Like all cultural institutions, the Katonah Museum of Art has struggled to continue to function during the coronavirus crisis. But even being unable to allow visitors into the building or to hold its big annual spring fundraiser, KMA has managed to remain a vital community resource through an array of virtual programming.
For those who long for in-person exhibitions, however, there’s good news — the museum will reopen Sunday, July 26, operating at 25% of its total capacity while enacting new safety measures, including advance online ticket purchases, social distancing throughout galleries and outdoor areas, and enhanced sanitizing and cleaning protocols. To help ensure public safety and to prevent crowds, timed ticket purchases will be required. Seniors and people with serious medical conditions will be able to reserve time slots specifically designated to accommodate their needs.
“The pandemic has had a devastating impact in our community, and while we are grateful to reopen, our priority continues to be the health and safety of our visitors, staff and our community,” Michael Gitlitz, KMA executive director said in a press release. “Over the past weeks, we have carefully developed reopening protocols with the guidance of health and government sources at the local, state and federal levels and have taken into consideration their respective parameters for reopening.”
The museum’s facilities staff has worked hard to gather necessary safety supplies, including masks, gloves, plexiglass guards, touchless sanitizing stations and directional signage. In accordance with the guidelines, the museum’s staff and volunteers, as well as all visitors, will be required to wear face coverings during the initial reopening phase.
According to KMA Marketing and Communications Manager Caroline Holder, not only were the museum’s roughly 15 full- and part-time staff members all retained during the closure, but the museum has just hired a new director of development, Lea Emery. Throughout the crisis, museum staff members have been translating programs and events to digital formats for remote access. KMA recently launched a virtual version of CrossTalk 2.0, a reincarnation of the original CrossTalk series co-produced by the museum and the Katonah Village Library a decade ago. Each program in this summer’s series features two experts juxtaposed in unlikely and seemingly unrelated pairings but tackling the same theme. During each 30-minute Zoom program, hosted by a CrossTalk 2.0 committee member, the speakers explore a compelling topic, engage in lively conversation with each other and field questions from viewers. Registration is required at the KMA website, with a $5 minimum donation. All funds support the Community Center of Northern Westchester food pantry.
The museum hosts another virtual series, Docent Dialogues, each Thursday at 2:30 p.m. The series of live, interactive sessions, led by a KMA docent, is focusing on the museum’s current exhibition, “Bisa Butler: Portraits,” which has been extended to Oct. 4.
Butler, a formally trained African American artist of Ghanaian heritage, straddles the line between creating with paint on canvas and creating with fiber by fashioning magnificent quilts and elevating a medium hitherto designated as craft into one that is high art. Butler forges an individual and expressive signature style that draws upon her own cultural background and experiences, creating a narrative and identity that inform her quilts. She creates a story around each image, and, in her choice of fabrics, she uses texture, color and the cultural origin of the cloth as part of a personal iconography that makes statements about society and identity. What results are stunning works that transform family memories and cultural practices into works of social statement.
This is the first solo museum exhibition of the artist’s work. On Aug. 2 from 4 to 5:30 p.m., Gitlitz and Butler will discuss Butler’s work and influences, and she will also describe how narrative and identity inform her works.
In addition, a virtual tour, slideshow and videos of the artist at work are available on the KMA website.
In a recent statement addressing the museum’s closure, Gitlitz, said, “The coronavirus pandemic has presented the world with a crisis that is unprecedented. While we all wish we had more visibility into what the future holds, I believe that the physical experience of viewing art in a museum remains essential to discovery and learning.”
He continued, “The Katonah Museum of Art will continue to be a place for people to develop and sustain relationships that enhance our individual well-being and form the bonds of our community.”
Gitlitz added that, while KMA plans to reopen safely and responsibly, “We continue to reimagine how the museum experience of the future might differ from that of the past. I anticipate that virtual content and livestreamed events, like those created for our current exhibition, ‘Bisa Butler: Portraits,’ will be carried forward, furthering the KMA’s mission to promote understanding of the arts for diverse audiences.”
KMA’s Education Department also remained active while the museum was closed. One initiative that shifted to a virtual and at-home experience is ArteJuntos/ArtTogether (AJAT), the education team’s bilingual art and family literacy program. New take-home art bags filled with art materials, art projects, outdoor activities, and links to online lessons and stories are distributed to families in need, with the help of partner organizations Community Center of Northern Westchester, Neighbors Link, Mount Kisco Child Care Center, Head Start in Mount Kisco, and First Steps Early Literacy in Ossining.
Provided at no charge to Latino preschool children and their parents, AJAT provides early learning experiences for low-income and educationally at-risk children. According to museum officials, the program aims to help to develop visual literacy, critical thinking and language acquisition, which are considered foundational elements of academic success. For their parents, AJAT fosters a greater understanding of their children’s learning needs as well as an increased comfort in museum settings.
At the same time, KMA staff members are planning ahead for the time when schools reopen, and the program can resume in-person activities at community centers and at the KMA.
For more information, call 914-232-9555 or visit katonahmuseum.org.