In late March, just as Governor Cuomo was ordering that nonessential businesses suspend having employees on-site, the George Eastman Museum received approval of our request that the preservation and security of our collections and our National Historic Landmark was an “essential business,” which allowed us to continue to have limited staff on premises, provided we complied with appropriate health and safety procedures. Most of our employees shifted to working remotely, where they have been remarkably productive. Our staff quickly adapted to video meetings, which have kept colleagues well connected.
From March 14 through July 23, the Eastman Museum was closed to visitors. During this period, we greatly increased our efforts to reach our audiences with engaging new online programs and content. The response has exceeded our expectations and significantly expanded our reach. We have made a strategic decision that we will continue to prioritize creating new digital content and making our programs remotely available. We are pleased that the museum recently received a $135,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (under the CARES Act) to support our initiatives in this area.
Still, we fundamentally believe that online access cannot re-create seeing an original photograph or camera, experiencing a film in a cinema, touring a historic site, or enjoying a garden. Although we made remarkable progress behind the scenes during the months when we were closed to the public, our team truly missed the satisfaction of sharing our carefully curated gallery exhibitions, film screenings, and George Eastman’s mansion and gardens with appreciative visitors. Our staff has been exhilarated by the resumption of our institution’s seventy years of providing an immediate, personal experience — of photography, cinema, history, and natural beauty — to Eastman Museum members and the broader public.
Final steps to restore the interior of the Colonnade and ongoing construction on the visitor center project deferred our reopening of the museum to visitors by about four weeks. This gave our team extra time to plan and implement the steps necessary to protect the safety of our visitors and staff.
We reopened with three new photography exhibitions. I am particularly proud of Gathering Clouds: Photographs from the Nineteenth Century and Today in our main galleries. The earlier objects in the exhibition are predominantly drawn from our collection, including about twenty of Stieglitz’s Equivalent photographs. In our Project Gallery, we are presenting recent work by a leading contemporary art photographer in James Welling: Choreograph. Finally, in celebration of the centenary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, the exhibition in our History of Photography Gallery examines how photography has portrayed, and fundamentally shaped, perceptions of women and feminist movements since the mid-1800s.
We have been pleased that members and other visitors have begun to return to the Eastman Museum in the past weeks — and have responded very favorably to our new exhibitions and the restored Bruce B. Bates Colonnade — but attendance is significantly below our capacity, even in the context of social distancing and other precautions.
I invite you to plan your trip to the Eastman Museum, buy tickets online (not required for members, active military, or SNAP/ EBT cardholders), bring your masks, and experience the pleasures our museum has to offer. We encourage visitors to bring their own mobile device to access our mobile tour (eastman.oncell.com), particularly because we are not currently offering personally guided tours. During this time of limited cultural and recreational activities, the Eastman Museum offers a safe environment for peaceful enjoyment and contemplation.
Our trustees, staff, volunteers, and members all contribute to advancing the George Eastman Museum, but a critical part of our mission to enhance the appreciation and understanding of photography, cinema, and George Eastman is only fulfilled by those who explore the museum in person. We hope that you will visit soon.
Bruce Barnes, Ph.D.
Ron and Donna Fielding Director
From the September/October 2020 Bulletin