The Hood Museum of Art is adapting lessons learned from a remote spring and summer as restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic begin to loosen this fall term.
Hood staff—up to 10 at a time for now—are back in the museum, maintaining collections, filming and photographing objects for use in virtual classes, and developing programming.
Still, John Stomberg, the Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director of the Hood, says, “The Hood will remain largely a virtual experience this fall. We are focusing on fewer programs, but delving into them deeper.”
One example is this year’s annual Dr. Allen W. Root Distinguished Contemporary Art Lecture, a live webinar beginning at 4:45 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 2. Jessica Hong, associate curator for global contemporary art, will moderate a conversation with guests Jasmine Wahi, the Holly Block Social Justice Curator at the Bronx Museum, and Yesomi Umolu, director and curator of the Logan Center Exhibitions at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago, on how museums can confront their colonial legacies and work toward racial equity, social justice, and systemic change.
The virtual event is free and open to the public (registration required). Following the session, students will have the opportunity to have a Zoom discussion with Wahi, moderated by Hong.
“Challenging times bring about innovative solutions, and the Hood is no exception to that,” says Stomberg. “The Hood is still here, and we’re still active.”
When the pandemic shuttered the Hood back in March, several of its planned spring exhibitions—including a major show of contemporary Native American ceramics—had either just opened or were about to open. Those shows remain in the empty galleries, and Cannupa Hanska Luger’s clay bead installation, Every One (#MMIWT Bead Project), still glows pink every evening in the Hood’s giant vitrine window overlooking the Green.
“The museum looks beautiful,” says Stomberg, who hopes the Dartmouth community will be able to see for itself in the winter. “That’s the sound of me knocking wood,” he says.
In the meantime, the Hood is putting a spotlight on the many works of public art viewers can still see in person—including the new Ursula von Rydingsvard sculpture, Wide Babelki Bowl, which was installed in front of Rollins Chapel in August. (See a video of Hong discussing the sculpture.)
Of the developing remote classroom experiences for faculty and students this spring and summer, says Amelia Kahl ’01, the Andrew W. Mellon Associate Curator of Academic Programming, “the biggest takeaway is that things can work really well, and it’s gotten more effective as everyone has gotten more comfortable with the technology.”
Now that they have access to the collections, staff can do even more to support teaching and learning. “We’re able to film objects in the Bernstein Study Center so that even over Zoom students can get a sense of things like scale that are hard to see in a photograph,” Kahl says.
The hope for this fall is to be able allow individuals and small groups of students to make appointments to visit the galleries or the object-study rooms in person. “And for students who are remote this term, when you do get back on campus, you can make an appointment with me to see anything you looked at virtually,” Kahl says.
Each year the Hood engages a cohort of student interns who learn how the museum works and each curate a “Space for Dialogue” exhibition drawing on objects from the collections. In 2020-2021, these exhibitions will be online.
The shift to virtual student exhibitions has a precedent in the model developed when the museum was closed for renovation and expansion in 2017. The virtual platform “gives students a similar soup-to-nuts curatorial experience,” Kahl says. “The goal is not to replicate an in-gallery space but to think about the pros and cons of a website and what it means to put objects in relationship there.”
As for the “Space for Dialogue” shows from the 2019-2020 academic year that had to be put on hold, Kahl says they will go up eventually. “Five of the six interns didn’t get to do their shows, but they had done all the work for it,” Kahl says. “We feel a commitment to those students. We don’t know exactly when, but the current plan is to show them next year if we can.”
One of last year’s interns, Devon Mifflin ’21, did get to show her “Space for Dialogue”—Vision 2020: What Do You See?—just before the museum closed in March. “It was a very special experience—I didn’t know how special it was then,” says Mifflin, who calls the Hood “the best resource that we have on campus.”
Mifflin is a founding member of the Museum Club, a group whose activities include, in a normal term, hosting the popular “Hood After 5” events in galleries. With the Hood closed, the club collaborated with staff to come up with remote programming, including a virtual panel of alumni museum professionals who spoke about career opportunities in the arts; and downloadable Hood-themed coloring pages and word search puzzles that students could print themselves—“a way to unwind and relax that wasn’t something else on the computer,” Mifflin says.
The Hood has also been developing ways to help students stay connected remotely via social media platforms—including, among other initiatives, a series of museum-based Tuesday trivia on Instagram; art-based mindfulness videos in collaboration with the Student Wellness Center; and a challenge to re-create favorite artworks from home.
Hannah Silverstein can be reached at email@example.com.