Like all cultural institutions, the Katonah Museum of Art has struggled to continue to function during the coronavirus crisis. But even being unable to allow visitors into the building or to hold their big annual spring fundraiser, KMA is managing to remain a vital community resource.
According to KMA Marketing and Communications Manager Caroline Holder, no one at the museum has been furloughed due to the closing. Not only have the museum’s roughly 15 full- and part-time 15 staff members all been retained, but the museum has just hired a new director of development, Lea Emery, Ms. Holder said. Staff members, she added, have been translating programs and events to digital formats for remote access during the crisis, and will assess the possibility of holding in-person fundraising events as the need arises. Most importantly, Ms. Holder said the museum is due to open later this month, and will be announcing its plans soon. (Note: The museum announced on July 7 that it would officially reopen on July 26.)
In the meantime, virtual programming continues.
Last Tuesday, KMA launched the first virtual session of CrossTalk 2.0. A reincarnation of the original CrossTalk series co-produced by the Katonah Museum of Art and the Katonah Village Library a decade ago, each program in this summer’s series features two experts juxtaposed in unlikely and seemingly unrelated pairings but tackling the same theme. During each 30-minute Zoom program, hosted by a CrossTalk 2.0 committee member, the speakers explore a compelling topic, engage in lively conversation with each other and field questions from viewers.
KMA Executive Director Michael Gitlitz serves on the series committee, which also includes Katonah Village Library Director Mary Kane. Registration is required at the KMA website, with a $5 minimum donation. All funds support the Community Center of Northern Westchester food pantry.
The museum also hosts another virtual series, Docent Dialogues, each Thursday at 2:30 p.m. The series of live, interactive sessions, led by a KMA docent, is focusing on the museum’s current exhibition, “Bisa Butler: Portraits,” which has been extended to Oct. 4. Docents present insight into the influences, artistic process, and stories behind the artist’s narrative quilts, which capture African American identity and culture. This is the first solo museum exhibition of the artist’s work. A virtual tour, slideshow and videos of the artist at work are available on the KMA website.
Mr. Gitlitz and Ms. Butler will be the featured speakers at the July 21 CrossTalk 2.0 session, which will take up the topic of “change.”
In a recent statement addressing the museum’s continued closure, Mr Gitlitz, said, “The coronavirus pandemic has presented the world with a crisis that is unprecedented. While we all wish we had more visibility into what the future holds, I believe that the physical experience of viewing art in a museum remains essential to discovery and learning.”
He continued, “The Katonah Museum of Art will continue to be a place for people to develop and sustain relationships that enhance our individual well-being and form the bonds of our community.”
Mr. Gitlitz added that, while KMA plans to reopen as soon as it can be done safely and responsibly, “We continue to reimagine how the museum experience of the future might differ from that of the past. I anticipate that virtual content and livestreamed events, like those created for our current exhibition, ‘Bisa Butler: Portraits,’ will be carried forward, furthering the KMA’s mission to promote understanding of the arts for diverse audiences.”
Another virtual event coming up soon is “Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack,” a film screening and Q&A with the artist and director Deborah Shaffer, moderated by Mr. Gitlitz. It will be held Wednesday, July 8, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., and is co-presented by KMA and the Bedford Playhouse. The program is free, with registration required. Participants are invited to screen the film prior to the discussion. The film follows Ms. Flack as she returns to her canvass for the first time in decades and reveals her struggles as an artist and mother to find her rightful place in the art world.
KMA’s Education Department also has remained active while the museum has been closed. Another initiative that has been shifted to a virtual and at-home experience is ArteJuntos/ArtTogether, the education team’s bilingual art and family literacy program. New take-home art bags filled with art materials, art projects, outdoor activities, and links to online lessons and stories are being distributed to 375 families in need, with the help of partner organizations Community Center of Northern Westchester, Neighbors Link, Mount Kisco Child Care Center, Head Start in Mount Kisco, and First Steps Early Literacy in Ossining.
Provided at no charge to Latino preschool children and their parents, AJAT provides early learning experiences for low-income and educationally at-risk children. According to museum officials, the program aims to help to develop visual literacy, critical thinking and language acquisition, which are considered foundational elements of academic success. For their parents, AJAT fosters a greater understanding of their children's learning needs, as well as an increased comfort in museum settings.
At a meeting of the Katonah Chamber of Commerce last week, Mr. Gitlitz suggested that the Katonah Gazebo could be an ideal location for KMA to make the take-home art bags available.
At the same time, KMA staff members are planning ahead for the time when the museum and schools reopen, and the program can resume in-person activities at community centers and at the KMA.
For more information, call 232-9555 or visit katonahmuseum.org.
Katonah Museum of Art is located at 134 Jay St., Katonah.