While the coronavirus has shuttered museums and galleries across the country, one thing it can’t stop is the love for art.
The Savannah African Art Museum is no exception. When the virus outbreak forced many businesses to close, the SAAM pivoted and moved its art experience online. Now, art enthusiasts from around the globe can enjoy the SAAM’s African art collection online, and participate in virtual workshops and educational events.
"While the virus has the tourism industry on a halt, SAAM like many museums in the world have had to adjust, by turning to virtual resources," said founding director and chief curator, Billie Stultz.
"We are fortunate to be in this age of technology where even with the COVID-19 pandemic we can still operate and uphold our mission."
For the moment, all of the Savannah African Art Museums tours, classes and workshops have been moved online, linking with supporters through computer screens and smartphones.
Through it all, the nonprofit museum remains committed to its mission of introducing new audiences to African art and culture, while educating and inspiring others about the unique diversity and strengths of African art.
Just because the museum is closed for the time being, doesn’t mean that mission can’t continue. For Earth Day, the SAAM hosted a do-it-yourself workshop online, showing participants how to make mats for the homeless out of reused plastic bags.
For Mother’s Day, the museum hosted a cooking demonstration, "A Taste of Senegal," with Senegalese chef, author, and restaurateur, Pierre Thiam walking viewers through his most-cherished recipes for families to create and enjoy together.
The cooking workshop will continue on the SAAM’s website through May 17, and later archived for those who still want participate in the delights of Senegal cuisine.
While the SAAM has done a remarkable job of moving operations to the Internet, staff say it was a challenge to find new ways for the museum to engage the community without a physical location.
"The experience of going virtual has been an interesting change of pace. Going from a semi-regular routine to a completely new routine that requires a whole new set of skills can be challenging," Stultz added.
"However, museum professionals usually wear many hats and have to be adaptable in many situations, so this flexibility has allowed us to flow seamlessly to a completely virtual platform."
Looking ahead, the Savannah African Art Museum hopes to once again reopen its doors soon to visitors and tours. When that may happen is anyone’s guess. As businesses slowly reopen from the coronavirus shutdown, we are all learning to live with the new normal of social distancing and heightened hygiene.
"Right now, we are playing it by ear. We are having constant meetings, monitoring the news, and staying informed as best as we can until it is safe to fully reopen," Stultz shared.
"We do not want to prematurely act on anything with concern that things might take a turn for the worse. Our first priority is the safety of our guests and our staff members."
Stultz says she is grateful to Savannah African Art Museum staff who have continued the museum’s mission to engage and inspire the community during an unprecedented situation.
"I would like to thank my staff for going the extra mile by coming in and recording tours, classes and workshops during these challenging times," she said. "I would also like to thank our supporters for the continued support and patience as we all tread these uncertain times."
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