Heather Arenas (b. 1969),
Heather Arenas (b. 1969), "The Regulars," 2020, oil on cradled wood, 30 x 40 in., available through Reinert Fine Art

The 2021 Fine Art Connoisseur guide to art museums is now available. Review it for free here: 2021 Museum Guide Fine Art Connoisseur 2021 art museums guide

A Shout-Out For Our Art Museums


Every winter, Fine Art Connoisseur dedicates part of an issue to highlighting America’s art museums and the important, wide-ranging roles they play in our lives. I am particularly fond of this initiative because I spent much of my career working in art museums and still love visiting them because they always expand my horizons through their exhibitions and other programs.

Of course, my visits became less frequent during 2020, the year most of us hope to forget. Throughout the pandemic turmoil, I have been impressed by the resilience of our museum colleagues, and by their unwavering dedication to sharing the joys of fine art even when it’s harder, or impossible, for us to enter their remarkable buildings.

One of their chief challenges is negotiating the difficult financial conditions triggered by the sudden collapse in earned income (ticket sales, space rentals, café and gift shop revenues, etc.) and by the shifting of much philanthropy toward social justice and human services. Much has been said and published about viable coping strategies, and among the most interesting platforms for such conversations has been the American Alliance of Museums, the field’s largest membership organization.

It’s a sad fact that most places in America — including New York City, where I live — will not see tourism rebound until late 2021 at the earliest. Tourists are a key constituency within many museums’ visitor-ship, and so, without them, the institutions are rightly refocusing their attention on attracting more visitors from their immediate surroundings. This is not to say museums previously ignored their neighbors, but now is the ideal time to deepen these friendships. Every large town in America has at least one great art museum, so make a point to visit it soon, especially now that the weather is cooler.

As awful as 2020 was, it is worth celebrating the fact that more museums invented terrific online programs to engage their current audiences, entice new ones, and — in some savvy cases — raise revenues, too. I have been simply amazed at the plethora of digital lectures, tours, workshops, and even benefit galas and summer camps devised in the past 10 months. These remind us of how creative museum staffers are, and also that the need for cultural enrichment is actually more urgent now that fewer of us can leave home.

There are two more ways readers of Fine Art Connoisseur can support their beloved museums. First, join as a member. In the past 10 months, I have been signing up at various institutions as a lower-level member even when I am not particularly passionate about the museums’ specialties — I simply want them to survive, and I know how much they enrich my community’s life. Many museums have (wisely) created a cheaper virtual membership that allows first-timers to dip their toes in, or alternative membership categories that prioritize contact with institutional staff for research or expertise.

Second, there’s the worthy impulse to shop. Many museums have terrific websites highlighting the same high-quality merchandise they sell in their on-site boutiques. Even though the holidays are behind us, why not click on the relevant webpage and buy art-related items to delight your loved ones while supporting your favorite museums?

2021 looks to be as challenging a year for museums as 2020, though in different ways. Let’s all do what we can to make their paths a little easier, and let’s thank them for all they do to lift our spirits, something more valuable than ever before.

Bookmark the 2021 Museum Guide today so you can plan an art-filled year.

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