After the tumult of the past two years—moving the Museum, renovating storage and public spaces, reinstalling the collection and opening our galleries to the public—we were just beginning to settle into a routine when the University went through its own period of turmoil. It thus seems an opportune moment to reflect on issues of inclusion, diversity, and access at the Museum.
Since 2007 the Museum has worked to increase its holdings of art by African American artists, including works by Beulah Ecton Woodard, Richard Burnside, Roman Johnson, Joseph Delaney, and Jacob Lawrence, among others. Works have been added that address the black experience in America: in 2013 Albert Pel’s powerful American Tragedy depicting the aftermath of a lynching, in 2014–15 Louis Ribak’s Nocturne, depicting KKK members fleeing through the woods, and most recently Philip Reisman’s 1930s triptych, The Negro in American History. Our next scheduled special exhibitions (opening in February) are Afro-Cuban Artists: A Renaissance and Black American Artists: Envisioning Social Change.
We have similarly worked to increase holdings by women artists, including Beatrice Wood, Käthe Kollwitz, Beulah Ecton Woodard, etc., and works that address the role of women in art, such as a work from Daumier’s Bluestockings series, or an eighteenth-century Gillray print caricaturing noble Lotharios (published and sold [uniquely] by an eighteenth-century woman printmaker and printseller, Ms. Hannah Humphries). We developed resources discussing women in art, including video-based resources developed in concert with federal agencies and distributed as training materials to federal employees. And we offer special tours focusing on women artists; the most recent (created and presented by museum docents) was offered in November.
At the same time we’ve worked to increase our service to persons with disabilities, including rehanging collections at a lower median height to better comply with ADA recommendations, installing stanchions in galleries that facilitate lower-height placement of three dimensional objects without placing them at risk from bumps or trips, replacing older text panels in some galleries with higher-contrast, larger-type panels, and adopting barrier-free gallery layouts. We’ve presented exhibitions focusing on emerging artists with disabilities, and to support such programs we’ve acquired works which can be touched by visitors, employed braille labels, and used sensor-activated audio labels for hearing impaired visitors. We’ve also offered lecture programs addressing disability in art—the most recent in autumn 2015.
For many years the Museum has offered its “Healing Arts” programs for seniors, particularly seniors with Alzheimer’s. Among other formats, the program worked with visiting patients to identify favorite works of art, establish story lines associated with these works, and then create and place duplicate copies in their rooms to establish and maintain fil rouge narrative arcs and memories. The Museum also facilitates campus-wide discussions regarding art and aging through the annual November Symposium, organized by Academic Coordinator Arthur Mehrhoff each year since 2008 (except 2013, when the Museum was in the midst of moving from Pickard Hall).
Certainly there’s much left to do, and we will continue our efforts to make the Museum accessible, welcoming, meaningful, and—most of all—relevant to everyone. If you have ideas of how we can better serve our community and engage our visitors I’d love to hear from you.
I’ll see you at the Museum!
Alex W. Barker