‘Acts of Care’ project marks return of MSU Broad Art Museum

Documents of gratitude

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There are unselfish (and selfish) reasons to get in on “Acts of Care,” a community-based art installation that will mark the Sept. 1 reopening of MSU’s Broad Art Museum.

A splashy reopening, with Jeff Koons balloon animals, Beaujolais wine and ballyhoo, would not suit these queasy times. A demon-filled descent into Bosch-style chaos would be too close to what we have already.

So the Broad is taking a positive tack, asking everyday people from Greater Lansing to write a “statement of gratitude” about a person, organization or place that has helped them get through the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine, with an accompanying image.

The professionals at the Broad will work the submissions up into a massive, poster-like mosaic of good vibes, starting in the education wing and spilling over into other halls and galleries if the project takes off.

“The museum community is hyper-aware that this is a pivotal moment in our history,” Broad Museum spokeswoman Morgan Butts said. “Our responsibility as a museum is to document this.”

The horrors of 2020 will be processed, in art, music and literature, for many years to come. Images of anger, alienation, isolation, death and despair are no doubt forthcoming.

But not quite yet. “Acts of Care” promises a positive, if partial, early snapshot of life during the pandemic and a gesture of broad inclusion to the greater Lansing community.

That leads to the selfish part: It’s a rare (perhaps never to be repeated) chance to have something you wrote, and a picture you took, exhibited at one of the world’s major contemporary art museums. (You can submit an entry anonymously if you want.)

The project’s aim is to recognize any “acts of care” people have noted this spring, by health care workers, teachers or anyone else who has helped the community hold it together, including those who have worked to teach and take action against racial inequality and injustice.

Submissions can be made at Broadmuseu.msu.edu/exhibitions/acts-of-care.

Submissions must be received by Sunday (Aug. 2) to get into the first round of the exhibit.

Like most public institutions across the country, the Broad Museum has hovered in a strange stasis since it closed March 13. Even the Broad’s new director, Monica Ramirez-Montagut, is doing her job via Zoom and email while waiting, surrounded by boxes, in her New Orleans home, for a safe time to call up the movers and schlep to her new digs in East Lansing. Butts said her new boss is aiming to make the move soon.

Since the Broad closed March 13, the entire museum staff has been working at home, except for a daily walk through by museum registrar Rachel Vargas and chief preparator Brian Kirschensteiner to check on the building’s temperature, humidity and other physical conditions.

Physically, everything is OK, but without visitors, the Zaha Hadid-designed Broad Museum and the art inside is a lonely place.

“Art needs to be viewed,” Butts said. “It reminds me of some videos I’ve seen from aquariums and zoos — ‘the penguins miss you, the rhino misses you.’ Well, the art misses you.”

The Broad’s reopening, Sept. 1 is timed to coincide with the start of fall classes at MSU the following day. When MSU President Samuel Stanley’s announced that in-person classes would be held this fall, the Broad staff wanted to be open to serve them.

“We’ve been in constant consultation with health experts and university physicians, following CDC guidelines,” Butts said.

Arts professionals are anxiously watching data on attendance as museums reopen across the country, but it’s still too early to discern a general trend. The Detroit Institute of Arts reopened July 10; the Chicago Art Institute reopens Thursday (July 30) and the Museum of Science and Industry reopens Saturday (Aug. 1).

The question that is uppermost on the minds of most arts leaders is, will pent-up demand lead to a surge in attendance or will caution keep people away?

Colleen Dillenschneider, a market specialist who writes a blog on the subject, advises arts leaders that during and immediately after the pandemic, attendance at cultural sites will likely be “redistributed.” Parks, botanical gardens and other open-air spaces will see an uptick in attendance; symphony halls, theaters and other “enclosed spaces with limited movement” will suffer the most.

Museums are generally airy places where people move around, so they sit somewhere in between. The huge galleries and state-of-the-art ventilation at the Broad Museum, which was seldom crowded anyway, will likely make it an attractive pandemic-era haunt, not just for art seekers, but for people who are bored and are fleeing quarantine.

“We also want to continue online engagement for those who aren’t comfortable with visiting in person,” Butts said. A variety of classes, talks and hands-on workshops can be accessed at the Broad’s Web site.

Besides the “Acts of Care” exhibit, visitors to the Broad Art Museum in September will see the full 2020 MSU Master of Fine Arts exhibit, installed in March and waiting for an audience until now. The MFA show is always a panoply of advanced student work in many genres and media and has become an annual tradition at the Broad. Also in place this September is a complete series of provocative video works, collectively titled “Situation,” by filmmaker John Lucas and poet Claudia Rankine. The films revolve around the theme of race-based aggressions, both large and small.

The Broad’s sprawling lead exhibition since January, “Never Spoken Again: Rogue Stories of Science and Collections,” was scheduled to run until Aug. 23 and can’t be held over, because it is a traveling exhibition and it has to be moved to its next scheduled location.

“Unfortunately, some exhibits didn’t get the life we envisioned for them,” Butts said.

She hopes “Acts of Care” will take on a life of its own once people see it in person and get ideas for their own submissions.

“We’re still going through this, so this project is ongoing,” Butts said. “I don’t think anyone is looking at the world and saying, ‘Oh, this is going to end soon.’”

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