Ohio Wesleyan University: Richard M. Ross Art Museum looks to maintain online presence

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek
Erin Fletcher, Ohio Wesleyan University's Richard M. Ross Art Museum director, stands in an exhibit area of the museum at 60 S. Sandusky St. in Delaware.

Ohio Wesleyan University's Richard M. Ross Art Museum expanded its online presence because of the COVID-19 coronavirus and plans to continue that presence even after the pandemic is a distant memory.

When OWU's classes and programs went online in the spring of 2020 because of the pandemic, the museum did likewise, said director Erin Fletcher.

The museum was reopened in the fall but returned to online only when the spread of the virus began to surge again in late November and December, she said. It was reopened again in February as the surge slowed, she said. 

"Now that we have reopened, we have really found that online programming has been successful, that people like the option of connecting to the museum with online programming,” she said. “So I hope that actually after we go back to in-person events, after people have been vaccinated, that there will still be some online programming. Because I think it allows people to connect with us from the comfort of their home if they can't come out to the museum."

Before the pandemic, the museum was a place of interaction, she said.

"The museum is always free and open to the public. The goal of the museum is to be a space for campus and community,” she said. “That's part of our mission. We want to be like the library, a place where people can take advantage of us as a resource in this community. These exhibits are here for everybody. They're here for our campus, but they're also here for Delaware.

 "The pandemic altered so many things. Our exhibition schedule was almost completely wiped out. So we had to start building ... what we were going to do from the ground up again," Fletcher said.

When the pandemic hit, "we did not stop working. Our staff continued to work," she said.

Exhibits were posted online, where they remain at https://www.owu.edu/about/ross-art-museum/. The museum also has links to its online material on its Facebook page.

"We started thinking about what online programming would look like, and we also moved to a lot of online programs in the fall," she said.

As it was before the pandemic, the library is open to visit and see the exhibits, she said, with the university requiring use of face masks and other safety precautions.

"A lot of the things we've seen that were really important to the museum's operation before were just in-person visits,” she said. “Because exhibits are experiential -- because you learn about them by coming into them -- the ability for people to just feel safe about coming into and out of the galleries was a huge part of the way we operated. A physical presence, you know. People's physical presence in the gallery."

Before than pandemic, the museum hosted frequent events, said assistant director Tammy Wallace.

"In the past, we've held events at the Ross for the campus, such as retirement receptions for faculty or administrators. We've hosted class visits, receptions for new faculty, brunch for graduating art majors and their families," Wallace said. "We've hosted community groups, such as the Delaware Vineyard Church on their Progressive Date Night, Olentangy Shanahan Middle School student visits and Main Street Delaware awards breakfasts.

“We've had visits from Willowbrook retirement residents, from All R Friends of Lewis Center and hosted a Main Street First Friday 'March for Art.' We've had Boy Scout groups come in for visits, the children from the Early Childhood Center on campus come by and the Alpha Group (which aids those with disabilities) stop by for a visit," she said.

Because of the pandemic, such large gatherings had stopped.

Wallace said she hopes they can resume this fall.

"I did have a group of eight Boy Scouts and their parents come to the museum in November after regular hours, and everyone wore a mask," Wallace said. "And in the last two days, All R Friends have had three separate groups of 10 visit, which is the perfect size for a group to be able to visit without being crowded." 

During the academic year, the museum is open to in-person visitors from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays and 1 to 5 p.m. and Sundays. The museum is handicap-accessible.

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