While uncertain times such as these can be a cause of stress and anxiety, they also demand us to be resilient and look for creative ways to stay calm, creative, and productive. How did humans in the past deal with the circumstances that we find ourselves in today? What traditional skills and lifestyles did they have? 

These questions urged a group of five museum professionals to start a social media project called the Museum Survival Kit. According to their website, “it is a collaborative social media project designed to share tips, tricks, and tools rooted in the traditional skills and lifestyles found in our museums and cultural organizations.”

“Most of us (co-founders of the project) have worked in history museums, so we talked about how many examples we can find in history of human resilience during tough times – everything from passing down cultural touchstones like language and song to practical skills like quilting and food preservation,” says Michelle Moon, one of the five co-founders of the project.

They decided to start a platform where they can put together a ‘survival kit’, with all the relevant and practical ideas found in the archives of museums, and which people could use today. The project was launched on May 6 on Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter and a total of 13 museums were part of the first phase. 

Quick Center for the Arts, Connecticut, posted about their ‘Well-being Wednesday’ initiative where they present guided visualization to help folks keep calm. Gore Place, a historic museum in Massachusetts, tweeted a page from Robert Robert’s book A House Servant’s Directory that mentions a tip to preserve milk for sea travel. Illinois State Museum contributed tips on how to mend clothing with a whip stitch, and Harvard Museum posted a video on fermentation traditions across cultures. 

Screenshot of a video posted by Harvard Museum of Natural history about fermentation traditions across cultures and fermentophone – a musical instrument played by the fermenting process of live bacteria and yeast

“I’m a food historian and love foraging, so I really liked the Institute for American Indian Studies’ video that took us out searching for ramps (a species of wild onion). And I also loved the creative and funny storytelling from the Washington State Historical Society’s “Suffrage cookbook” re-creation…,” says Moon. 

She stresses that despite being closed, museums are doing a lot for the mental well-being of communities. “Even in good times, museums really contribute to individual and social well-being and community resilience. At a time like this, we see museums connecting with people through online workshops, talks, fun games, and collections you can explore digitally. It helps us remember the world outside the four walls of our home and explore history, art, science, and culture in ways we normally don’t access,” she says. 

Through the Museum Survival Kit project, Moon and her team hope “to remind people that museums are part of our society’s system of cultural transmission. Museums are often places that harbor, preserve and protect community knowledge and skill that might otherwise disappear from common practice. If this inspires anyone to check out a museum online to learn some more skills, or to visit their nearby museums when they are able to do so, or even just to learn a skill from a neighbor or relative, then it’s been a success.” 

To know more about the project, and to participate, click here. While you can follow #MuseumSurvivalKit for updates and useful snippets from museums and cultural institutions, keep an eye out for Museum Survival Week that will be organized between June 1 and 7. Sign up here to participate.

This article was written by Naveena Vijayan. To see more of her work, including her inspiring illustrations, check out her website here.