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RISD Museum reopens doors to public

After remaining closed to the public for over a year, RISD Museum reopened June 13.

The RISD Museum has reopened as of June 13, after being closed to the public for over a year since March 13, 2020. Although some museum programs will continue to be offered in virtual formats in light of the pandemic, the museum staff is enthusiastic about offering the community an in-person experience once more, with new exhibitions and extended hours being offered.

When the museum was first forced to close in March 2020, the adjustment period was marked by a universal sense of uncertainty. “Initially there was a bit of a scramble because, of course, everyone’s dealing with things personally too,” said Marketing and Public Relations Manager Julia D’Amico, “And like everyone else, we didn’t know how long it would last … we weren’t sure if it would be a week, a month or a year.”

 Once it became clear that COVID-19 was no passing crisis, however, the RISD Museum was quick to adapt to bring their programming online. “When we realized this was going to be a longer term situation than we expected we really were able to embrace some of the things we would typically do in person and just translate them online,” D’Amico said. 

Some of these virtual adaptations included lectures and programs for children, adolescents and artists — some of which will continue to run virtually even as the museum transitions back into its pre-pandemic functioning. She also alluded to some unexpected advantages of the online experience: “When a curator or program leader is talking about different works of art from the collection, if you’re in a gallery there’s only so close you can get, but online you can zoom into things.”

Interim Director and Deputy Director of Exhibitions, Education and Programs Sarah Blythe added that the virtual experience was more accessible to new audiences. In an email to The Herald, she wrote that “early participation data also demonstrates a tremendous opportunity to expand our audience through virtual programs to national and international participants as well.”

Despite the advantages of virtual programming, D’Amico eagerly anticipated the re-opening of the museum. “I was excited to bring the public back — there’s just a feeling, for me anyway, of being in a museum, and a sense of community and rejoining society,” she said. “People have gone to restaurants and things like that, but you have a different experience when you’re walking through an art gallery — some of it can be very peaceful and solitary, and some of it can just be uplifting as you see other people experience art.” 

Museum security officer Timothy Welsh shared D’Amico’s excitement. “We’re happy, we’re finally busy,” he said.

Being in the presence of physical art is inevitably superior to the virtual experience, he said. “Even if you go on virtual tours, you still aren’t prepared for the physical object, and it’s usually more exciting. There’s a palpable sort of transmission of thrill when you’re in front of it.”

D’Amico echoed Welsh’s preference for an in-person museum viewing, emphasizing the value of visitors navigating the exhibitions themselves and absorbing what they want to instead of consuming the “pre-packaged” virtual experiences.

The museum has several new exhibitions on display following the re-opening, and there will be more in the months to come. Blythe mentioned the installation of “Raid The Icebox Now” in March 2020, a wide-scale exhibition in collaboration with eight artists to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic exhibit Raid the Icebox I with Andy Warhol in 1970. Because the pandemic coincided with the installation, the entire exhibition could not be completed at the time. Three of the eight artists’ exhibits will therefore be on view currently and over the next few months. 

The museum is also displaying an Islamic art exhibition, “It Comes in Many Forms,” and a ceramics exhibition called ‘On the Surface,’ among many others.

The museum has extended its hours to include evenings and will remain open until 7 p.m. every Thursday and Friday. Additionally, the RISD Museum will offer free admission to the public every Sunday in addition to offering free admission to member institutions — including Brown —  on all days.


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