Museums change lives. How is that, you might ask?

Yes, it’s true that our exhibits and collections are incredibly powerful — I’ve been personally moved by several exhibitions and remember them still to this day. “Hapa.me” was one of those life-changing exhibits that I saw in Los Angeles two years ago that addressed biracial identity. The content resonated with me in a way that was deeply personal.

But what happens when a museum can no longer open its doors and share its exhibits and programs in-person?

Like every sector of the economy, the Dennos Museum Center went back to the drawing board and brainstormed new programs that continued to place community and the arts at the core. By early April, it was apparent that local artists were already being affected by closures and quarantine orders. In response, the Dennos Museum Center staff created a “Live and Local” concert series with several goals in mind:

1. Support local artists who could no longer work in physical venues

2. Raise funds for the Crosshatch Artist Relief Fund

3. Provide a free Facebook concert for our community

The first of four online concerts drew over 300 visitors to the hour-long performance by May Erlewine. Visitors posted that they were thrilled to see May perform, were grateful for a moment of calmness and reflection, and provided a generous outpouring to the Relief Fund.

One concert — one artist — countless friends, community, and family who found a place of calm and peace that evening on April 6.

The role of 21st century museums is rapidly changing. Connecting people and ideas in new and innovative ways is what we do through the visual and creative arts. Collections and exhibits are critical to this mission, but the human element is undeniably central as well.

The Dennos Museum Center is living through this challenging time with everyone else, and we are responding with all of the courageous creativity that we can muster. Whether it’s rallying arts organizations in the area to donate medical supplies, or partnering with our peers at Michigan Legacy Art Park, or retooling our “Draw Northern Michigan” (Draw NoMI) program for online art education delivery, our programs extend far beyond the gallery walls and the collection vaults.

We’re looking for your digital photo entries for our first K-12: Dennos Virtual Exhibit. No fancy cameras needed — just a good smartphone camera and a photo of your pet — real, imaginary, or even a stuffed pet friend. We will be using artsteps virtual exhibit software to present the first 30 entries, and we look forward to hosting a “live” reception for our young artists and the community on Facebook Live! The submission deadline was extended to April 25.

We hope you will stay in touch with us and share your thoughts. How can we build up and support each other during this time of social distancing? We’d love to hear from you: chadley@nmc.edu

Until we can see each other again in the community, at the museum, or wherever it might be, stay safe and take good care. We look forward to welcoming you back to your community museum again soon.

Craig Hadley is the executive director of the Dennos Museum Center.

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