Closed to the public since March, the Pomona College Museum of Art has attempted to overcome the challenges of operating in a pandemic by offering creative and quirky ways for the community to stay connected to the exhibitions and art as a discipline.
The museum’s new virtual Art After Hours series presents a variety of programming, including student showcased music, panels, virtual exhibitions, workshops and more. This semester, the program goes live every Thursday, either on Zoom or on Instagram Live, at the account @bentonatpomona. So far this semester, the series has included a sustainable clockmaking workshop and weekly Q&Art sessions, where participants can ask museum- or art-related questions to a panel of the museum’s curatorial staff and student interns.
Justine Bae, the community and engagement manager at the museum, hosts the Art After Hours program along with intern Kathy Shepherd PO ’23.
Bae told TSL how the museum adjusted to the new reality of pandemic restrictions.
“Just as everyone has had to adjust to the new reality of a mostly digital world, so have the arts,” Bae said. “Before, we asked people to come to the museum. But now, we are asking people if we can come into their space.”
Bae outlined how the museum decided to approach this new setting where the public cannot actually access the exhibitions and resources in person.
“We asked ourselves, ‘How are we accessible to each other but also to our campus community?’” Bae said. “‘And how are we engaging our audiences beyond the screen while also being cognizant of this new perception of time?’”
This semester, Art After Hours not only serves its original purpose of making the museum and its resources accessible at different times but incorporates more of what attendees want to see and desire that the pandemic has made scarce.
“We know people want to do more tangible things in this virtual setting,” Bae said. “For example, the 5C Calligraphy Club did a workshop on hand lettering, but we also incorporated it with works in our collections that utilize type and words with a concurrent slideshow.”
Bae and Shepherd have also introduced a new series, Gallery Talk, to go more in-depth with individual works of art at the Museum.
“As part of Gallery Talk, our staff members will stream from the museum next to the work they are talking about,” said Bae. “The next one is on the 15th with professor Rosalía Romero talking about “Crossborder Photography” with the student curators who worked on it.”
Shepherd noted that the remote setting might have its perks as well.
“I think one of the hidden benefits of going virtual is how we have been able to interact with our permanent collection,” Shepherd said via email. “The Benton has over 2,000+ artworks in their permanent collection, but because of space issues most of the artwork is not on display.”
While the museum has been exceptionally innovative at keeping the 5C community connected to the exhibitions, Bae does not deny the hardships that come with a remote operation.
“It is not the same at all. You can’t see texture, gradients; you can’t have the same visceral experience as you would in person,” Bae said. “Not that art in the visual world is only 2D, but some things just do not have a replacement.”
Shepherd spoke about how her responsibilities as a museum intern also changed when the pandemic struck and how the program has expanded as a result.
“My internship used to involve manual labor,” Shepherd said. “This virtual semester we have [shifted] into discussion and have musicians participate in [Art After Hours]. I think it’s been so educational to be able to engage and discuss with the 5C members who have interests or a connection to the art world.”
However, Bae also believes that the creativity necessary to make art can inspire the same kind of tenacity to survive in a pandemic.
“The arts expand your mind and make you think outside of the box already,” Bae said. “In a way, the visual studies and arts, people engaged in that, are already prepared to be resilient and flexible in this kind of setting.”
Beyond Art After Hours, the Museum has come up with other ways to keep the public connected with the space. The museum’s official student-produced podcast, “Inside the Benton,” offers another way to stay engaged with the museum in a virtual environment and some insight into how a museum operates in a pandemic.
Art After Hours can be streamed every Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. PDT on Zoom or Instagram Live. If you are a student or group interested in being showcased, contact Justine Bae at firstname.lastname@example.org.