Figge Puts Major Art Exhibit Online in Tour
The blockbuster traveling exhibit, “For America: 200 Years of Painting from the National Academy of Design” at Figge Art Museum in Davenport ends on May 16th. But if you’re still not comfortable making an in-person visit, or you’re looking for more insight, information, and activities beyond the exhibit itself, the Figge has another blockbuster for you online.
With the Boston-based architectural design firm IKD, the museum built a “microsite” for “For America,” at figgeartmuseum.org, which offers a virtual tour, where you can navigate through the art as if you’re there in the galleries. Figge executive director Michelle Hargrave says they started working on the site last fall.
“We realized that, when ‘For America’ opened, that a lot of our members were not going to be ready to come back out in person yet. And then also some of our members were going to be down in Florida. So we wanted to have a way for all of our community to engage with this exhibition that we've been planning for many years.”
“So we started looking around at a few different software platforms and companies that were producing these virtual exhibitions, and we liked the work that was done by IKD, which is the company we ended up working with.”
IKD works with museums nationwide and has offices in Boston and San Francisco. The Figge wanted to create its own comprehensive site, not simply a virtual tour of the exhibit – which it has done on a limited basis online in other ways since the start of the Covid pandemic in spring of last year.
“We really wanted it to be an entire microsite, not just a virtual tour, and we wanted to include things like programs and a guided tour, slideshow, and have family activities as well as interactive art activities.”
The online tour offers an array of resources, including a 10-minute video of the exhibit, narrated by assistant curator Vanessa Sage, gallery views of the Figge exhibit (which is on the first, second and third floors) – where you can control the navigation of what to see -- as well as a slide show of all 99 individual artworks, with detailed information on each artist and painting.
The site also includes an audio introduction to “For America” from Hargrave, docent videos, regional artists audio, gallery event videos, educational information, and art activities such as video demonstrations of portrait and landscape painting from Rhiannon Ashmore of the Figge education department.
“It was a cross-departmental team that worked on the site -- from curatorial to marketing and development, as well as me and education. We put together a wish list, things that we wanted to include and because of time and budget, we had to cut back on a few things, but we kept what was really essential and the things that we felt like would best engage the community.”
Work on the site was done from last November until its public unveiling in late February; the actual exhibit opened February 20. The Figge has continued to update the site, with additional content like docent videos on individual paintings, virtual talks and presentations offered on Thursday nights, and uploaded community art.
The museum has featured art by local residents in its large elevator, which is also featured on the online site.
“For America” is the second major traveling exhibit for the Figge, following “French Moderns: Monet to Matisse, 1850-1950” – both made possible by the Major Exhibition Endowment Fund, which launched in 2016. Between October 2018 and January 2019, “French Moderns” attracted 36,112 visitors to the Figge, including people from 47 states and the District of Columbia.
Despite the pandemic, which has limited visitors and required face masks for all Figge patrons, the museum has averaged 500 visitors per week this year. But Hargrave says the online site will not replace in-person visits.
“You can't replace the experience of standing in front of it an actual work of art. While it's wonderful to have things online, there's just nothing like seeing the brushstrokes up close. What we have found is that it’s complementary.”
Some people who didn’t feel comfortable coming to see it in person until they were vaccinated could see it online. She says on the site, visitors can see many things, and learn things they would not necessarily see at the exhibit.
“There are a couple things – one, people are getting vaccinated and are coming out more, and they understand that the Figge is a safe place to be because of the preventive measures we have in place. And then the third thing is that people are really excited about seeing the exhibition.”
It’s been hard to open a big exhibition during a pandemic, but Hargrave says the Figge has tried to be as adaptive as possible.
“The wonderful thing about having exhibitions now is that, it really was something for people in our community to look forward to as they were coming out of a very challenging year. So we were pleased to be able to offer it for that reason and it was also something that the story I think is important for this time, too."
“We’re coming off a year that's been very divisive. We've had some social justice movements. We've had a lot of challenges with our community and of course Covid. This is an exhibit that reminded us we’re all Americans, and despite our differences, we have our country in common. In a way, it’s a very healing exhibition and it continues to be.”
“It was something for people to get excited about and something to take their minds off some of the challenges of the previous year.”