Museum Magazine, Fall 2020, Number 77

Museum Magazine Issue 77 (Fall 2020)

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From the Director, Alex W. Barker:

Over the summer Slover Linett Audience Research and Advisory Board for the Arts conducted a nationwide study of public engagement with the arts during the pandemic. More than 650 arts organizations and their audiences from across the country took part in the survey, and the results were striking. Nearly half of all Americans reported they felt worried or less connected with others, and 40% indicated the pandemic had already affected their income and security. At the time of the survey, 79% of respondents were under a stay at home order or voluntarily quarantining, and 12% had a family member or close friend sick with COVID-19.

Just as we had pivoted to online offerings when our galleries were closed—offering daily Instagram posts with object discussions, weekly Friday Features on object-related topics, online exhibitions, and Zoom-based programming, among other initiatives—so too did arts organizations elsewhere. And while respondents appreciated the effort, and many used the online resources and programs, they reported that even the best online offerings didn’t provide the more immediate experiences and connection with others they craved.

One of the most worn-out phrases in these troubled days must surely be “we’re all in this together.” True enough, but each of us faces our own challenges, copes in unique ways, and responds differently based on our respective backgrounds, values, needs, and doubts. That’s true at the community level as well, and what I took away most powerfully from the survey was not how we’re similar to other communities across the country, but the specific ways in which we differ.

Respondents everywhere—including those who participated through the Museum of Art and Archaeology—said that as the quarantine eased, they most looked forward to getting together with friends and loved ones in their homes. But our audiences differed from audiences of other arts organizations in their rankings thereafter. Nationally, the next most anticipated activity was going out to a bar or restaurant (63%), visiting parks, gardens or zoos (46%), going to movies (37%), and to church, temple or mosque (32%). Less than 10% of arts audiences nationally listed going to an art museum as what they craved. But for Columbia, 73% listed getting together with friends and family in their home as what they most anticipated (as it should be, as any other answer would be at best disturbing) and 69%­—nearly seven times the national average—listed visiting an art museum as what they next most anticipated. In rank order they then listed going to a bar or restaurant (61%), going to movies (31%), and going to a concert or performance (31%) as next on their list.

In part, that difference simply reflects Columbia’s unique character, and how deeply the arts are integrated into the fabric of our shared daily lives. It’s part of what makes Columbia such a vibrant and dynamic community. It reflects the special way that museums like ours offer a sense of rootedness, of connection and identity—a celebration of who we are, and who we want to be—that’s more vital than ever in these turbulent times. We make our art, and our art makes us.

And so we reopen our doors and invite you back. We’re taking necessary precautions to ensure the safety of all. We’ve installed directional signage and will require social distancing and masks. We won’t be hosting groups or guided tours for now. We will limit the number of visitors simultaneously in the galleries, and the gift shop will remain closed; and we look forward to relaxing those restrictions as circumstances allow.

Finally, in this commemorative year of the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, granting women the right to vote, the Museum acknowledges that historic moment.The Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission (WSCC), with the support of the National Endowment for the Arts, is launching a nationwide campaign called Forward into Light, a nod to the historic suffrage slogan, “Forward through the Darkness, Forward into Light.” Be sure to visit the Museum's online and gallery exhibitions, American Women Artists Since the Vote, a powerful testament to women and their ongoing artistic achievements.

We also recognize that the pandemic is not the only source of hurt confronting our community, and other wounds need to be healed. We’ve seen this summer that the promise of equality, justice, and inclusion has yet to be fulfilled. We take our role as educators and teachers seriously, but this is a moment to listen with open minds and open hearts, and to learn. I look forward to welcoming everyone to the Museum, to sharing our treasures and helping place them in meaningful contexts, to listening to your lived experience, and together strengthening the remarkable community we comprise and share.

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"I still remember the feeling of awe and disbelief when I was alone and walked in the room with those casts." --Ruth Tofle, chair of architecture, winner of the 2013 distinguished faculty award from the MU Alumni Association