When The New York Times published its seasonal special section on museums on Friday, March 13, it was already too late. That day, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the president declared a national emergency, and venues all over the country set about shutting their doors until further notice.
Browsing through those pages, I fought back tears to see brilliant shows at fabulous exhibition sites advertised in gorgeous displays, some of them two pages wide. Uncountable donor dollars spent, staff hours worked, plans made, contracts drawn up, masterpieces shipped - and now, none of it even visitable.
Closer to home, every museum and gallery is closed indefinitely. I could barely count all the emails I've received announcing these measures, from top venues like Chesterwood, The Hyde Collection, the Albany Institute of History & Art, and MASS MoCa, as well as college and commercial galleries like the Massry at Saint Rose, the Opalka at Sage, Carrie Haddad in Hudson and Laffer Gallery in Schuylerville. And many more. Our own Albany Center Gallery (I'm the treasurer there) is lucky in a sense, as the current show was being installed at the time of the widespread shutdown and wasn't set to open until March 31 - but now it seems unlikely it will ever open to the public.
As short as this post is, I've struggled for two weeks to get it written.
Because, what can I say? How do you respond to such circumstances when your whole life and that of most of your friends has revolved around making and presenting art in physical form and three-dimensional space? It's an irrevocable loss.
To be fully realized, the visual art experience requires direct interaction between art and viewer - and we can't have that right now. Institutions the world over that give body and soul to make these experiences possible, and that barely survive even in the best of times, are now in very deep trouble.
I feel for these institutions, and I especially feel for the artists whose opportunities have suddenly transformed into obstacles. Careers will be interrupted - even derailed - by this event. Some will never recover (imagine a young musician, whose first significant gig just got canceled - will they ever get a shot like that again?). It's heartbreaking.
Many of these institutions are (naturally) seeking and finding creative ways around the problem. Most are putting their collections, past shows, or current shows online to be viewed virtually. My best suggestion is to think of the venues you like best (or have always wanted to visit) and go to their websites now. Enjoy the content they are providing with today's limited means. Go back again and again as they add to their creative offerings.
And, then - please - seriously consider making a donation. They need you now more than ever.