Arts / Museums

The Best Virtual Museum Programs Across the Country

Create Your Own Still Life or Protest Poster, and Enjoy a Good Old-Fashioned Coloring Book

BY // 04.17.20

Having worked in the museum field for close to 20 years before coming to write full-time for PaperCity, I saw a lot change in terms of programs that institutions provide to further engage existing audiences and reach new ones as well.

Please don’t do the math to guess my age, but I was part of the  generation starting at museums as they were launching their websites. This was the mid to late 1990s, and I recall the excitement we all had. In this new online arena, what were the possibilities? Could we produce web-only exhibitions?

Well, museums have evolved and grown with the Internet but, in my opinion, have never fully made their sites rich enough. The argument is often still made that nothing can substitute for an in-person museum experience, that artworks can only be fully appreciated when viewed in the sanctity of museum galleries. That education programs need to be taught in-person by educators who know how to utilize art to engage young minds.

With COVID-19, those views seem to have changed dramatically — and with great speed. Most art institutions in the greater DFW area began sending out  announcements mid-March that they were shutting their doors and would remain closed to the public until further notice. Staff needed to follow the shelter-in-place mandate and begin working from home.

The very act of working from home, collectively, has led to some great and literal out-of-the-box (or perhaps Renzo Piano cube) thinking.

I’ve been amazed at how quickly my former colleagues and friends in the art-museum world have pivoted and come up with online programming that is unique, innovative, and, most importantly, true to their missions — often spotlighting works from their permanent collections. My colleague Megan Ziots wrote a piece last week about some of the unique offerings that can be found on a few Texas museum websites.

River Oaks District

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I’m sure you all have fond memories of museums you’ve visited around the world. Take a moment to see what they’re doing during these days when their galleries are dark.

Here are a few organizations around the country that are providing excellent online content. Need additional projects for home schooling? Check these out. Some of them look incredibly fun — particularly the one I found on SFMOMA’s website.

The High Museum of Art in Atlanta

The venerable High Museum of Art in Atlanta has assembled a sizable catalog of education programs under the umbrella title of their virtual offerings: The High @ Home. They’ve even ensured that their projects adhere to Georgia Standards of Excellence for those who are home schooling.

Another activity that caught my eye was creating your own still life out of some of your favorite things found around your home. On one level, this is a simple drawing exercise; on another, it speaks to what we value and cherish in our homes. Choosing the objects for your still life is a great conversation starter.

SFMOMA, located in San Francisco — one of the most liberal cities in the country — has some projects that seem unapologetically radical. The project I found was actually posted back in 2018, long before our current shelter-in-place lives. It was produced by Sergio De La Torre and Chris Treggiari of Sanctuary Print Shop and details how you can create your own protest poster.

I’m sure we all have issues that get us fired up. This activity was targeted at high school students, but I’ve seen with great optimism many of my friends’ young children (as young as five) share causes with me that they’re passionate about — the climate, social justice.

SFMOMA in San Francisco

The Art Institute of Chicago generally welcomes millions of visitors annually. But they’re also known for providing great online resources for families who are unable to make regular trips to their galleries. I’m especially drawn to their good old-fashioned coloring pages. On my next outing to the grocery store, I might pick up a box of crayons to color some of my favorite paintings: Grant Wood’s American Gothic or Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.

Other museum websites whose online activities you might want to check out include: Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami’s De-Construct DeStijl, Cleveland Museum of Art’s Family Fun: Feelings, and the Phillips Collection’s Making Musical Maracas.

Quite a few of my friends now find themselves working from home while simultaneously playing cook, cleaner and home schoolteacher. It’s a mighty task, juggling all of those responsibilities and seeking a moment of peace for a glass of chardonnay (wink wink). Hopefully some of these activities will keep your kids busy while you take a few minutes for yourself.

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