Welcoming You from Afar

Self-Portrait, Samuel Fosso, (Kumba, Cameroon, 1962 — ), Gelatin silver print, 20 in. x 20 in. (50.8 cm x 50.8 cm), Knight Purchase Fund for Photographic Media, 2006.31

The Akron Art Museum’s galleries may be closed, but many of the experiences that our patrons value are still available at any time. The AAM team has been hard at work developing engaging and exciting virtual connections to our collection. Each week on social media we share in-depth collection content on Mondays and Thursdays, studio experiences on Wednesdays, stories on Saturdays, and games on Sundays. Our online content reflects our desire to continue sharing our collection in creative ways and to provide interactive activities for a wide variety of audiences to enjoy. Our new podcast, Relief, posted each Tuesday, shares stories of the collection, our community, and how art can help us make sense of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Summer usually offers the promise of socializing, so this year AAM’s summer programming takes socializing virtual. Offerings give patrons a chance to learn and share their insights. On the second Sunday of every month, playful creativity is the order of the day at Family Days at Home, provided by PNC. AAM After Work, the last Thursday of every month, is a chance to unwind from the stress of working from home, while Coffee with the Collection is an opportunity to gain new insights into art.

In an effort to entertain, surprise, and educate our patrons, the AAM team quickly gathered its resources and adapted to the new virtual norm, providing virtual tours and #TryThis videos, and even launching the global initiative #MuseumGames with contributors such as The Getty, Canadian Museum of History, and The Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Virtual tours have allowed us to meet patrons’ new needs while maintaining our connection to them. A combination of fun, light-hearted stories and deep, meaningful content continues to entertain across the spectrum of art lovers. Our summer programs and wide range of virtual offerings have served as a way for larger audiences to fully experience the museum without ever leaving their homes. This has allowed us to carry on our mission of enriching lives through modern and contemporary art even though the museum is closed.

But, the accomplishment we are probably most excited about is our new podcast, Relief, made possible with the support of Ohio Arts Council. Although the idea was several months in the making, the podcast was finally born as a direct result of COVID-19—after just a few weeks of being at home in quarantine, it became clear that we could all use a little relief! In the podcast, staff members share insights from their own lives, interspersed with conversations about the collection and interviews with regional artists and musicians.

The podcast’s first topic was “Care.” In this episode, we dive into how care has changed in the context of stay-at-home orders. We started by identifying people in our community who are making a positive impact on everyone’s time, energy, and health. We also highlight the work of Brian Bress and then talk with So Fun Studio’s Erin Guido and John Paul Costello, a lively collaborative duo living in Ohio City. Together, Erin and John create joyful and light-hearted interactive public art and products, some of which you may have seen around Cleveland and at the Akron Art Museum’s Please Touch! exhibit in 2017. They talk about their love for Brian Bress, how creating IS self-care, and their must-have desert island art studio needs. Overall, this podcast could not have started at a better moment. During these times of so much uncertainty, we are happy to provide listeners with some relief.

The summer has also given us an opportunity to partner with The University of Akron, Kent State University, the Cleveland Institute of Art, and Oberlin College for virtual student thesis shows: Final Studies. Each afternoon in July, the Museum’s social media platforms are featuring artwork by graduate and undergraduate students from these institutions.

The final thesis exhibition is an important milestone in a young artist’s career. It typically focuses on a body of work presented in a gallery setting—something that hasn’t been possible this year, leaving students to miss out on the experience of a thesis exhibition and the chance to present their art. All the hard work that culminates in this experience was without an audience.

AAM wanted to help support these students by sharing its social platform and creating a digital exhibition space for them. Beyond the images of artwork that we are posting each afternoon, we also include additional photos, bios, and artist’s statements on our blog for a more in-depth look. The talent and imagination that these artists manifest will be essential in documenting and interpreting our present reality.

Final Studies are in partnership with The University of Akron and are made possible with support from Fifth Third Bank and the Robert O. and Annamae Orr Family Foundation.