Director's Letter: Fewer—Better

Even as I write this, we do not know exactly how all our fall and winter plans will shape up. We know the broad outlines, but we remain shy on details. This is highly unusual for an institution that plans three years ahead in normal times. More than ever before, in 2020 the Hood Museum staff has had to be continually responsive—and not just seasonally, but weekly, daily, and, some days, hourly. Life on campus, in New Hampshire, in the United States, and around the world constantly demands new approaches for engagement. Our audience's expectations for what art means (and how) evolve in real time, and our staff's ideas for remaining relevant take us in new and bold directions. Our ability to adequately stay ahead, or abreast, of all that has been challenged like never before.

We can, however, summarize with confidence the Hood Museum's current plans: fewer . . . better.
We will continue to offer ways of engaging with the art and ideas that have come to define our program. We will feature fewer of these, but they will be better targeted (and potentially deeper). Every institution dedicated to public programming has long measured success in terms of numbers. It's a realm in which attendance is king. It was how we determined quality, too, in a way. If lots of visitors came, then it was good, and vice versa. Now, "lots of visitors" is not an option, and we need to plan for serving fewer people while offering deeper, more meaningful experiences. These two goals are, happily, congruous. After the financial challenges facing art museums in the 1970s, we as a field rushed to our "more is more" model of audience building. In doing so, we welcomed bigger audiences, but we also lost some of the quiet and intimacy of art engagements. As we look forward to reopening, we will need to consider ways of offering an even more complex mix of escape and confrontation, imagination and reality, and do so for a much smaller population of visitors.
At the same time, we have the opportunity to rethink how we approach our ideal of inclusivity. As hard as we in the art museum field have tried in the past decades, this goal remains very much unfinished business, and the thorny questions only grow more challenging as we necessarily reduce physical visitorship. We still have far to go, and one lesson learned this spring is the power of virtual engagement. While still imperfect, as too many people still lack connectivity, putting our programs online has been a giant step toward the ideal of access. Expecting people to be free and able to join us on site in the middle of New Hampshire has been its own kind of exclusion. The internet can knock down at least some of the walls between those who can and those who cannot share what we have to offer in person.
We are honored to have your continued attention and support at this time. I have heard from many of you, and from many new friends, that the Hood's platforms add significantly to this period of contemplation, emotional reevaluation, and intellectual regrouping—that art's power to touch, move, inspire, and provoke transcends the titanic calamities of our current moment. May it ever be so.
John R. Stomberg
The Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director


Written August 31, 2020