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Weathering the Storm: Fresno Art Museum in the Time of COVID-19

IN THE September 12 ISSUE

FROM THE 2020 Articles,
andArts & Entertainment,
andSarah Peterson-Camacho
SECTIONS

by Sarah A. Peterson-Camacho

As the pandemic-induced shutdown closed businesses across the nation last March, the Fresno Art Museum (FAM) shuttered itself to the public for the first time in 72 years. But behind those closed doors, the museum is alive and well, preparing for a show-stopping reopening later in the fall. Kings River Life spoke with FAM’s Executive Director, Michele Ellis Pracy, to discover what’s been happening behind the scenes at the Fresno Art Museum.

FAM opening reception (back before the closures) for Gifted: Collecting the Art of California at Gardena High School, 1919–1956. Winter/Spring 2020 exhibition that had to close early

KRL: When did the Fresno Art Museum (FAM) open, and how long have you been its Executive Director?

MEP: The Fresno Art Museum was founded as the Fresno Art Center in 1949. The institution became the Fresno Art Museum in 1985, and has been accredited by the American Alliance of Museums since 1973. I have been in my position as Executive Director and Chief Curator since March 2015.

KRL: How has the museum evolved since its founding, and since you’ve been there?

MEP: FAM has evolved from an artist-focused community art center of the 1940s, into a heralded and indispensable contemporary art museum with a legacy of exhibitions and programs that have West Coast and national recognition. We have a Permanent Collection of over 3,500 works of art that we hold in trust for our public. Since I have been at FAM, I have focused on original exhibitions curated by myself and staff that are relevant to our community and visitors. I also rent specific traveling exhibitions which are brought in to enrich our visitors that we could not have afforded to organize on our own. We feature works from our Permanent Collection at least one exhibition a year. Our website is a repository for exploring our past Exhibitions and upcoming Exhibitions as well.

KRL: How has the current shutdown affected the Fresno Art Museum?

MEP: FAM has been closed to the public since March 18, 2020, because of pandemic directives set by federal, state, and city mandates. All staff has worked full time from home since, and we have managed as a team to ensure a seamless reopening sometime this fall. Our memberships have remained steady; our recent Annual Fund Drive was successful. We have secured grant money for the new exhibitions, and major donor gifts have been realized to keep our cash flow consistent and general operations funded. We did secure federal PPP and SBA grants that helped financially between April 1 and June 30. The most important thing right now is to remain fiscally healthy while we wait for the green light to reopen.

Fresno Art Museum

KRL: How has it affected the local arts scene at large?

MEP: I am afraid the local arts scene has been adversely impacted by COVID-19. Those arts entities include those who do not have a brick-and-mortar facility and therefore cannot perform or invite the public to participate yet. Art Hop, theater, and music institutions have no earned income means of support without public attendance. I know from speaking with my fellow Directors at the Fresno Philharmonic, Youth Orchestras of Fresno, and various theater enterprises that they are remaining viable without their ability to perform live. We are all developing a vital virtual presence to supplant our physical presence for physical audiences.

KRL: What has the community response been during this difficult time?

MEP: The museum’s members and donors have been completely understanding that our closure is just temporary, and they expect FAM to weather this storm and come back as strong as ever. Their support has been unflagging, and they are all voicing excitement that our reopening is now sooner rather than later. Typically, FAM receives no city, state, or federal funding; we are the community’s museum and we are supported by local individuals and family foundations to the tune of $1 million a year. We are so grateful that their loyalty has remained consistent during this unprecedented time.

Inside of FAM

KRL: How has the Fresno Art Museum weathered the storm thus far? What kinds of online/streaming events has FAM planned for the near future?

MEP: FAM is basically fiscally sound although additional gifts are always welcome. Our Year-End Annual Fund Drive launches in mid-to-late October, and we anticipate generous giving for tax purposes at that time. We are also hoping to have reopened by mid October.

We have devoted a great deal of staff time to developing a virtual presence while our museum is closed. Our Facebook and Instagram platforms have new interactive materials and digital experiences posted every day. We send an e-blast newsletter out every Wednesday morning to over 5,000 households updating our constituency on myriad subjects. Anyone can join our mailing list for free on our website.

KRL: What can the public do to support the Fresno Art Museum at this time?

MEP: Of course, giving generously and at any time is critical to our survival. We are 71 years on the Fresno Art Scene, never closing our doors for any reason until COVID-19. Monetary gifts to FAM can be in the form of a membership, or a general donation, both of which can be accomplished on our website.

I would like to thank the FAM staff and board, and our loyal supporters for caring as they do for this cultural gem!

FAM also has a #CreateAtHome page on their website for craft ideas that kids can do at home!

Sarah A. Peterson-Camachois a library assistant with Fresno County Library, with a Bachelor’s in English and a Bachelor’s in Journalism from California State University, Fresno. In her free time, she makes soap and jewelry that she sells at Fresno-area craft fairs. She has written for The Clovis Roundup and the Central California Paranormal Investigators (CCPI) Newsletter.

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