The beginning of 2020 marked a time of growth and renewal for what was once the Washington County Museum and historic Five Oaks site. Assuming a new name – Five Oaks Museum – the organization embraced its deep roots, while embodying the practice of moving history forward.
Yet, only months into the renewal, the Museum was unexpectedly–like all museums and cultural institutions–faced with an altering and unwavering reality in the face of a global pandemic.
Fortuitously, the process of re-establishing itself both structurally and operationally, stabilized the Museum’s foundation, and cultivated the skills and systems that would allow its work to align with the now-existing COVID-19-effected world. Strongly situated as a platform for the community and its voices, Five Oaks Museum has the ability to translate this stage across social media; its launch of a new website with increased digital access is now well-equipped to stock and present a vast collection of virtual museum content; and its foundation has been further steadied in five core human values, offering a tireless compass to navigate through this turbulent time.
This final idea is something to ponder. How can a series of core values––a system of beliefs that are central to the work being completed––pilot an organization’s response through the Covid-19 pandemic?
Five Oaks Museum has determined just that. Reflecting upon and realining their core values as a means to help lead their internal actions in response to the pandemic, Five Oaks Museum is working to protect the history that already lives within the museum’s walls, respond to the immediate needs of those in need, and help shape the future that emerges from this moment.
- Body - This crisis is global and vast, but it hits at the most intimate scale of all – individual human bodies. Our first and most urgent responsibility right now is to participate fully in collective measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. For that reason, Five Oaks Museum will remain closed to public visitation for as long as is needed to support public health. We are working towards innovative ways to remain a gathering place and a trusted source of learning and look forward to the day that we can welcome you, in body, into the museum once more.
- Land - Many people are turning to the natural world as refuge and guide right now. Kalapuyan peoples, and other local tribal cultures, developed expertise over millennia in tandem with this land. Having already survived devastating exposure to disease, in addition to other colonial harms, Native cultures today remain strong and dynamic. Their history is important to know. We are digitizing our current major exhibition, This IS Kalapuyan Land, so that essential content remains available from a distance.
- Justice - The museum has built our new identity with a commitment to the well-being of our workers at the center of all we do. We are continuing full pay and benefits for all staff including contractors and confirmed gigs; if difficult decisions are ahead of us, they will be approached with the needs of the most vulnerable as the first consideration.
- Truth - You are the holders of the truth, which we recognize as a living, changing thing. We are collecting your stories through an open call so that this moment can be seen from many perspectives and captured for its historic significance. Click here to be part of Gathering History: Covid-19 Community Journal.
- Community - Five Oaks Museum is here for the entire community and does not support xenophobia now, or ever. We are working to uplift all those in our networks as we share the struggle of isolation by adding more digital content to our website, creating free learning tools out of our field trip curriculum, and making video learning experiences for older adults. Look to our Instagram and new Facebook feeds for art, history, and culture experts delivering week long takeovers starting in April. All new and ongoing memberships will be extended for the duration of the museum’s closure, so that you can enjoy remote content now and don’t miss a day of on-site benefits.
Through these spoken core values, Five Oaks Museum has become a leading illustration for how such values can steer an institution’s response during this unwavering time.
As your institution continues to reach and engage stay-at-home audiences through digital content, and as you look to reopen your doors in the coming months, we at this moment, ask you to reflect on how your own institutional core values might guide your own work, alter your response strategies, and help shape the future of both your own institution and the museum industry as a whole.
Learn more about Five Oaks Museum's 2020 transformation here.
Written by Jessica Noyes - Communications Coordinator, WMA