Nearly two weeks ago, museums and galleries across North Texas canceled upcoming events and closed their doors to the public in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. For the foreseeable future, the paintings of Matisse and Picasso, the sculptures of Serra and Moore will look unto hallowed halls suddenly empty–and yet, they still welcome visitors. The institutions which have kept us culturally fed throughout our lives are learning new ways to enrich our lives in the age of social distancing.
While the physical experience of these places cannot be replicated–and, admittedly, we already miss watching “The Dance” at Dallas Contemporary, wandering through the corridors of the DMA, the smell of fresh paint on a gallery wall–the uplifting power of artwork cannot be quashed, not even by a pandemic. It’s not a question of whether the museums will adapt, it’s a question of how.
For the Dallas Museum of Art, the closure came just days before the debut of For a Dreamer of Houses, a major exhibition of works from the museum’s collection which included several recent acquisitions. While the DMA is still working on creating a virtual tour of that show, the museum quickly responded to the COVID-19 crisis by giving its visitors the digital programming they’re craving.
A new “Museum Mondays” newsletter launched this week, providing a peek into the shuttered galleries by spotlighting individual artworks and recordings of past speaking engagements and discussions. The DMA’s Instagram feed has also shifted for the times, giving tours of the collection through brief but informative posts, and including a daily #MuseumMomentofZen. The museum plans to introduce more virtual museum experiences and behind-the-scenes content, and you can already view the show speechless: different by design in an online format.
Dallas Contemporary is taking a similar approach with a newly launched digital hub called #dcfromhome. In addition to moving curated-guided exhibition tours to the website, the initiative will bring DC lovers “programming” like at-home art-making activities, lesson plans and discussion guides, and a weekly playlist curated by DJ Sober. All of that is neatly packaged on this page of the museum’s website.
As a non-collecting museum, the disruptions caused by coronavirus could have a greater effect on Dallas Contemporary than collecting museums like the DMA and Kimbell. Mounting exhibitions of traveling artwork will pose a challenge even after things “go back to normal.” The shows slated to open at the end of March, which included the work of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and the photographer Paolo Roversi, have been postponed indefinitely. It’s likely that the rest of the year will look very different than Dallas Contemporary had planned. Deputy Director Carolina Alvarez-Mathies says that the museum has been in close communication with the artists and will have a clear plan in the coming weeks.
The Nasher has also announced that it will roll out more online programming in coming weeks to accommodate “This New Digital Life” we’ve found ourselves in.
The Perot Museum of Nature and Science has faced some unique challenges as it adapts to a digital format. The Perot is generally more interactive than art museums, where the main activity is viewing; it’s a place for play as much as it’s a place of learning. Needless to say, the virtual platform needed to be just as engaging for scientists of all ages.
As a solution, the museum made a new section on its website “Amaze Your Brain at Home,” which so far includes informative videos, at-home activities for various age groups, and lists of scientific fun facts to browse. Like the other museums, the Perot notes that more content is coming soon as its staff refocuses on online programming.
Of course, Dallas’ museums aren’t the only ones dealing with the complications of pandemic-induced self isolation. At this point, most major museums across the globe have physically closed to the public and shifted to serve audiences remotely. One good thing about visiting museums virtually is that you don’t have to stay in Dallas–you can explore pretty much any major art venue through the Google Arts & Culture app–but either way, these platforms offer a moment of respite in dark times. Or, at the very least, a way to distract the kids for an hour.