UT’s Blanton Museum of Art, like the rest of the university, closed its doors to visitors on March 13 and has remained closed ever since. But the museum still has art on display and a staff full of people who want to share that art with the community, so the team quickly began planning ways to share their exhibitions and permanent displays in a virtual way.
“Right when we closed… we pivoted and thought about what programs we had going on,” says Simone Wicha, the Blanton’s director. “We had exhibitions that were suddenly closed that we’d spent a lot of time preparing and wanting to share with the community.” What they came up with is a program they’re calling #MuseumFromHome.
Since they couldn’t invite the community into the museum, the Blanton staff decided to make the museum available in the homes of anyone who cared to visit, by creating online versions of current exhibitions, complete with insights from the curators. “We have these virtual visits to our galleries [available now],” Wicha says. “[with] a camera that scans the gallery space and then the curators either talking or sharing more information, and you can kind of walk up to the piece virtually.”
To further connect with art patrons, the Blanton has also been hosting virtual Q&As with museum staff on Tuesday afternoons, creating a sort of museum-from-home happy hour, complete with cocktail suggestions and drink recipes. That’s a great way for adults to connect with the Blanton, but with summer starting up (which is usually a time when more kids visit museums), Wicha says they're also gearing up to offer family- and kid-friendly projects though the #MuseumFromHome program.
Running an art museum that can’t allow in-person visitors is certainly a challenge, but Wicha says there have been some unexpected benefits to their current way of doing things. Since they’re reaching out in a virtual way, the Blanton is finding that they’re finding a broader audience than they would have otherwise – an exhibition on the 1920s Peruvian art magazine Amauta found audiences all over the world, Wicha says. “It’s been a response we’re really pleased with,” she adds.
One of the Blanton’s most popular installations is Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, the chapel-sized artwork that stands just outside the museum. Featuring colored glass windows, a large wood sculpture and fourteen marble panels, the building has become a major attraction for art lovers since it opened in 2015. Now, visitors from the world over can experience the work online. “It’s really sad to have that closed,” Wicha says. “especially in this time when I think we can all use a little bit of calm and just joy and beauty in our life, and so we decided to do a live cam of the lights from sunrise to sundown so you can see the colors of the lights as it changes in that space. And without this closure, we wouldn’t be able to do that. So there’s little moments of joy and specialness that are happening through this.”