The Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA) must abide by the College’s color-coded campus status levels. Currently, at “yellow” status, first-year writing seminar students and their accompanying faculty members can enter the BCMA for a class visit; at “orange” status, only faculty and staff may enter; at “red” status, only essential staff members may enter the building.
“It was incredibly heartening to see students back in the building,” said Burrus. “It was a reminder of why we’re here and…what is really at the heart of what we do as a campus museum.”
The BCMA temporarily closed its doors in March, and it has yet to re-open to the public. Yet, behind the locked doors, the Museum staff have remained hard at work transitioning to a distanced model.
“After the onset of this shift, the Museum immediately began working with faculty and developing remote resources,” said Anne Goodyear, co-director of the BCMA, in a Microsoft Teams interview with the Orient.
Crucial to this transition is the work of Elizabeth Humphrey ’14, curatorial assistant and manager of student programs, as well as that of Sean Burrus, Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral curatorial fellow.
Humphrey’s work focuses on continuing student engagement with the Museum remotely. Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, her work involved facilitating events, assisting students with research projects and supervising the Student Employment Program at the museum.
“I’ve been trying to put most of my energy into facilitating…more student-driven programming, or figuring out what the needs of students are and making visible how they could still be involved with the Museum, even if they’re far away,” said Humphrey in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
While Humphrey’s work focuses on independent student engagement, Burrus specializes in faculty engagement as well as the curricular activity initiatives of the Museum.
“[My work] goes to the central problem of access—access for students and faculty to our collections to be able to teach with the same objects that they’re used to teaching with [and] to be able to research with the objects that are here on campus,” said Burrus in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
Burrus’ work with faculty members includes assisting them within the Museum space to either pre-record themselves with objects or to live-stream their classes from the Museum.
Almost immediately following the transition to remote learning, the BCMA launched E-packets, a new content delivery system organized by course and accessible with a Bowdoin account. This system gives students and faculty access to a plethora of information about the Museum objects featured in a particular remote course.
“The E-packets are [also] going to be a good resource once we have classes come into the Museum,” said Burrus. “They’re going to be a good way for students to follow up on a visit.”
The Museum staff has focused their efforts on creating initiatives that will continue to pay off after the pandemic, such as increasing both photo and video documentation of Museum objects. Over 500 objects have been digitally recorded since April. The Museum classroom has been converted into a photo and video lab to do this work.
Despite the success of these initiatives, Goodyear underscored the challenges of running Museum programming remotely.
“One of the great pleasures of experiencing art in person as an audience member is that you can choose the path through the gallery that is suited to your own particular interests,” said Goodyear. “One challenge about digital programming is that…we sort of predetermine the path that people are going to take in terms of how they experience works of art.”
On September 15, the Museum welcomed students in first-year writing seminars through its doors for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is something really pleasurable about seeing real art after hours of looking at Zoom screens,” said Frank Goodyear, co-director of the BCMA, in a Microsoft Teams interview with the Orient.
Despite the many challenges that lie ahead as the Museum continues to navigate operating at a distance, Frank Goodyear feels optimistic about the semester.
“This is an opportunity for the Museum to grow, to try new things, to learn, to listen and to hopefully emerge out of this in a better place than we were before,” he said.