In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading members of Phoenix’s fine arts scene have been planning a strategy to safely reopen museums. After intense deliberation, the Phoenix Art Museum aims to resume public operations in October.
“It’s been a little crazy, to be honest,” says Dr. Tim Rodgers, the new Sybil Harrington director and CEO of the Phoenix Art Museum.
“I haven’t been able to meet the staff outside of a little box on Zoom. Their bodies, their eyes. It kind of flattens all of us. People don’t react to you. That for me is like all of sudden being blind.”
Phoenix Art Museum, which spent the summer closed, plans to open its doors to paying members on October 1 and the general public on October 14 at the discretion of local health officials and the pandemic’s progression. Rodgers took up his leadership role in July and has been working to bring in-person arts experiences back to Phoenix.
“The closure of all of our cultural institutions has been really depressing for those of us that enjoy it. I think that we’re all a little bored and depressed,” he says of the national closure of museums during the pandemic. “Art has always been more of a live experience.”
Despite the hiatus, the Phoenix Art Museum boasts an impressive returning lineup of exhibitions—some new, some extended from before the shutdown. Highlights include “Ansel Adams: Performing the Print,” “Stories of Abstraction: Contemporary Latin American Art in the Global Context” and a show from Teresita Fernández titled “Elemental.”
“I’m really happy we’ll be able to reopen the museum with such strong exhibitions. The museum is looking at the entire world and trying to bring it to Phoenix,” says Rodgers about the globally conscious returning lineup.
While this and other museum reopenings will provide the community with its first major in-person fine arts experiences since the pandemic, Phoenix Art Museum made concerted efforts to maintain what Rodgers called “the ecology of art” in the absence of social contact. The museum ran a weekly artist spotlight, highlighting the work of a variety of local artists on their social media and mailing list.
The museum also managed to learn about the opportunities and challenges of sharing art in the digital landscape.
“A lot of museums were already investing in online experiences. We see the potential they have but also see the limitations,” Rodgers says of Phoenix Art Museum’s remote operations and efforts to share fine arts experiences over the internet.
But even with these efforts and the reopenings, fine arts institutions have struggled to make it through these near universally devastating circumstances. While bigger facilities like Phoenix Art Museum could count on regular membership payments, many fine arts institutions lost significant income without visitors.
“A lot of nonprofits are thinking about how fragile they are financially. I think we all are thinking very hard and fast about how to create more stability moving forward,” Rodgers says.
For those involved with institutions that have stayed afloat, they look ahead to the pandemic’s artistic impact with cautious optimism. Aside from just a renewed public appreciation for in-person experiences, Rodgers hopes “to see some brighter, happier art in the near future,” perhaps in a similar motion to the Art Deco movement’s bold aesthetic rejection of the tragedy surrounding the Spanish flu in the early 1900s.
As the Phoenix Art Museum prepares for its October reopening, only time will tell the nature of the inevitable fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. But in the meantime, the Phoenix community can once again enjoy in-person arts experiences, even in a socially distanced capacity.
Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix, 602.257.1880, phxart.org.