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ArtBeat: Schneider Museum crafts virtual solutions

The summer of 2020 will mark Scott Malbaurn’s five-year anniversary as director of the Schneider Museum of Art at Southern Oregon University.

Malbaurn has been lauded for his work in upgrading the museum with strong exhibits that showcase a diverse range of compelling artists, and for building a potent network with regional and national artists, curators and institutions. I caught up with him to talk about how the museum is faring in the current arts climate.

JG: Scott, what had you planned for the museum this year before COVID-19?

SM: We had some amazing things scheduled. We planned our fifth collaborative exhibition with the Ashland Independent Film Festival, which we postponed to August. We are now communicating with the artists to see if we can proceed and present this exhibition in person. We also postponed our biennial fundraising gala to February 2021, originally scheduled for May 30.

Unfortunately we will not be able to open our summer exhibition “Celebrating Wild Beauty” for in-person viewing. This will now be an online and downloadable exhibition with virtual galleries scheduled to launch June 11. Although one of the artists, Isabella Thorndike Church, will create her installation intended for the museum in the storefront of Nimbus at 25 E. Main St. This should be complete by June 11.

During this difficult time, I am proud that we are able to present the content and cultivation our patrons come to expect. We have presented Creative Industries discussions via Zoom to an international audience and we are presenting virtual Free Family Days thanks to a grant from the Rotary Club of Ashland. We have created a YouTube channel to store this content for future viewings, with more to come. There will be two more Free Family Days this spring in which we will make materials available for curbside pickup — announcements and sign-ups to come.

JG: How has the current climate affected the way in which arts institutions will operate going forward, in your view?

SM: Currently, arts institutions with installed permanent collections have turned to virtual walk-throughs and curator talks. Google Arts and Culture offers more than 2,500 free virtual tours of cultural organizations across the globe. Many are posting online exhibitions, which is wonderful for those of us living on the other side of the world. Most are utilizing social media with live interviews and discussions, which has also been incredible to witness and participate in. In areas such as development, institutions are turning to their members and donor base for support, which is dire for many right now. Some have moved forward with online fundraisers that are actually pretty fun. Creative and innovative thinking has presented some engagement opportunities and solutions, and I am sure many will remain in the future, such as Zoom talks by artists, curators and scholars.

JG: How might donors and supporters of the Schneider best serve the goals of the organization at this time?

SM: As we pivot and present content online, I hope to see our patrons and museum members continue to join us. For our museum members, we will soon announce some upcoming virtual talks and studio visits with artists from current, future and past exhibitions. Anyone can become a member by going to our website at sma.sou.edu/ and click on the Join/Give link. This is a great and easy way to support what we do. To stay up to date, follow us on Instagram and Facebook with our handle @SchneiderMoA or sign up to receive our email announcements on our website homepage.

Viewing and sharing art can have a profound effect on a person. While in quarantine, many of us have turned to artists for comfort. Whether it is a book, music, film or an artwork, creative industries are a part of our culture and well-being. It inspires, teaches and gives many of us a way to endure by turning to something sustaining. I hope we can preserve the museum for generations to come.

Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a columnist, arts reviewer and cultural commentator. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com.

Scott Malbaurn, director of the Schneider Museum of Art, stands in front of Ryan Schneider’s “Howl” (diptych), 2016, oil on canvas, 84-by-144 inches. Photo by Ezra Marcos