By William Valerio
For the last several weeks, Woodmere’s social media channels have focused on an exhibition that is quietly hanging in our galleries but receiving no visitors: “Africa in the Arts of Philadelphia: Bullock, Searles and Twins Seven-Seven.” Each day our Instagram and Facebook account highlights a work from the show, which explores the cross-fertilization of ideas among artists Barbara Bullock (born 1938), Charles Searles (1937–2004), and Twins Seven-Seven (1944–2011) during their involvement with the Ile-Ife Black Humanitarian Center, which exists today as the Village of Arts and Humanities. Grounded in the civil rights era, the exhibition looks at how the three artists asserted a sense of African identity in their work.
“Africa in the Arts of Philadelphia” will be extended through the end of the summer, and we hope you’ll be able to see the exhibition in person when we reopen. But in the meantime, with everyone at home, you can join art lovers near and far in exploring the show online. The exhibition can be found here.
While you’re on our site, check out the podcasts, exhibition videos and collection experiences that Woodmere has always offered but which have skyrocketed in popularity in recent weeks. Or you can download the art and education activity books that families are loving or register for one of our compelling Zoom lectures.
All of this digital engagement is creating relationships that the Museum didn’t have before, and we couldn’t be happier. One particular piece of data that caught my attention is a big increase in the number of visitors who are clicking through our exhibition catalogues from beginning to end. Since we closed our doors on March 13, our digital catalogues received 4,000 impressions. Among these were 700 from individuals who clicked through a digital catalogue; the most popular has been the catalogue for “Africa in the Arts of Philadelphia,” and this is inspired by our social media. I am thrilled about this. I love a good book, and a beautifully printed exhibition catalogue can be a great friend. However, a catalogue offered online is free to readers and substantially less costly for the Museum to produce; it can be downloaded and printed at home, or just read and enjoyed on your screen (thereby saving trees). I can’t help but think that if more people are reading our digital catalogues, then we are doing a better job in fulfilling our mission.
I heard recently from a friend who works for the School District of Philadelphia that in the age of Zoom classrooms, snow days will never be the same again. I’m wondering about the changes that will be coming in arts institutions. As I look at the data and think about the slow rebuild that is soon to come, I’m contemplating how we learn from our experiences adapting to social distance — frustrations and silver linings alike — and how we find a new equilibrium that can both satisfy and evolve along with our new habits.
William Valerio is the Director and CEO of Woodmere Art Museum.