Christopher Bedford, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, was gearing up for “2020 Vision,” a yearlong celebration of female-identifying artists, when the coronavirus forced him to close the museum’s doors back in March.
“We have an entire museum of new exhibitions that no one has seen,” he laments.
But Bedford hopes that all will change in mid-September when the museum anticipates reopening in accordance with health and safety guidelines. (Update: The BMA will begin re-opening on Sept. 16 with new health and safety policies and hopes to have all galleries accessible by Sept. 30.) Bedford is pleased that many of the exhibitions currently on display will be extended well into 2021.
“We’ve also elected to extend our focus on female-identifying art and artists,” he says.
“2020 Vision” encompasses more than 20 distinctive exhibitions spanning the entire museum’s galleries.
“It’s been a hugely exciting undertaking,” says Bedford, noting the BMA’s decision to highlight women artists stemmed from the “broad recognition that museums historically have not placed enough emphasis on art by female-identifying artists.”
The fact that 2020 is the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage also played a role in the institution’s decision, as did an analysis of the BMA’s collection. Bedford says the museum’s programs and acquisitions will especially focus on works by female-identifying artists of color.
“We analyzed our collection and like many other encyclopedic museums, only 4 percent of our collection was art by women,” he says. “We felt we needed to radically distort in that direction, signaling our intent to make sure we don’t commit the same error. All of that will unfurl in 2021.”
That’s not to say that activity has stopped at the BMA. In addition to a variety of digital resources — including virtual gallery walks, “BMA Stories” and the “Free Family Sundays at Home” program, which provides families with guided art projects and more — the museum initiated several programs designed to support unemployed artists.
“In looking at our available resources, we decided to discard physical and virtual convenings and instead to parcel out money to struggling Baltimore artists,” says Bedford.
The “BMA Salon,” a marketplace platform where artists and nonprofit galleries could promote their work, is one of those initiatives. Part of the museum’s “Necessity of Tomorrow(s)” series — which invites acclaimed artists and thought leaders from all over the world to Baltimore for discussions of art, race and social justice issues — the salon invited Baltimore-based galleries such as C. Grimaldis, Current Space, Galerie Myrtis, Black Arts District and Catalyst Contemporary to showcase and sell their artists work.
The “BMA Screening Room” was another program that benefited local video artists by providing a platform for them to show short films and videos. Local filmmakers are paid for their films, which are available for viewing at tomorrows.artbma.org. “BMA Salon” and “BMA Screening Room” are both scheduled to run through Dec. 31.
The “BMA Studio” was a response to the needs of families stuck at home during the pandemic. It provides art-making kits full of supplies so families without access to digital media can do art projects in their homes. Free kits can be picked up at BMA Lexington Market (400 W. Lexington St.) on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the Greenmount West Community Center at 1634 Guilford Ave. on the first Wednesdays and second Thursdays of the month.
The museum also “reactivated the exterior” of its building in late June when the Alan and Janet Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden and Ryda and Robert H. Levi Sculpture Garden were reopened, says Bedford. Together, the sculpture gardens include 33 modern and contemporary sculptures by such renowned artists as Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Alexander Caldwell and Ellsworth Kelly.
In August, the BMA debuted artist Kota Ezawa’s video “National Anthem” in the Latrobe Spring House on the museum’s west lawn. Also, a new Go Mobile audio tour educates visitors about the BMA’s buildings and exterior works of art.
Looking toward the future, Bedford says, “This is a moment to listen, pivot and be creative. We’re in the grip of dual pandemics. We’ve been incredibly biased — relating to race, gender and disabilities — for a very long time. To me, the protests sweeping the country are shaping us all to wake up. It is most pressing to museums that we are equitable inside and out. The protests have amplified our commitment to making sure we keep progressing and stay focused on that goal.”
For information, visit artbma.org.