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Museums Bring Art Outside Buildings To Connect During Pandemic

"Public Trust" by Paul Ramírez Jonas installed outside of moCa displays statements in the news that day and provides an opportunity for people walking by to engage with the contemporary art museum. [Carrie Wise / ideastream]
A large sign outside of moCa is a public art display and opportunity to engage with the museum outdoors.

While museums have reopened to the public with pandemic modifications, not all visitors feel comfortable stepping inside. This has inspired area institutions to bring the art outside their buildings.

For instance, pedestrians heading down Euclid Avenue may notice the large marquee outside moCa, a Cleveland museum for contemporary art. The public art display by Paul Ramírez Jonas lists a variety of statements made in the news that day. The artist wants to get people thinking and talking about what people promise one another, said moCa Chief Curator Courtenay Finn.

“It's usually a promise from a politician, from a sort of corporation entity, from the weather, from a scientist,” Finn said.

If after viewing “Public Trust” people feel moved to share a personal promise with moCa, staff members are masked and ready to interact on Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons through November 7.

Kids pose for a photo in front of "Public Trust" by Paul Ramírez Jonas outside of moCa in Cleveland. [moCa]

People can expect more art in public places throughout the year from moCa, Finn said.

“Thinking through the pandemic and talking with artists, there was like a real need or a sort of urgent feeling that they felt about making works that people could experience in ways that were either safer or in their own neighborhoods or making a work for the city or people itself that wasn't necessarily meant to live inside of a gallery space,” Finn said.

“Public Trust” doesn’t depend on digital access to reach people, which is another programming concern Finn said moCa has been considering during the pandemic.  

The Akron Art Museum also shifted gears to develop programming where people don’t have to necessarily step inside their physical space. A new venture, Akron Art Mail, puts postcards in the hands of the community. The museum is both giving away postcards made by local artists and asking the public to create and share their own.

Postcard by Cleveland artists Gary and Laura Dumm commissioned by the Akron Art Museum for Akron Art Mail. [Akron Art Museum]

“We love the people who can’t physically come, and they are really important audiences, but there’s also people who need something to do,” said Seema Rao, the museum’s deputy director and chief experience officer.

Part of the incentive to create and submit a postcard is the chance to see your art on view at the museum next year in an exhibition. And the museum is already getting submissions.  

Local artists also designed postcards the Akron Art Museum is giving away  through the Summit County Public Library and other community partners.

One postcard by jazz musician Theron Brown calls attention to what’s lost in not gathering collectively in the city for entertainment during the pandemic.

“He talks about how we all need an entertainment district. And I really like that one, because I think it's a good pendant to the exhibition. The idea that, you know, wellness is part of arts and culture is enormously important,” Rao said.

While the pandemic forced Akron Art Museum and moCa to head back to the drawing board and devise new ways of connecting, there’s a silver lining— the new programs might allow them to reach new people.

Postcard by Akron jazz musician Theron Brown commissioned by the Akron Art Museum for Akron Art Mail. [Akron Art Museum]

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.