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Virtual Tours: Fort Lauderdale Museums Move Programs Online

Bonnet House
Caitie Switalski
One of the many outdoor hallways at Bonnet House Museum and Gardens In Fort Lauderdale, December 2019.

This story has been updated with additional information about NSU Art Museum at 2:35 p.m. Tuesday March 24.

Museums have had to shut their doors due to concerns about COVID-19 spreading among crowds. But many institutions are ensuring people can access their programs and tours in a new way: online. 

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You can tour the Palace of Versailles in France through Google Arts & Culture, and enter the Museo Frida Kahlo in Mexico City from your couch. The Art Institute of Chicago has an app for a mobile experience, and The Met's famous 360 video project is getting a new following. 

Closer to home, several museums and historic places in Broward County are joining the movement. Tours and other programming are now virtually accessible, and some specifically geared toward kids stuck at home.

"We recognized our obligation as a museum to do our best to continue our programming," said Patrick Shavloske, CEO of the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens. "It was just our attempt to continue our mission in unprecedented times."

Now, you can tour the Bonnet House or the NSU Art Museum from a safe social distance. You can also explore summer camp programming from the Museum of Discovery and Science on YouTube. You can even tune in to Facebook Live at 11 a.m. to join story time at the Historic Stranahan House Museum on Fort Lauderdale's Riverwalk.

The Bonnet House may be shuttered up right now, and the volunteers at home, but a four-part series with archival video footage opens the doors to the museum's past: The videos span the 20th century, including art, music and sound-rich, decades-old footage of dinner parties on the property.

"It was a very different Fort Lauderdale," Shavloske said. "Some of the home movies that were taken, there are scenes it looks like, along the New River and the Intracoastal Waterway and it's just amazing to see all of the greenery that used to be here before develoment occurred. It's certainly a step back in time."

WLRN covered the centennial celebration at the end of 2019: 

Near Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens sits on 35 acres between the ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway.   The land for the house was a wedding gift from Chicago attorney Hugh Taylor Birch to his daughter, Helen Louise Birch, and son-in-law, Frederic Clay Bartlett,  in 1919 - and the house was built in 1920. Bartlett was an artist, who - over the years - decorated and painted the house to make it as colorful and open as possible, with lots of yellow and blue hues, outdoor rooms, and space to display art, shells and flowers.

The video series shows the vast collections at the house, and even extended clips from the Bartletts' home movies. 

"Frank Lloyd Wright actually shows up in the first of the four videos," Shavloske said. "It just gives you an idea of how connected these people were to great artists and great creative minds."

Fort Lauderdale's Museum of Discovery and Science is also looking for ways to help parents keep their kids busy with educational content. 

The museum started releasing virtual learning videos with activities Monday, including science demonstrations. MODS will release its Virtual Camp Discovery videos on weekdays, with science shows, animal meet-and-greets and school program lessons. 

"We're going to explore together, we're going to discover dinosaurs, we're going to make slime, we're going to blow things up. It's going to be really exciting," announced president and CEO Joe Cox via Twitter.

MODS will be releasing one video per day on weekdays. You can find the videos on the museum's newsletter and its social media channels, all linked on the MODS website

The Historic Stranahan House Museum is broadcasting its tours, story time, and activities like history show and tell on Facebook Live weekdays at 11 a.m.

A tradesman and postmaster for the New River settlement, Frank Stranahan built what's now the city's oldest building in 1901. The Historic Stranahan House Museum is two-story high and still sits in its original location by the New River. - WLRN 2019

You do not need to have a Facebook account to watch. The program of free activities for this week also includes an online history hour for teenagers and adults.

The NSU Art Museum on Las Olas Boulevard has uploaded many of its art lectures - including 'Mona Lisa's Smile: Emotion In Italian Renaissance and Baroque Art' to its YouTube channel. The museum is also offering a free tour on its website so that virtual visitors can go through the current collections on display. 

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, produces WLRN's midday public affairs program, Sundial weekdays at 1 and 8 p.m. Prior to transitioning to production, Caitie covered news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News for four years.