Michelle Hargrave, CEO and executive director of the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, discusses the venue's operations during this period of social distancing. We previously spoke on March 27, and again on Friday, August 28.
Re-Opening the Doors
We re-opened to members on June 6 and to the public on June 9, and I'd say the response to the museum's re-opening and our current safety precautions has really been overwhelmingly positive. So many people are just really thrilled to be back at the museum and have a chance to experience the art – there's really nothing like standing in front of a work of art and seeing in person. And we're, of course, just thrilled to have them back.
For those who would prefer to do so, you are able to make an online reservation and come at a specific time. We are limiting the number of people who come into the museum at a set time, as well, to allow for social-distancing, of course. We are limiting visits to two-hour sessions – either two or two-and-a-half depending on the time of day – and we have 30-minute breaks in between each of those sessions to allow for cleaning and sanitizing. We are requiring that all visitors three years and up wear masks over their mouths and their noses, we've got hand-sanitizing stations on every level, and, of course, we're encouraging people to wash their hands frequently and follow CDC hygiene guidelines. And we do have signage posted throughout the museum to remind people about social distancing and other safety measures, and also have plexi shields up in the store and at the front desk for our visitor-facing staff.
People have said that they feel like we're actually the safest place in the Quad Cities. (Laughs.) Which we're happy to hear. One visitor shared that her 90-year-old mother's first visit out of the house since March was to the museum. And that just warmed my heart – that she felt safe enough to bring her here.
As happy as people are to be back, though, attendance is light, and we do realize that many people are just not ready to venture out yet. So although we've re-opened our doors, we will obviously continue with our online outreach, and that will move forward synergistically with our on-site programs. Our Thursday night programs tend to draw large crowds, and so those will be virtual for the foreseeable future.
We've been very much committed to our virtual outreach, and I really have to commend the Figge staff who've quickly adapted to this crisis. You know, we immediately created and redirected resources to our virtual museum and our social media, where our audiences – and audiences everywhere – are able to enjoy this new programming that we've put in place. Especially because 2020 was the year of two significant milestones for the Figge.
In May, we made our final payment on our construction for our beautiful building, and on August 6, we celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of the opening of that building to the public. So for that anniversary, we really thought carefully about how we could celebrate that event, and how we could do it safely allow everyone to participate. So we transitioned those celebrations to primarily virtual events that ran for 15 days from the sixth to the 21st, and those events highlighted some of the Figge's many high points and successes over the past 15 years.
We did have some in-person camps over the summer, and we got really positive feedback on that. Again, we had a number of safety measures in place for that, including keeping the camps small and enforcing social distancing and mask wearing. So that was really terrific, and we're looking at options for other in-person classes and talks. But for the near-future, we're really focusing on our virtual outreach.
I will also say, though, that we are working on our Family Day activities, because that's also a big part of what we offer the community, and we are planning to do monthly Family Days that will focus on either different celebrations and events or various exhibitions. And as always, we offer free admission for those Family Days. One of them is our annual Day of the Dead [Día de Los Muertos] celebration that typically draws over 4,000 people each year. Obviously, that's not something we can do in person this year, but we're working with our partners to find ways to still celebrate that holiday, and we're in the process of finalizing the details, and we'll be sharing those soon.
In general, we're working very closely with the schools and the teachers and parents to make sure that we're really helping them out at a time that they could really use the help, and when, I think, our help is most needed. So we're working to bring students and teachers and art together as much as possible in these tough times. We're really committed to continuing to serve them and meet the needs of the community in innovative ways.
Four Fall Exhibits
We're keeping busy! (Laughs.) We've got quite a few exhibits coming up. We've got one that's called Seating by Design [September 19 through January 17], and that is curated by a professor at the University of Iowa, Monica Correia, and it will feature a range of innovative furniture designs that are created by former students of the University of Iowa's 3D Design program. And these designs will demonstrate the various materials, technologies, engineering, and craftsmanship that go into making a good chair, really. So anyone who's interested in, you know, reclaiming furniture, woodworking, interior design, unique concept furniture – this is the show for you. And we hope it will inspire ideas and new ways to consider the things that we are sitting on so much. Particularly nowadays while we're spending so much time in our homes. (Laughs.)
Another is called Haitian Masterworks [October 3 through January 24], and that's drawn from our permanent collection. As people may know, we're home to one of the largest collections of Haitian art in the United States thanks to a 1967 gift from Dr. Walter Nighswander, and from his gift, our collection has grown significantly and includes a dynamic range of artwork in a variety of mediums and styles. So this exhibition will highlight some of the masterworks from our collection, and will show some works that actually haven't been on view ever in our new building. So that's exciting, and it will also feature some recent acquisitions, too, and focus on some prevalent themes in Haitian art including spirituality, transformation, the natural world, everyday life, and Haitian history.
The title of another exhibition, New American Scene [October 10 through January 3], describes the work of artists who gravitated toward natural depictions of American subjects during the 20s and 30s, including artists like Grant Wood and John Bloom and Thomas Hart Benton. But this exhibition will also look at artists who focus more on the city as opposed to the regionalists who tended to focus on rural communities rather than the busy metropolises. So we're looking at artists who are continuing on in that vein and looking at things from a contemporary lens, including Adolph Rosenblatt, Rose Frantzen, Mark Messermsith … . These are all artists we've recently added to our collection.
And Living Proof [September 26 through December 13] is back this year. It is such a wonderful partnership, and we're so pleased to be working with that organization on this exhibition. This features artwork created by cancer survivors, and this gives them a chance to really celebrate and reflect upon their survival through the artwork. So we'll have a number of programs around this event, as well, and I have to say we're just really thrilled to be able to feature it.
Figge Café Re-Opening on September 8
I'm so excited about that! (Laughs.) Jason Stewart is our new chef. He's a chef at Zeke's Island Cafe, and he's really excited to have a restaurant downtown where he can work. And we're super-excited about his offerings, and talking about other ways that we can partner with him in bringing culinary anthropology to the Figge and to our programs. I'm really looking forward to that. And I've missed being able to each lunch in the café. (Laughs.)
I wish I had a crystal ball and knew where we were going. And when. But I guess I would say we're all adapting to a new reality, and we're getting used to that new reality. I don't think we're anywhere near returning to normalcy. But we're making do. We're making the best of the situation that we're currently in, and all finding new ways to bring art and people together safely.