Resilience on Display
The Crafts Center and the Gregg Museum of Art and Design have expanded their outreach thanks to virtual programming this fall.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many changes upon businesses and organizations across the country this year, and NC State’s Crafts Center and the Gregg Museum of Art and Design have not been exempt. However, during 2020 both arts organizations have seized the opportunity to reach an even wider audience than before, thanks to new virtual programming.
Forward Thinking at the Gregg Museum
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Gregg was already in the process of making all of its exhibitions available virtually, but this summer they learned the true value of this new format.
“Our staff has had to learn a lot of new technology on the fly — that is still an ongoing process, in fact — but we have committed to providing as much programming as we can,” said Evelyn McCauley, marketing and communications coordinator for the Gregg. “Our mission is to help all who visit the Gregg, work as interns and ambassadors, or are otherwise are involved, to be able to learn, explore and experience the collection and our rotating exhibits as deeply as they want. We even updated our online search tool recently so that it’s easier than ever to search for interesting things in the collection from the Gregg website.”
Though it was closed to in-person visitors this summer and part of the fall, technology has allowed the Gregg to continue sharing its collections and even current and past exhibitions with the NC State community and the public. The Gregg has offered several guided virtual tours, and in some cases those tours have even featured the artists themselves. For the Borderlands exhibition, photographer Susan Harbage Page joined director Roger Manley for a talk about her work and how it was received at the Gregg while on display in 2018. Current exhibitor Stephen Althouse provided valuable insights into his work entitled Objects of Intention, which is on view in the Black-Sanderson Gallery.
The Gregg has relied mostly on Zoom meetings and webinars for tours, Matterport 360 technology to develop its virtual exhibitions, and YouTube and Facebook for livestreaming of events. The next livestream and tour of the galleries is coming up on December 14, featuring published artists from the Windhover magazine.
“Almost all of our feedback has been extremely positive, with visitors thanking us for providing public hours on a limited basis again, and for remaining as active as possible when that wasn’t an option,” McCauley said. “Our members truly appreciate the previews of videos and other tours, and we’ve had great success in creating some virtual programming with local K-12 schools as well. Access to the museum, even virtually, seems to have been something many look forward to and take advantage of.”
Looking ahead to the spring semester, the Gregg has even more unique programming in the works.
“Our exhibition schedule did have to change a bit due to the pandemic — but this means we’ll have ample opportunities to develop even more programming around our current exhibitions, since their run times have been extended,” McCauley said. “We will be working with local artists, no doubt, as well as educators, faculty and others to create experiences that will enrich the experience of each exhibition, hopefully in surprising new ways.”
Getting Crafty to Continue Quality Programming Online
At the beginning of the fall semester, the Crafts Center had a full lineup of 120 in-person classes, a Fall Exhibition, lectures and new programs on the schedule. When COVID-19 forced the university to reduce operations and all classes went online, its staff and instructors had to completely reformat their offerings for the semester.
However, Crafts Center Director Carol Nix and her team got creative and got it done, and now their programs have a wider reach than ever before.
“I think the greatest thing that’s happened is we’ve broadened our audiences so much,” Nix said. “We’ve had people from all over the country taking our classes, so I think this is something we’re going to continue to do and offer as an option moving forward. Crafting is obviously hands-on, and not every class translates to that, but I think our instructors and our staff who teach have really had to look outside the box for any ways to continue programming and stay in front of our audiences. So, I think this change has been really good for everybody in the long run.”
This semester, the Crafts Center began filming all of its classes and even trained instructors to film classes from their own studios. Staff also created crafting kits and mailed them to students, and offered curbside pickup to those living locally. In addition to broadening its reach geographically, the Crafts Center also improved its outreach to all ages by starting several family programs.
“We don’t usually work with kids and we don’t really have kids programming, but this allowed us to reach families and kind of broaden our reach to all ages,” Nix said. “For example, one of our wood studio classes made these birdhouses, which made a great gift for the holidays, but it was also a great gift for families to be able to make them together.”
The Crafts Center has continued to offer courses and activities for college students as well. One of the newest programs this fall was Craft Relief Stress Busters, co-hosted by the Counseling Center. These activities are now open to NC State faculty and staff as well.
“We usually host these as in-person activities and usually have a big event at the end of the semester when students are getting ready for final exams,” Nix said. “This year we offered it online so that students could just dial in and do a fun, relaxing activity like making Zentangles. It’s very relaxing and healing to craft, and I think that’s really where our focus has been this year as well.”
In addition to online courses, the Crafts Center reopened to the public on Oct. 2 at limited capacity. The space is outfitted with plexiglass barriers, and students can sign up for reserved times to use the facilities and check out equipment. Although the semester has come to an end, there are still several classes and activities on the schedule during the remaining weeks of 2020. On Saturday, Dec. 5, the Crafts Center is partnering with NC State Parents and Family Services to host a free family tie dye event, and registration is open here.
Most of the Crafts Center’s programming will remain online in the spring. One event that will continue from the fall is a professional development series featuring experts in fields ranging from software programming, personal development and marketing and branding in the arts. Another exciting addition is the Crafts Center’s new C:LAB courses. The C:LAB is a digital maker space for making, prototyping and extending traditional media practices into commercial production using technology like 3-D printers and laser cutters.
“We’re living in a digital age, so we want to meet students where they are and offer some things that maybe they can’t get within their colleges or on campus as easily,” Nix said. “Here, we can help them build or design anything they want.”