On one of our quarantine walks last weekend, I turned to my husband and said, with a certain amount of disbelief, “It’s been more than twelve weeks since I visited a museum.” This is easily triple the longest amount of time I have previously gone in my adult life without walking up the polished marble steps of one or another cultural pillar in Baltimore, or any number of other cities, because a vacation/work trip for me is usually filled with a half dozen museum and gallery visits as well. As an artist, educator, and critic, visiting museums is a part of my everyday life. I’m not religious, but the regularity of my time in climate-controlled alarmed rooms is equivalent to a devout churchgoer’s time in a pew.
Like so many other time-honored rituals, large and small, disrupted in COVID-19 times, visits to the familiar institutions where we go to reflect, be inspired, and learn in person have had to “pivot” (is everyone else exhausted by the overuse of this word now too?) to online and remote learning options. I checked in with some of our area’s key cultural centers to learn what innovative offerings they designed for a digital space and how we can all support their community outreach work.
A lot of AVAM visitors and fans feel we are a healing place for them. So, we've been working hard to be there with awesome, live, artist studio tours.
Reopening Plan: We have a well-conceived, visitor and staff-loving plan and, like elves in Santa’s workshop, our staff has been busily prepping towards a reopening day when it’s safe to do so. As to the actual date, we are complying with both the Governor’s and the Mayor’s recommendations. The key is any limit to the size of gatherings and the recent city announcement that the permits for gatherings are not being granted. We have extended our Secret Life of Earth exhibition into early 2021. We will request all visitors wear masks, request cashless admission transactions, and have added touchless sanitizing stations and clever distancing signage.
Virtual Studio Visits: A lot of AVAM visitors and fans feel we are a healing place for them. So, we’ve been working hard to be there with awesome, live, artist studio tours, for example. It’s been a very personal way for audiences to get to know and understand our artists by seeing them quarantined in their own homes—visionaries like Chris Wilson who had his first museum show with us with his moving tribute to his mom in the work “Momma’s Boys.” The tour was scheduled just before Mother’s Day. Then there was a tour with Haitian-influenced artist Nancy Josephson and her beaded sculptures. And soon, we’ll offer interaction with Allyson and Alex Grey—awesome psychedelic art pioneers.
Workshops: We’ve been offering intergenerational virtual workshops. Some are geared towards adults, like our virtual Sip & Shine soirée. There have been bilingual and close-captioned, kid-friendly art workshops using lots of handy household stuff. I’ve also given behind-the-scenes Founder retrospective musings for our 25th anniversary. Upcoming online events will be free. We’re producing more episodes of our virtual tour of our Secret Life of Earth show and more artist studio tours.
Support and Sustainability: What we really need is generous help from those who can and who love what we do. Even in the best of times, with enormous hard work, AVAM does the impossible with a modest $3 million annual budget. We receive the least municipal support of the State’s designated 13 cultural institution majors. Yet, of eight national lists that name the top destination in each state, AVAM is the chosen one for all the Maryland listings—from Oprah’s “O” magazine, to US News & World Report.
We also invite everyone to join our e-newsletter and attend our virtual events. We offer them as a feeding for the heart and soul and what it takes to make community.
But to do good is to do good—there are many needs and giving should always align to one’s heart. I think we also have to focus on supporting Baltimore’s creative community in a wider way than just cultural institutions. Beloved neighborhood businesses that have been with us for decades are closing forever. Performance art theater and music venues are under restrictions that may cost them their lives. All this is new, though how blessed we are to be creatives in Maryland, where the arts have long been prioritized.
AVAM will screen “God’s Architects” as a virtual movie night followed by Q&A with the film’s producers. Credit: Courtesy of Colectivo
The BMA announced the launch of three new online projects aimed at offering direct support to the Baltimore art community: the BMA Salon, Screening Room, and Studio.
Reopening Plan: So far no plans have been announced.
Digital Programming: Last month the BMA announced the launch of three new online projects aimed at offering direct support to the Baltimore art community: the BMA Salon, Screening Room, and Studio. The Salon and Screening Room launched June 10th, 2020.
Message from the Director, Christopher Bedford: These new initiatives “build on ideas core to us as an institution from connecting audiences with exciting, thought-provoking works of art to championing artistic experimentation and positioning creative production as central to social change. These programs shift our approach from discussion and presentation to more active and directed collaboration—a change in tactic that acknowledges our new reality and one we believe will help secure the future of the visual arts in our city.”
Video Project: The BMA Screening Room will feature works by up to 50 Baltimore-based artists who will be paid a licensing fee for the screening of their work. Video artists confirmed for the launch are: Rahne Alexander, Abdu Ali and Karryl Eugene of as they lay, Stephanie Barber, Mollye Bendell, Erick Antonio Benitez, Nicoletta Daríta de la Brown, Emily Eaglin, Markele Cullins, Tanya Garcia, Nia Hampton, Chung-Wei Huang, Nia June, Jaimes Mayhew, Meredith Moore, Devin N. Morris, Clifford Owens, Margaret Rorison, Jules Rosskam, Lendl Tellington, Stephanie J. Williams, Caroline Xia, and Monsieur Zohore.
Outreach: BMA Studio is creating at least 1,400 artmaking kits to be distributed by the Greenmount West Community Center staff to the Maryland Food Bank, World Central Kitchen, and families in the neighborhood. Additional Online Resources: Images of 20,000 objects from the collection are available online
Programming: Virtual Gallery Walks and Friday Art Walk Lives are available through the BMA’s social channels, Free Family Sundays art projects are now available online to do at home, Art-To-Go are in-depth lesson-based resources that kids can complete at home, BMA Storiesoffer behind-the-scenes glimpses of museum work, and the BMA’s YouTube channel features artist talks and “A Closer Look” artist interviews.
Support: To support the museum’s ongoing efforts, you can donate here.
Recognizing there’s a digital divide that exists in the city, the museum staff have created City Kits, which are boxed activities for students that include four projects inspired by the museum’s award-winning Kids Cannery activity.
Digital Offerings: The Baltimore Museum of Industry’s education team quickly recognized that learning does not need to stop just because a museum is closed, and pulled together a variety of activitiesto be done from home including gallery tours, brain teasers, and crafts that all have an industrial bent. There are activities for “visitors” of all ages, from preschoolers to retirees. The Archives and Collections team has worked steadily to increase the number of available images in the online catalog. We are also hosting a number of digital events each week.
Materials Available: Recognizing there’s a digital divide that exists in the city, the museum staff have created City Kits, which are boxed activities for students that include four projects inspired by the museum’s award-winning Kids Cannery activity. Each kit includes all the materials needed, including crayons, templates, dice for a game, and a cardboard can, to complete the activities. The pilot batch of kits were generously sponsored by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and will be handed out in June, free of charge, to children at city food distribution sites.
Message from the Director, Anita Kassof: “We realize that not all children have access to online learning, and City Kits helps bridge the technology gap that exists in many Baltimore homes,” says Anita Kassof, BMI’s executive director. “These hands-on projects help to provide much of the fun and learning that take place during a museum field trip in an accessible format for all kids, regardless of their neighborhood, income level, or home tech situation.”
Reopening Plan: Currently, we are expecting to open in the fall to the public. We are reviewing and considering recommended precautions for this reopening to prioritize the health and safety of our visitors and staff.
Digital Offerings: At the Maryland Historical Society, right now we are focused on providing new interactive programs weekly as well as collecting stories from Marylanders about their life. Additionally, our education staff is providing a variety of digital learning resources for children and people of all ages who want to enjoy learning about history from home, including downloadable lessons, engaging videos, and a recurring ‘Ask a Historian’ program.
Collecting in Quarantine: This initiative asks Marylanders to send us their stories and photos to help document this critical moment in history. It was important to us to give people an outlet to share their stories, and to archive them for future generations who may want to know what life was like in Maryland during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stories of people who are on the front line, adapting their business model, or just trying to survive the isolation of social distancing live on our Underbelly blog, and are shared throughout the week on social media.
Webinars: Our weekly virtual interactive webinars allow us to engage with communities around the world with a multitude of topics. Hutzlers, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Fashion in Crisis, and Wine-and-Chocolate date night programs are all still available on our Vimeo page for free, and you can keep up with our upcoming virtual programs so you can play along live on ourevents page.
Actionable Items: We are reactivating Preserve the Baltimore Uprising, a collaborative project with UMBC from the protests surrounding the murder of Freddie Gray. We hope that those participating in local protests now will continue to document their stories there to show the continuing protest to racial injustice.
Social Media: Check out our Facebook page for upcoming events or go to our events page on our website to see what is coming up this summer!
Support: The most direct way people can support our organization is by becoming a member at our current discounted rate of $25/individuals or $35/families, which expires one year from our reopening. A membership includes unlimited access to our museum and library, our membership magazine and academic journal, and discounts on event tickets, books, and museum store products.
The education department launched a weekly series called Art Chats @ Five, which brings together a small group over video conferencing for an engaging discussion about a few works of art, similar to the weekly gallery talks we usually offer.
National Museum of Women in the Arts
National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA)
Digital Engagement: NMWA has been strategically investing in digital for the past few years, but when the pandemic hit we had not quite reached some important milestones—we were still in the end stages of a complete website redesign and in the early stages of bringing on a new member of the digital engagement team. So we found ourselves needing to expand our digital presence quickly, but without our shiny new website or an extra pair of hands, says Mara Kurlandsky, director of digital engagement.
One of NMWA’s major strengths has always been strong internal collaboration, and this time has been no different. Kathryn Wat, who is NMWA deputy director for art, programs and public engagement/chief curator, convened a digital content working group the first week we were closed, recognizing that it would take an “all hands on deck” approach to be successful. We circulated a form asking anyone in the museum willing to contribute to digital content creation to indicate what they were interested in working on and what special skills they had to contribute (such as digital editing skills).
Now we have a 20-something group of staffers communicating through Microsoft Teams, that’s enabled us to provide much needed content back-up to our digital content coordinator who runs our social media platforms, launch four new online exhibitions (including two that feature the exhibitions now inaccessible in the building), create our first coloring book, film Story Time videos, generate closed captioning, and assist on making the new website ready for launch. It has been really fun and successful, and we plan to keep this group going beyond the reopening of the museum.
Social Media and Digital Platforms: On social media, our strategy has been to stay true to our mission and continue what we already do best: educate the public about great art by women, highlight the inequality that women artists face, but never take ourselves too seriously. We closed in the middle of our Women’s History Month campaign, #5WomenArtists, and decided to keep going with it into early April since it always includes a lot of engagement.
Social Media: We also extended the popular #5WomenArtists Instagram takeovers (where other museums take over and highlight five women artists in their collections) indefinitely. We now have enough museums signed on to do takeovers into August. We’ve also been finding ways to creatively link our mission to what people are looking for such as “stay at home” recommendations like books, games, or podcasts about women artists; expressing gratitude to healthcare and frontline workers, and adding our own twist to other museum social media initiatives. For example, we’ll show you our animal co-workers, but they’re going to tell you about their favorite women artists. And in the middle of everything, we won a Webby Award for our Instagram account! It could not have come at a better time as it feels like confirmation that we are doing what we are supposed to be doing.
Programming: The education department launched a weekly series called Art Chats @ Five, which brings together a small group over video conferencing for an engaging discussion about a few works of art, similar to the weekly gallery talks we usually offer. They have been extremely popular.
Collection: From Kathryn Wat, deputy director for art, programs and public engagement/chief curator, “Additions to the museum’s collection over the past few months reflect NMWA’s commitment to sharing the fullest story of women and art as well as our supporters’ critical role in that effort. There are so many examples of NMWA patrons who embrace our mission and step up to help us build our collection in exciting ways. Members of a collecting group called the Photography Buyers Syndicate donated a staggering 166 photographs by renowned photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark. We’ve exhibited Mark’s gripping images of people who live away from mainstream society a number of times over the years, and receiving this group of works that span her entire storied career was thrilling. We have also recently acquired works by Rania Matar, Delita Martin and Joana Vasconcelos.”
The Peale is a home for Baltimore stories, and aims to be a safe space for the voices of the city’s diverse communities to be heard.
Message from the Director, Nancy Proctor: “The Peale is a home for Baltimore stories, and aims to be a safe space for the voices of the city’s diverse communities to be heard. It is the Peale’s mission to listen to and amplify the voices of the unheard, so that Baltimore’s soundtrack is inclusive and represents the city’s full diversity. As the country responds in this historic moment to police brutality and centuries of systemic oppression of people of African descent, we recognize that our work to share and preserve the voices and stories of Black Baltimore remains critical, and we have so much more to do.”
Online Programming: We are pausing our online programming for the rest of the month of June in order to focus on amplifying the voices and stories of the black and brown storytellers we work with, and listening for other ways we can support Baltimore’s communities right now. Recordings of our earlier programs, including webinars on fundraising and other resources for storytellers, remain freely available on our website.
Digital Exhibitions: As a result of our work with the MW20 Online conference, the Peale is creating a digital exhibition and meeting space in Second Life. Nettrice Gaskins is a Baltimore-born artist, now based in Boston, who mounted an exhibition of her work in Second Life and was also a keynote speaker during the conference. The Peale will be extending the run of this show and offering related programming shortly. You can see some of Nettrice’s work in the Auditorium here.
Storytellers Fund: In this time of pandemic we are temporarily unable to serve as a physical platform for sharing Baltimore’s stories, but we continue to help the city’s storytellers be heard online and across the digital divide as well. Today—and every day—if you have an authentic Baltimore story to tell, we are here to help you share it. You can record your story and hear others’ via our iPhone app, website and our new Storytelling Hotline: 1-833-TEL-STRY (833-835-7879). Our staff photographer and storytelling ambassador, Daisy Brown, is recording the voices and portraits of people she encounters around Baltimore and she’d love to hear from you!
An African American Journey curriculum lessons and new family activity worksheets to engage teachers, students and parents in e-learning.
Reginald F. Lewis Museum
Reginald F. Lewis Museum
Message from the Director, Jackie Copeland: “During these difficult times as we practice social distancing, it is important for the Lewis Museum to stay connected with our community virtually, using our online resources to promote Maryland African American history and culture. We look forward to the day when our visitors can once again walk through the doors of our museum, but until then, you can find us online.”
Digital Offerings: The Reginald F. Lewis Museum, although temporarily closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is intently focused on engaging with our audiences in a virtual way. Our virtual offerings can be found on our social media pages and website. What may have been a challenge at first has now become an opportunity to have ongoing and diverse online programs that appeal to local and national audiences of all ages. We will continue to engage audiences—even those who have never visited the museum—and be responsive to the needs of our community.
Accessing the Collection: The Lewis’ Online Collection Portal features more than 6,000 digitized images of items from our permanent collection including objects, documents, artwork and photographs from 1784 to the present day. Some of the items in our portal are not yet on view in our galleries.
Social Media: The museum’s social media pages—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube—provide stories of notable people and events in Maryland African American history, weekly storytelling, artists’ stories, video oral histories, and crowdsourcing activities.
Online Educational Resources: An African American Journey curriculum lessons and new family activity worksheets to engage teachers, students and parents in e-learning. We are working on an interactive, virtual tour of the museum’s third floor Permanent Exhibition.
Support: We hope to be a place of inspiration, innovation, and education. Most of our events are free to attend, we do, however, encourage donations so we can continue to offer these programs and events.
At this moment more than ever it is important for us to provide an ecosystem that sustains creativity, where art is what defines us and reminds us of our shared humanity.
The Walters Art Museum
Reopening Plan: Right now, along with many other cultural institutions across the state, The Walters is following public health guidance in terms of establishing a timeline for re-opening. They have assembled a task force of museum staff focused on safely re-opening and have distributed a survey on what our visitors would like to see in terms of safety and precautions. Over 1,300 people responded and we’re working to interpret the results.
Message from the Director, Julia Marciari-Alexander: “The Walters’ mission is to bring art and people together, and that mission rings true for our entire arts community right now. At this moment more than ever it is important for us to provide an ecosystem that sustains creativity, where art is what defines us and reminds us of our shared humanity. The Walters works with more than 300 local artists each year and at a time when many organizations and members of that community face an uncertain future regarding employment and funding, we believe that this commitment is more important now than ever.”
Digital Offerings: The Walters’ digital programming is continuing to add to our already robust digital presence, as the Walters was a leader among museums in digitizing its collections. Our award-winning website Ex Libris provides access to many of the museum’s manuscripts.
Interactive Opportunities: The Walters’ Virtual Museum page features free coloring pages, art-making videos, and art lessons and activities for teachers and students of all ages. We’ve also started Walters Classroom Connects, which are print-and-go worksheets specifically designed for students learning from home with little or no internet access. These worksheets are based on MSDE standards and feature works from the Walters collection. So far, we’ve created worksheets geared towards third-grade and eighth-grade students with more planned. We have partnered with Baltimore City schools and distributed 600 copies at meal pick-up sites.
Programming: We’ve launched free digital programs that emphasize the work of local artists and debut each Thursday on our social media platforms. Free Thursday night programming has long been a tradition at the Walters and has resulted in some of its most well-attended events, including talks and lectures, performances, and art-making activities.
The featured digital programs include many of the Walters’ favorite offerings, like Art Sound Now, the popular series that pairs local musicians with works of art from the Walters collections, as well as live talks with curators and studio tours with local artists.