Amy Gilman, director of the Chazen Museum of Art, recently asked all museum staff to think about what it will mean to be a museum in a post-COVID19 world.
Hold on. There it is. The phrase “post-COVID-19 world.” Just as we learned back in October 2001 what it means to live in a post-9/11 world, we will eventually understand what a post-COVID-19 world feels like.
Of course, I haven’t thought that far ahead. With only a few weeks into staying safe at home under government order, my telecommuting groove is still in development. Having only recently taken on the role of executive assistant to the Chazen museum’s chief of staff Lindsay Grinstead and director Amy Gilman, I am the newest member of the staff and thrilled to be working at this most fabulous art museum. I don’t know about bathroom breaks at your job, but for me the simple experience of walking out of our administrative offices and across the gallery to the restroom has been exhilarating. My trek to staff meetings from my office in the Elvehjem Building side of the museum to the new(er) Chazen half of the museum is a sparkling new experience every time. I see works of art that are new to me and I notice familiar works in novel ways. This is unlikely to change as time goes on.
Unlike most of the Chazen staff, my educational background is not in art or art history. My knowledge of the art world in general is that of a layperson. But I know I am stirred by images. I am inspired by the visual. Whether created by nature or the human hand, accidental or intentional, visual expressions of life, death, thoughts, dreams, and emotions capture my attention and imagination.
So, will Covid-19 forever change the way I see? How might our experiences during this prolonged time of quarantines, social distancing, illness, and loss color our perception of the world? Will it be like having cataracts, a yellowish shroud covering one’s eyes?
Being immersed in two new environments at once, the art world, and the Covid-19 world, has helped me to understand—no, it has helped me to feel—the impact of the arts on the soul of a civilization. Like public parks and libraries, art museums afford us the time and space to reflect and breathe.
I hope my post-Covid19 view of the world will be one of a rosy newfound reverence for reflection. Taking our director’s advice, I will strive to recognize these endless hours we are spending confined to one place as a time of luxury. Our hectic, chaotic lives have been halted. For a moment, we have the time to stop and think. I don’t want to wallow in fear of what might be lurking ahead, but to imagine what could be better, to conceive of solutions and find creative ways to contribute.
It will be a while before I can, once again, stand in one of our beautiful galleries staring at the work of Petah Coyne or physically experience the aural and visual provocation of professor John Hitchcock’s Bury the Hatchet. But for the time being, I can call up nearly any of the works in the Chazen’s collection online and transport my brain to a new place. I can interact in new ways with social media from the Chazen, other art museums and artists, and join the creative types from around the world who have seemingly taken over the internet to capture our collective imagination.
In a post-COVID-19 world we will need to make a concerted effort to look beyond what is directly in front of our faces. This is what art does best. In a post-COVID-19 world, purveyors of art will be the new first-responders, rescuing the soul of our wounded civilization.
By Marcia Standiford 4/1/2020