What a difference a year makes. A year ago, Sarah Schleuning, the Dallas Museum of Art's Interim Chief Curator and Margot B. Perot Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, was preparing to welcome crowds to the sublimely beautiful blockbuster exhibition, Dior: From Paris to the World. Today, the galleries of the Dallas Museum of Art are silent and Schleuning is using art to reach beyond the walls of the museum.
The Dallas Museum of Art temporarily closed to the public on March 13 as concerns about the coronavirus escalated. The closure truncated the showing of speechless: different by design, a critically acclaimed exhibition curated by Schleuning. The well-attended exhibition is an innovative sensory experience, encouraging visitors to touch and interact with the art. It was slated to move to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta this year. The High Museum is currently closed and due to the tactile nature of speechless: different by design, the museum decided to cancel the exhibition.
Both museums share the same public health priority: stop the spread of the coronavirus. “My immediate concern was for the health and safety of our community. How to slow community spread and be active participants in a community-wide response was and is at the forefront of all of our minds. We remain deeply cognizant of our role in the greater fabric of the Dallas community, and in this ongoing battle with the pandemic,” Schleuning said.
Although the museum cannot physically welcome visitors into its space, Schleuning has plenty of work to do. “My work has not slowed down at all. We continue to think of creative and interesting ways to provide our community connectivity to the world around us and to the meaning and relevance of art in our daily lives. We remain committed to showing on whatever platform we can the power of art to communicate, to heal, to engage, to inspire, and hopefully spark wonder and joy in this challenging moment,” Schleuning said.
Like many other arts organizations, the Dallas Museum of Art has gone digital. “We've developed an incredible strategy to harness projects that are already on view, to create digital walkthroughs, virtual tours, etc. We are also working diligently to create new content, new ways for people to make art, and to engage in different ways,” Schleuning said.
Although the exhibition has closed, patrons can explore speechless: different by design online. Visitors can digitally walk through the exhibition, read the artists’ statements and watch videos showing how to interact with the art.
The museum added a new digital tour of Flores Mexicanas: Women in Modern Mexican Art, an exhibition exploring gender in Mexican art curated by Dr. Mark A. Castro, the museum’s Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art.
Visitors can navigate through the exhibition, focusing on specific works. Descriptions of the works are in English and Spanish. The museum uses embedded videos to provide information about conserving the historic works as well as curator talks about selected pieces.
“In the end, what we are trying to do is constantly see this as an opportunity to innovate and advance, how we reach our community through our website, and our digital assets, while we continue to strengthen and refine the work we are doing internally in preparation of reopening our physical doors to the community,” Schleuning said.
This shutdown offers another opportunity: the chance for people to connect with their creativity at home. “The most positive thing for me that has come out of this is the affirmation of the role that the arts—in all of its various forms—plays in our daily lives. As we struggle to understand what is happening right now, so many are turning to making (especially to making masks), to learning new things, being creative in confined spaces, listening to music, reading literature, doing all kinds of things that help find meaning and connect us to a greater narrative of this moment. Art has the power to soothe, to heal, to nurture, to amuse, to spark wonder and joy, and to inspire us all,” Schleuning said.
A date for the reopening of the Dallas Museum of Art has not been announced. When the museum does reopen, Schleuning will be ready to welcome everyone back. “My greatest challenge when we reopen will be containing our excitement about seeing both our collection physically, each other, and our amazing visitors,” she said. “We can’t wait for people to get back to experiencing the works in person.”
Learn more about online opportunities at the Dallas Museum of Art: https://dma.org/