition will showcase the careers of Black architects practicing in the Baltimore region today. For other social justice programming, the BAF has partnered with the local NOMA Chapter and Morgan State University as means of amplify local voices.

Other Topics

A recurring topic on our calls is the issue of program fees. As a whole, most AAO members are still not comfortable charging standard fees for virtual events. Some organizations, like CAC, charge a nominal fee for the general public, and offer free tickets to members. Still, participants om the call agreed this fee structure may not be sustainable in the long-term. This may be a topic for further discussion later this year especially as organizations begin budget planning for 2021.

Finally, we encourage all public program personnel to check out the recently released CultureTrack Report, Culture + Community in a Time of Crisis, a new collaboration between LaPlaca Cohen and Slover Linett Audience Research that aims to shed light on how arts and culture organizations can address the hopes, fears, and needs of Americans during and following the COVID-19 pandemic.