The Journal Gazette
Friday, May 22, 2020 1:00 am

Art museum offers video tours ahead of reopening

COREY MCMAKEN | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne Museum of Art isn't able to reopen its exhibition galleries until next month, but you can see some of them now with virtual tours.

The museum began offering a version of the tours in late March after the museum closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At first they were simple video walk-throughs, then staff created 360-degree shots of some of its exhibits using a Google service that allows closeups and details for some pieces on display.

But this week, the museum began posting professional-quality videos. Money to create the new tours was raised through the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne's Giving Tuesday Now fundraising campaign May 5.

The museum had wanted to make some kind of video for a while, says Amanda Shepard, vice president and COO.

The museum's financial situation is not dire despite lost ticket sales during the closure, she says. It is three-quarters through its fiscal year with most contributions and revenue already in place for the year, so the museum wanted to use the Giving Tuesday Now opportunity to do more than just ask for extra money.

“We wanted it to be a really concrete program that would actually mean we could continue our mission in a meaningful way,” Shepard says. “I thought (the video tours) was an innovative way to still give the community an experience of our exhibitions in a really high-quality, professional way.”

The money raised will allow the museum to create the in-depth video tours of its exhibits for a year. The project was fully funded in eight hours, which shows that donors think the tours are worthwhile, Shepard says.

The free video tours will be five- to seven-minutes long and be hosted by a museum curator that will tell viewers a bit about the art being shown without interpreting it for the audience. It will be similar to one of the museum's in-person curator tours, but scripted. Each has a different personality based on which curator is narrating the tour.

The first video, featuring the exhibit “Woolgatherers: New Paintings by Heather Day,” is available at

Shepard says the videos will allow a connection with the exhibits, even if some members of the public aren't ready to come out in person when the museum hopes to welcome guests again June 14.

On that day, Indiana's reopening plan allows museums and other cultural, entertainment and tourism businesses to open at a capacity to be announced in the weeks ahead. The state's plan was updated this week and previously specified 50% capacity for those venues June 14. The state expects to be full reopen July 4.

The museum's Paradigm Gallery shop reopened for in-person shopping Tuesday. It had been operating with curb-side pickup, which is still an option for customers.

Visitors will see hand sanitizer at the doors and screens to separate guests from staff at the front desk and shop. The museum already featured automatic doors at the entrance closest to the Arts United parking lot, as well as at the entrances to its exhibition galleries.

“We don't encourage touching (art in the exhibitions) in the first place,” Shepard says with a laugh. “But you can have a very fulfilling visit to the art museum without touching anything – unless you use the restroom – and without coming into close contact with our employees.”

Staff will be wearing masks, and Shepard says she hopes members of the public will consider wearing masks in the museum but it will not be required.

Though it is uncertain what capacity the museum will be able to operate at in June, Shepard doubts that regular daily traffic under non-pandemic circumstances exceeds 50% of its actual capacity. The highest concentration of visitors comes during school trips, which aren't happening right now. There will likley also be less foot traffic near the museum this summer because of the cancellation of gatherings such as Three Rivers Festival.

The museum isn't planning any large events, but might organize some socially distant tours in smaller groups. Posts discussing art have continued on the museum's blog and live curator chats on social media are also a possibility.

Although Shepard still advocates for experiencing art in person when possible, the pandemic is leading the museum to use technology in ways it hadn't seriously considered before.

“It's given us permission to go in some new directions that before I think we thought might have threatened the 'real' experience,” she says. But using these new tools could encourage people to have that in-person experience, whether they are returning visitors or first-timers.

The virtual tours allow viewers to take in the art at their own pace without the fear that anyone is judging them. Though Shepard says the staff works hard to make everyone comfortable, some people might feel self-conscious about going to a museum for the first time.

“I think that (the video tours) could be a really important tool for people who might feel unsure about – or intimidated by – a visit to an art museum,” Shepard says.

There is a discussion taking place in the museum and arts fields that virtual experiences could lead to decreased ticket sales, but Shepard says the in-person and virtual experiences are very different and she isn't worried video will become a replacement for seeing art up close.

“It certainly makes it easier for you to not buy a ticket, but I think that it discredits the human spirit, which craves after intimacy with real things and unmediated experiences,” she says.

The museum will be full of art when it reopens. Only two exhibitions had to be moved on the calendar due to the temporary closing. “Color X Color: Selections from the Chuck Sperry Archive” has been moved to the fall, and the local showing of traveling exhibition “Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau” is now slated to open in June 2021.

Most of the exhibitions that were at the museum when it closed have been extended, including “Hidden Truths: New Paintings by Francisco Valverde,” “Here and Now: A Survey on New Contemporary Art” and “Hope Dies Last: The New Armenia – Photographs by Michelle Andonian.” Heather Day's “Woolgatherers” exhibition was not able to be extended.

“Salvador Dali's Stairway to Heaven,” an exhibition of illustrations the artist made for two literary works, will be opening along with the museum.

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