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ROCKLAND, Maine – When a pandemic forced cultural institutions to close their doors in March, people at the Farnsworth Museum of Art and the Maine Center for Contemporary Art knew that they still needed to give Mainers a way to immerse themselves in art.
The idea of art as a way to establish relationships between people and to help people express themselves during a period of mental hardship is the driving force behind the decision to take this famous art institute be a virtual space for now.
“We are somewhat interested in the idea that self-expression is an important component of health and well-being and that is an important thing about art and being in a museum. “People use art all the time to express the things they face or the difficulties of dealing with and how difficult it is to be in such a world,” said Farnsworth’s Head of Progress Ann Scheflen.
Second Farnsworth and CMCA have their collections available online before the forced closure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But now the museum offers a powerful online program around the volume of this artwork for all viewers.
Involving children in art is a top priority for both institutions. After closing, one of Farnsworth’s art educators arranged a green screen in his home and began recording online lessons for use by teachers. Under normal circumstances, Farnsworth works with around 17,000 students across the state through the Arts in Education program.
“The classroom is still in a meeting [virtually] and has a kind of curriculum but art is rather low on the priority list, “Scheflen said. “But for teachers who work with us, they know how important art is at a time like this.”
At CMCA, age-detailed lesson plans are made around each of their past exhibitions – available for viewing via virtual tours on their website. An art camp scheduled for an April break instead of being moved to Facebook Live, where they also hold Saturday’s art-making workshops for all ages.
In an effort to keep their follower community connected and involved, Farnsworth began publishing bulletins that came out twice a week. It contains everything from curator talks centered around the museum’s collection to interviews with local artists and artmaking activities at home.
The list of newsletter subscriptions has doubled week after week, Scheflen said, and inspired strangers to give donations to the museum with gratitude.
“Art is about expressing the things you see and feel. We know it is something that leads to better health and well-being, “Scheflen said. “Just because the building is closed, there is still art around. By switching online, we feel we really help people. “
The museums must also think about ways to maintain the social aspects of art when people cannot gather to celebrate. Next month, CMCA will host the opening of its first online exhibition. The virtual tour of artist Erin Johnson’s new exhibition will launch on June 6, followed by a reception held through the Zoom video conferencing platform, where Johnson and others will speak.
“We just ask everyone to pour a glass of wine for themselves and have some useful snacks and such have a festive atmosphere from everyone who gathered for the virtual opening,” said CMCA Executive Director Suzette McAvoy.
While the closure has caused challenges, there are also some unexpected benefits for the museum. With an online presence, Maine art that is in the spotlight of every museum is now reaching a national audience.
“This allows us to expand our audience in ways we did not expect. “Our reach is not only in the entire state, it is far outside,” McAvoy said.
In addition, with the complicated summer galley canceled, museum staff have more time to launch projects that they could not do before. The CMCA included launching a 10-week art history course led by one of the museum association curators. With a registration limit of 20 people, the course – held weekly through Zoom – is almost full with 19 participants.
In its current position, Farnsworth hopes to reopen in June and CMCA hopes to reopen July 1. However, social distance guidelines must be upheld and there will be a limit on the number of people who can visit the museum at one time.
“There is no substitute for being in the presence of physical art,” McAvoy said. “We will all be excited to do that when we can safely gather again.”
Watch: Janet Mills outlines her plans for reopening
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