"It's hard to believe it's been a year," he added. "We were watching very intently what was happening last March, and then word came down that we were going to go into deep lockdown, which meant we had to close."
Staff members began working out of their homes, keeping in constant touch with each other, and one employee stopped into the museum frequently to check mail and voicemail.
"We decided one of the things we'd take the opportunity to do was to work on our social media, our Facebook page, YouTube channel and website," DeMersman said. "We did almost a daily post on Facebook using historic photographs. We wanted to make sure the public knew although we were closed to them, we were going to stay engaged as much as possible."
The exhibits had been scheduled for the rest of the year, and photographer Tao Guan agreed to postpone his photo display, "The Pleasanton Ones," until the fall. The Ed Kinney Speaker Series was canceled for the rest of the year.
"Then in mid to late May we decided one person a day would be in the building, to be onsite and have access to things," DeMersman recalled.
The traveling Smithsonian exhibit, "Water/Ways," which was planned for the summer, proceeded in a virtual format after the surge in COVID-19 cases in July, he remembered.
"We did public programming with Zone 7, and the Go Green intern students who were working on a film project premiered that video," DeMersman said. "It started on our Facebook page then moved to our YouTube channel."
By late summer, staff again worked in the building, each keeping to their own office and otherwise wearing masks.
In October, museum staff produced a fun and lively Ghost Walk downtown with spirits of Pleasanton past played by professional actors, which was presented online.
"In November when Alameda County moved to 'orange,' we opened at 25% and it seemed to work OK," DeMersman remembered, but the opening was short-lived as the number of COVID cases soon rose.
Now the county is again allowing openings as cases have gone down, and museums in the area are cautiously welcoming visitors.
In Danville the Museum of the San Ramon Valley opened March 19 featuring "Model Trains Running through the Depot" until April 11.
Blackhawk Museum reopens for weekends tomorrow at 25% capacity. Tickets must be purchased or reserved in advance for its galleries: World of Nature; Into China Gallery; Classic Car Collection; Out of Africa; and "Spirit of the Old West." Visit www.BlackhawkMuseum.org or call 736-2277.
The Museum on Main has reopened with the exhibit, "The Newest Americans: New Citizens Reflect on What America Means to Them," with photos by Sam Comen and interviews by Michael Estrin.
Comen and Estrin set out to capture the experiences of 29 new Americans following the 2016 election, when the political climate was polarized by the Donald Trump administration's efforts to build a border wall, enact a Muslim ban, and enforce mass deportations. Against this backdrop, they photographed and interviewed their subjects following naturalization ceremonies in February and March of 2017, resulting in the traveling exhibit, which was created in partnership with the California Museum and Exhibit Envoy.
"We wanted to explore the definition of 'American' and who has the right to become one," Comen said. "We wanted to document the stories of new Americans, to know why they came to this country, and what the American Dream means to them.
"While their answers varied widely, to our surprise all of the participants share the belief that America is still the land of opportunity, and the hope that their futures will be brighter as naturalized citizens of this county."
"The portraits are stunning, and the stories are profound," DeMersman said. "It is very thought-provoking."
"One of our goals is to try to add a local dimension to exhibits," he added. "In this particular case, John Kottinger was an immigrant from Austria and we are telling his story. We have also reached out to others in the community we knew were immigrants, or their families were."
The exhibit, which runs through April 30, is also available online.
"One of the things we've learned through all of this is we are going to pay attention to virtual things because we've been able to reach an audience we couldn't reach before, those who are homebound or not in the Bay Area but still have connections to the community," DeMersman said. "We want to keep these people."
The Ed Kinney Speaker Series has picked up this month where it left off a year ago, albeit virtually, and its first presentation was last Wednesday, "An Afternoon or Evening with... Lady Bird Johnson." Plans are to be in-person in 2022.
"That has worked out really well -- people have adapted and the vast majority who had signed up are going to participate," DeMersman said.
DeMersman, who is starting his 13th year as executive director, said one of his goals has been to make Museum on Main relevant to everyday life.
"It is great to understand our history -- because of it we have the building blocks for today," he said. "But we also need to understand that art and natural history and history and science all have to go together; one can't function well without the others."
"I never thought I would say this, but the pandemic in a way has had a bit of a silver lining for us: We have discovered we have the ability to reach these other audiences who have discovered us through YouTube and Facebook," he added. "I think it will have a long-lasting effect on us."
If you visit
* Museum on Main is limited to 10 guests inside at a time. The door is locked, and visitors knock for admittance.
* Masks are required.
* Hand sanitizer stations are placed throughout the museum.
* Social distancing will be practiced.
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