As Doors To The Arts Stay Closed, Colorado Museums Swing (Virtual) Windows Wide Open
Art is often something people turn to in times of distress but right now, every expression — whether it's movie theaters, concert venues or museums — is closed due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of these organizations have found some way to bring art to patrons online. But museums were really on the forefront of the movement. Even before widespread stay-at-home orders went into place and concerts and plays began getting canceled en masse, institutions like MoMA in New York and the Louvre in Paris began offering up free virtual tours.
The Longmont Museum had only recently opened its exhibition from Louisville sculptor Terry Maker before having to shut down because of the coronavirus. The museum had already been using 360 virtual tours to document exhibits so it made sense to make those available to the public online, said Joan Harrold, marketing and development manager for the museum. Each Tuesday they post a new tour from a past exhibit.
"I think people are craving ways to stay connected right now and to have some sense of normalcy," Harrold said. "So for these programs that we would normally have at the museum to be available in this new, virtual platform — I think — helps people feel like there's something in their life that they can still look forward to and feel some kind of control over."
Like many museums, they've also moved some of their in-person events online, including their Thursdays at the Museum salon offerings, like discussions and paint and sip courses, as well as children's arts and craft lessons. Previously, the museum charged admission for these, but right now they're free.
There are ways people can continue to help support museums at whatever level their budget can handle, Harrold said. That can be anything from not asking for a refund on an event that was canceled, to taking out a membership. Some museums are even keeping their online gift shops open.
The public can also help them add to their collections. Many museums, including the Museum of Boulder and History Colorado, are looking for help documenting what life is like for people right now. Longmont teamed up with its public library to create a StoryCorps-style program, Strongmont Stories, to record oral histories. Once it's safe, they'll also be accepting physical items.
"Masks are the first thing that come to mind for me just because it's such a symbolic item of this timeline right now," Harrold said. "I think that there will be a lot of things that might be more clear retrospectively as far as what's historically significant. But I think it's a unique time that we're all actively living through what we already understand is a historic moment right now, so we certainly want to be documenting that in all the ways we can."
But it's still uncertain as to how and when the pandemic will be considered a past event that museums can move forward from, Harrold said.
Gov. Jared Polis' rollout of approved reopenings — including retail and personal services — does not yet include venues such as museums and theaters. The maximum number of people in a space is still limited to 10.
"Hopefully that will go well and we'll continue to see larger gatherings being safe," Harrold said. "We're just watching and waiting and standing by for the time when it will be safe for us to reopen."
Meanwhile, here are some ways you can take advantage of local museum exhibitions online (as well as ways you can help them):
Denver Art Museum: You can browse the Denver Art Museum's entire collection online.
Latino Cultural Arts Center of Colorado: After it had to postpone the opening of its "Hecho en Colorado" exhibit, the Latino Cultural Arts Center of Colorado got area Latinx artists to help them put together a downloadable coloring book.
Museum of Contemporary Art Denver: The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver is going back to past exhibits and offering up interesting blogs to stay connected with patrons. They're also moving some events, like the storytelling game show One Two Kazoo! online.
Denver Museum of Nature and Science: The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is doing weekly chats with its staff members on Thursdays to look at topics in-depth. Recent DMNS@Home sessions include a look at the archaeological studies looking at the bones of Colorado cannibal Alferd Packer's victims and a presentation by Blue Marble Space Institute of Science astrobiologist Graham Lau about the study for life on other planets.
Loveland Museum/Gallery: And if you still really need to get your art-fix live and in-person, you can download activities to do with the family at Benson Sculpture Gardens. Most city public art programs have similar maps so you can create your own walking art tour no matter where you live.
Museum of Art Fort Collins: While its annual Masks fundraiser has been put on hold, the museum continues with mask-themed events online along with craft sessions so kids can make their own masks at home.
Greeley Museum: The museum has featured blogs that look at the current pandemic through the lens of the past, including one on the history of the "Pest House," an "isolation hospital" where those with very contagious diseases were quarantined in the early 1900s.
History Colorado: The museum is hosting virtual discussions including presentations regarding how Colorado handled the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918.