From Possible Competitors to Regular Collaborators
BMA x NMWA, a thematic monthly talk show, features the work of women artists; draws an international audience; and pools the expertise and resources of two museums to cost-effectively present a yearlong program. Launched in July 2020 by Adrienne Gayoso, National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), and Verónica Betancourt, Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA), it seized on the digital connectivity of the pandemic to join a regional arts audience to advance common goals: to celebrate, amplify, and pay women artists and develop sustainable programming practices that build community across museums. NMWA is the only major museum solely dedicated to championing women through the arts. NMWA’s mission dovetails with BMA’s 2020 Vision initiative to highlight the achievements of women-identifying artists and leaders through exhibitions, programs, and acquisitions in 2020-21. Whereas a monthly program that drew from a similar regional audience in DC and Baltimore would have been impossible and seen as a means of pitting two museums against each other in a fight for audience engagement, joining forces to center women in art, while digitally serving and growing both museums’ audiences, proved innovative.
Content that Moves the Margins to the Center
Episodes livestream for 45-60 minutes via Facebook and YouTube, with live questions and comments from viewers throughout. Shows respond to current events and spotlight art at both museums: ‘Art in Protest’ (July 2020) discussed the role art plays in advancing social justice, particularly amidst the Black Lives Matter protests of that summer. ‘Healing’ (Nov. 2020) offered a salve amidst the contentious election and brutal pandemic. ‘Here and Now’ (Jan. 2021) prompted reflection on moments of transition through site-specific art. Guest artists and curators discuss works with the hosts, share insights, and field questions from the audience.
Built on a foundation of collaboration and multivocality, the program is never a lecture and always a conversation. Much like Gayoso and Betancourt share hosting duties and model taking different perspective, they encourage comparison and connections among artists. BMA x NMWA has consistently emphasized the contributions of women artists of color with the vast majority of its guests or subjects identifying as BIPOC. Within this framework, race, gender, and ethnicity become life experiences that inform an intersectional understanding of an artist’s position and practice. Markers of demographic difference that distinguish BMA x NMWA guests from the mostly white, mostly male collections of many art museums are not discussed in opposition to a norm, but become the norm. As British artist Mary Evans put it in her discussion on Here and Now, “for me, African people are the standard.” BMA x NMWA has advanced an interpretive perspective where the work and scholarship of women, particularly women of color, is the standard.
Bringing the Conversation of the Gallery to a Digital Platform
Both Betancourt and Gayoso are gallery educators and, with the onset of the pandemic, wanted to bring the conversation of a good adult tour to a digital forum. Building on this spirit of connection and immediacy, they chose to livestream so that viewers could participate in comments, and so that viewers who preferred to listen in (as many do on in-person tours) could have an equally comfortable mode of participation. Livestreaming allowed for responsiveness in the moment and broadcasting to both Facebook and YouTube enabled automatically generated captions. To ensure that every viewer had a shared experience, regardless of whether they were watching via the BMA or NMWA’s social platforms, Betancourt and Gayoso made sure to read viewer questions and comments aloud before answering. Given the program’s quick emergence and modest budget, these modes of audience engagement were the best fit for accommodating a range of viewers.
Institutional and Community Impact
This is the first program of its kind created by NMWA and BMA educators and is a model cross-institutional partnership. Development and production has been experimental and iterative, moving from one livestreaming platform (BeLive) to another (StreamYard) as program needs changed and the audience for the program grew. Neither museum had experience with fully livestreamed programming with no pre-recorded content prior to the launch of BMA x NMWA. Cost-sharing reduces departmental budgets without reducing programmatic capacity and reach. Staff at both museums have forged positive working relationships, enhancing staff skills and capacity at the partner institution. Consistent and fair pay for our guests has advanced equity in compensating artists. NMWA plans to use this model for future virtual programs with other institutions that champion women artists.
Artists and audience members have found shared purpose and community through BMA x NMWA. Guest artists have frequently commented how much they have learned about another artist’s practice through the show. They have appreciated the opportunity to consider how someone at a different point in their career, or in a different country, or working in a different medium approaches a similar concern. Likewise, artists in the audience have found solace and community in the program, sharing “Thank you for your inspiration. Being isolated can be uninspiring when not being able to be with other artists,” and “things like this is making my circle bigger❤️.” These comments document our success in achieving a key programmatic goal: to develop sustainable programming practices that build community across museums. We have built community both across museum staffs and across a regional, and international, arts audience.