WORCESTER – Employees at the Worcester Art Museum (or WAM) are working hard to continue providing access to art and art education and keep patrons engaged through the museum’s COVID-19-induced closure.
At first glance, the museum’s offerings – its 38,000-piece encyclopedic collection of artworks and artifacts, its studio classes, its opportunities for Worcester-area students – may not seem like the easiest possible things to translate remotely. But through creative new methods of connection, the museum and its employees are continuing to provide the resources for which they are so beloved in Worcester.
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WAM opened in 1898 and has been the site of many “firsts” in art history: it was the first museum in the world to buy a Monet water-lily painting, as well as one of the first to exhibit works of photography and to permanently install a relocated piece of architecture.
Today, the museum offers studio classes to the general public, and serves as the site of a free field trip for all fourth-graders in the city of Worcester each year.
The museum is now keeping up an energetic online presence, with daily art and history postings on their social media channels and free online art classes. The museum is currently also considering offering fee-based online classes as well for students who want more advanced or specific instruction during the closure.
“It’s not going to be 100% the same, but as a replacement for our spring classes, especially for the adults and the youth, just to continue that student community that we’ve had – they’re … clamoring for it,” said Elizabeth Buck, the manager of studio class programs at the museum. She said that many of the students in the museum’s classes have been coming there for years.
“We’re like their second home. We just want to keep everybody engaged,” she said.
Although the physical WAM building has closed, its employees are collaborating constantly to come up with new ways to engage with the community.
“We are embracing Zoom,” said Julieane Frost, senior marketing manager for the museum. However, she says, “In some cases, business is going on as usual.” Upcoming exhibits have been postponed but still require extensive planning, so employees are continuing to work on those more standard projects as well as on digital programming
One program that’s been created during this remote period is Art Together, a weekly video program with art activities for children and families, accompanied by story time and an “inspiration” art piece from the WAM collection. The program is free to access on the museum’s website.
“That’s something that seems to be well-received, and we might continue once we’re open,” Buck said.
In order to organize the art shared each week out of the tens of thousands of works in the collection, museum employees are working with a “Color of the Week” that themes the pieces they share on their website and social media pages. Each day, the museum posts images of artworks that fit the theme, as well as educational materials to go along with it.
In addition to providing art education and digital access to the collection, Frost says the museum is trying to be a positive force in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. The museum has donated nitrile gloves to the Mustard Seed food pantry and soup kitchen, a move that’s been echoed by other museums around the country.
WAM is also participating in a number of hashtag-based connection activities, like #museumbouquet, where museums and galleries send paintings and photographs of flowers to each other’s Twitter and Instagram pages, and #MuseumMomentofZen, which focuses on posting calming works of art to offer a brief break from global events.
Frost has observed a collaborative spirit within the museum while employees are working together. “One of the things that has impressed not just me, but many of my colleagues, is how everybody is just pulling together,” she said. “And it’s just been so heartwarming to see how, in our museum, people have been coming together from all different departments to help out.”
Images Courtesy of Worcester Art Museum/Troy Thompson Photography