Director's Letter: 2020 Happened
We will have to leave it to historians of all sorts to unpack the cultural, social, medical, and political shifts, upheavals, watersheds, and groundswells that came about in 2020. We were all here, but none of us can yet comprehend the totality of what just happened—and what is still happening. We've been tested in unimaginable ways. With the best of intentions, or sometimes the worst, we have entered into a fray the end of which none of us can predict with any certainty. That said, the sense that we've turned a corner is everywhere in the discussion. We've had elections and vaccines that—wherever you fall in relation to both—will have long-reaching impacts on those living in the United States and elsewhere around the globe.
So where is the Hood Museum in all of this? Regrouping, mostly. We are using the opportunity to advance long-held values and instill them in our daily work. With the time and space allotted by the pandemic, all of us at the museum have looked outward at the world and inward at our practice. We have been on a good course, but our directions have been many. With all that has gone on, we now find ourselves emboldened to recognize, refine, and name our next steps.
The Hood Museum long ago changed what kinds of exhibitions it produced to encompass a much broader array of cultural producers from around the world. The museum also put its resources where its ideals lay—acquiring art from Native American, African American, and African contemporary artists before there was widespread national support for collecting in these areas. Bob Haozous and Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie, Romare Bearden and Betye Saar, El Anatsui and Wangechi Mutu are among the artists collected by the Hood Museum long before there was a public imperative to do so.
So what are we contemplating now? Change itself.
How can an art museum not only redirect what it does but instigate a shift in the world, in who works, and where—in who gets resources and for what? These are perhaps odd goals for an institution dedicated to showing art, but one thing we have been establishing recently, and beyond doubt, is that museums have never been neutral. We tried to seem so, but with the overwhelming weight of a past directly linked to colonialism and dominant cultures, the very idea of an art museum has been ripe for reexamination.
We are rethinking the Hood and what we can do. Can we—can art museums—really make societal change? Is it our responsibility? Our duty? Or are we getting off track? This is our task for 2021.
2020 happened. No one can deny that. What it means and how it will reverberate through our practice in the coming days, months, and years remain to be seen. One thing we can say with certainty: we are listening, looking, and taking action to be the best museum citizen we can be. Stay tuned.
John R. Stomberg
The Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s Director