Closed to Visitors, Museums Are Finding Their Community Outreach More Necessary Than Ever

Ugo Rondinone’s Miami Mountain at the Bass Museum in 2017. Sean Drakes/Getty Images

Museums all over the world are having to cope with a harsh new reality: large gatherings of people have become instantly dangerous for all involved due to the extremely insidious coronavirus. As a result, institutions are having to shut down their current physical exhibitions and premises and figure out new solutions for engaging their communities. Many museums already have established easily-accessible digital archives that can be perused at any time, but in order to engage audiences that have been semi-permanently instructed to stay within their homes, remote interactive programming is about to become a lot more popular.

Silvia Cubina, the Executive Director for the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach, Florida, told Observer that members of her community have been reaching out and requesting educational materials for their children stuck at home. “We were supposed to do a spring camp next week, so we’re doing spring camp from home,” Cubina said, adding that the lesson plan is being converted so that students will be able to use the materials they may already have in their houses. Videos associated with the exhibitions that are currently on view but closed to the public, including Haegue Yang’s In the Cone of Uncertainty, will also be posted soon to the Bass website.

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On the Bass Museum’s social channels, they’ll also be engaging with “Cafecito breaks” at 3:05 p.m. every day; a reference to Miami’s 305 area code. “More or less at that time people have their afternoon coffee,” Cubina said. “So at 3:05 we’re going to launch some content on social media, whether it’s video or virtual tours or a guest. It’s going to be a shot of art to help our audience get through the afternoon working from home sluggishly.”

As self-isolation continues over the next couple of weeks and months, the Bass is also going to be introducing more livestream video lectures and adapting to changing circumstances as they unfold. The need for adaptability was also echoed by Carolina Alvarez-Mathies, the Deputy Director of the Dallas Contemporary museum, who also told Observer that the Dallas Contemporary will continue to search for new ways to help their community while its physical location remains closed. “As an institution, I think our first priority is how to keep engaging with our constituents,” Alvarez-Mathies said. “Very quickly, our digital channels became our programming. Social media, our website, Instagram; they’re not how we’re communicating our programming, they now are our programming.”

The Dallas Contemporary’s website will soon launch lesson plans for things like zine-making, as well as imaged-based guided discussions based on past exhibitions. And like the Bass Museum, the Dallas Contemporary will also soon offer online art activities that can be done from home with household objects.

Museum administrators are also aware that in their surrounding communities, freelance artists and creatives who also work in restaurants or have nightlife jobs are struggling due to the sudden loss of essentially all gig work. It remains unclear how artistic freelancers all over the world will be able to move forward without rigorous and immediate financial assistance, but in the interim, community solidarity has to be maintained in every way possible. “The creative thread is really what unites us,” Alvarez-Mathies said. “Art is about ideas, and it’s about supporting those ideas and those who make them come to life.”

Closed to Visitors, Museums Are Finding Their Community Outreach More Necessary Than Ever