To Our Friends,
People come into museums through the front door; art comes in the back. It took our field a long time to comprehend the importance of the back door. We knew that we wanted a broader audience, so we focused on opening our front door wider (so to speak) without making fundamental changes in what we collected and displayed. This did not work. It wasn't until we focused on changing what we acquired and exhibited in our galleries that we began to see an expansion in our audiences. This was because our program began to matter to more people—people from widely disparate backgrounds, places, and points of view.
The Hood Museum of Art, like many other museums, now dedicates itself to the ideals of "art for all" and "art by all." Our exhibitions and programs are designed to promote understanding, respect, and care for others—the museum is an empathy vortex. This has been our most important work, and right now, today, this work is simultaneously more important and more challenging than ever.
It is more important because, in the wake of the current pandemic, about which there is very little directly that art museums can do, there has been a resurgence of racist behavior in several places around the globe. It is the kind of intolerance, and outright attack, that dedicated people everywhere have been trying to teach out of the system—both individually and collectively, locally and internationally, personally and politically. None of us in the battle for tolerance and understanding have deluded ourselves with visions of success, yet even so, some of the current responses to the pandemic are shocking just the same.
I want to share something that the artist Carrie Mae Weems has been saying for a long time: "There is only one race—the human race." This view of humanity grounds the work of so many in our field and does so absolutely at the Hood Museum. It is a belief that rings through all our galleries and throughout our programming.
If there is no other, then there is only us.
Today, all of us find ourselves in a new predicament. More than ever, we need the type of understanding, humility, and mutual support that underlies the work of an art museum. Art is an agent for social good. Whether it provides escape to private realms, shares oblique poetic allusions, or disturbs us with the urgency of political strife, the work artists produce offers us human contact and a context for profoundly difficult conversations. Through the experience of art, we learn to think beyond ourselves and our singular lives. We touch and are touched. This is an essential experience. This is empathy.
As the Hood Museum staff continues to transition to our new digital work format, we are challenged to revitalize and update a key tenet of what we do: putting individuals in direct contact with original works of art and each other. How do we move forward without the physical proximity that has been critical to our practice? Can digital means replicate the intimacy of face-to-face dialogue about today's most pressing issues? We at the Hood Museum believe we cannot turn our backs on the important work we have embarked upon, but we also need to acknowledge that translating in-person programs to online formats offers potential pitfalls along with new opportunities.
Over the coming weeks, we will be developing a variety of engagements that rely on digital connectivity. This will be our new normal for now. While it cannot recreate the museum experience as we know it, it does offer an uncanny form of experience and connection. I do so look forward to a time when we can return to our face-to-face encounters, but we should not think of these digital engagements as merely "virtual." They are real and tangible, and therefore experiential in their own way.
Finally, it is important to realize that none of us are just treading water. We have important work still ahead of us, and the digital universe offers us a means to distribute that work more broadly than ever before. We are moving forward with the great power of the internet to join an international museum community that is likewise committed to the promise of art.
I am honored to be with you all at this time and look forward to meeting these coming days and weeks with creativity and the conviction that what we all do together makes a difference.
John R. Stomberg
Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director