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Rutgers' Zimmerli Art Museum introduces new virtual programs, exhibitions

Though the physical building of the Zimmerli Art Museum remains closed during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the museum continues to engage its audience via online programs and exhibitions.  – Photo by The Daily Targum

The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers recently introduced its lineup of virtual programs for the new year, despite the physical building remaining closed and the suspension of in-person events, according to a press release.

Although art programs must be held virtually and exhibitions can only be viewed through its website, called “Zimmerli at Home,” Amanda Potter, the Zimmerli's curator of education and interpretation, said the museum had a lot of success with its offerings in the Fall 2020 semester.

The Zimmerli has a variety of options available, including programs such as "Saturday Sparks," a series of adult art workshops focused on watercolors and oil pastels, and "Art Adventures," an eight-week program designed for students aged 7 to 14, according to its website.

“Our instructors are really fun, and even though … we're not able to work together in person, I think the classes are still really engaging,” Potter said. “We've had both students and community members tell us how much they've enjoyed those classes.”

Since the workshops are virtual, she said she has heard of families from other states signing up to take classes together. Moving forward, she said they will continue to record programs since there is an audience for them even outside of New Jersey.

Potter said that throughout her 15 years in the museum field, she never could have imagined that a museum program could be run without all the members present together.

“It has been gratifying to connect with our audience online during the pandemic,” said Nicole Simpson, the assistant curator of prints and drawings and chair of the virtual museum working group at the Zimmerli. 

The new group, whose mission is to expand the Zimmerli's online presence, is working in collaboration with colleagues from across the museum and has already generated videos, audio playlists, downloadable Zoom backgrounds and virtual exhibitions for audiences to interact with, she said.

For the future, the Zimmerli is also considering online art programs for senior citizens and programs that mix both live and virtual instruction, Potter said.

“(This is) not exactly groundbreaking technology, but … for us, it's just like a shift in priorities,” she said.

The program, “BLOOM: Explore Self-Expression and Growth Through Art,” is another way for the museum to connect with audiences, and it involves free, public sessions that combine mindfulness, movement and storytelling, according to its website.

“We want people to understand that art doesn't have to be … an intimidating thing,” Potter said. “There's no right or wrong way to approach a work of art, and so, if yoga or meditation is something that you're interested in, maybe that's the way that you connect with art … It is a way of inviting reflection and relaxation into your life.”

Carla Zurita, an education coordinator at the Zimmerli, is also a member of Sisterwork, a New Brunswick start-up committed to addressing intergenerational poverty in the community, which she said will facilitate the program by contributing to the conversation about mindfulness.

“(The series will be taught) with both Spanish and English instruction, to make it as accessible as possible to most community members, and also it allows us an opportunity to invite and facilitate a workshop that includes both New Brunswick community members and Rutgers students,” she said.

The staff at the Zimmerli has also been able to attend and interact with virtual classes, Simpson said. The exhibition, “Musings by Moonlight: The Moon from Japanese Art to Japonism,” is one such example.

Curated by Simpson, in collaboration with Haruko Wakabayashi, assistant professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, and her Spring 2020 semester class, “From Text to Image in Japanese Art,” this exhibition showcases the work of Wakabayashi’s students as they interact with Japanese texts and artwork.

“While the basics of organizing an exhibition — selecting the works and writing labels — are the same for both physical and virtual exhibitions, there were some challenges and unexpected bonuses to creating an online show,” she said. “Since we weren’t constrained by a physical gallery space, we could choose and arrange the artworks however we liked.”

Curators and education staff are looking to continue virtual sessions throughout various departments at Rutgers in the spring, including the Department of Art and Design, the Department of Art History and the Department of Chemistry, Simpson said.

Potter said they are hoping to welcome back students in the Fall 2021 semester, depending on the University’s guidelines, and in the meantime, although there is no exact launch date as of yet, the Zimmerli will be unveiling its new website sometime in the spring.

“We're just very, very excited to have that as a resource for us as well,” she said.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article stated Potter worked at the Zimmerli Art Museum for 15 years.


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