Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts Director of Development Clara Lewis said they’ve had to reinvent themselves since first closing in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic and reopening three months later in June. During that time, Lewis said the museum figured out the virtual world and started displaying exhibitions and videos online and art projects at home to help parents with home schooling.
After opening this summer with safety protocols like temperature checks, masks, hand sanitizing and social distancing, Lewis said they’ve had a huge response in virtual exhibitions with over 1,500 visitors on average compared to 200 in-person.
Nonprofit launches campaign: TOMAGWA Tomorrow Campaign seeks community’s help to endure the COVID-19 pandemic
“Didn’t imagine we’d have this many hits. …It’s certainly served a purpose and we’re continuing with it,” Lewis said.
The Spring-based museum recently held its 2020 Pearls of Art Gala, themed Art Heals, Aug. 8, with Lewis calling it a big success. When they closed in March, Lewis said it was just days before the in-person event was supposed to take place. Instead, the museum engaged a video production company and rescheduled the event.
On HoustonChronicle.com: New COVID testing strategy could be ‘a game-changer’ for Harris County
The event featured an online auction and a gourmet steak dinner prepared in take-home bags by the caterer. The honorees were The Hamill Foundation, Claud and Marie Hamill, and Grants Director Tom Brown, with mother-daughter Anais Watsky and Elizabeth Naggar the gala chairs, Commissioner Jack Cagle and Dr. Calvin Cobb serving as master of ceremonies, and Judge Lincoln Goodwin serving as auctioneer.
“We didn’t know what to expect. …We delivered the meals to individual homes and then the virtual presentation, people really enjoyed that,” Lewis said. “We didn’t know if anybody would buy anything from a picture or not, but they did, enough that we’re able to continue through the fall. We’ve been able to keep all our staff members employed.”
Lewis said the goal for the virtual gala was to raise $100,000 and they surpassed that by another $30,000.
“We’re we really pleased; we did a fill the heart donation appeal, that was a $50,000 goal and we exceeded that goal and then the auction we had a $50,000 goal and we exceeded that,” Lewis said.
Lewis said the museum more than doubled the number of people that would have come to the event after the video was posted online, reaching way beyond Houston, Texas. She said one of the artists is from England and has a following that’s all over Europe and now some of those people have seen and experienced what the museum does in Spring.
Houston coronavirus updates: Abbott’s COVID response criticized by Dems and some Republicans
“Supporters come from thousands of miles away, so it’s a new era,” Lewis said. “Nothing will ever take the place of first-hand experience with fine art but as far as being able to have families interact with one another through art. …That’s been very gratifying just to know that beyond our shores people are enjoying what’s going on in our little city.”
‘Sense of hope’
With the fall 2020 exhibitions opening Sept. 19, Lewis said members have the option to call for an appointment time. She said people have been coming to the museum in small groups, which are spaced out throughout the day to make people feel comfortable.
Lewis said “Idyllic Times: Selections from the Gary T. Leach Collection of American Art” will be shown in the Main Gallery; “Vistas and Voyages: The Photography of Don Pine” will be shown in the Rebecca Cole Gallery; and the Hillery Community Gallery will display “Along for the Journey” by local illustrator Cheryl Pilgrim.
“(Don Pine’s) from this northwest area and we’re so happy to show his works,” Lewis said. “Very different type of exhibition (Pilgrim) that we’ve done, and I think people are really going to enjoy this.”
Lewis said there will be in-person tours available and will be continuing virtual tours as well with online lectures.
BACK IN BUSINESS: Houston’s River Oaks Theatre reopens this week
“Just the fact that we’re open and art is going on, and people can have that dimension in their lives, it makes it not feel so much like you’re stuck at home but that you’re safe at home, that sense of hope,” Lewis said.
Lewis said the museum will also be installing one of five murals that they commissioned from mural artist Anat Ronan, which were revealed in a time lapse at the gala, to honor the frontline medical workers of Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital sometime in September. Lewis said they are working with Keith Barber, CEO, and his staff on the reveal of that installation.
“That will be another exciting dimension, we are so fortunate to have such a fine medical facility here,” Lewis said. “We wanted to thank them in a way that only art can express.”
To provide more resources for the northwest Houston community, the museum will be launching the School of Art this month.
Registration for fall in-person and virtual classes is Sept. 4, and is aimed at ages 8-12, with classes beginning, Sept. 29. Lewis said class size is limited, in keeping with and exceeding Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety protocol guidelines.
With nothing similar outside of downtown, School of Art Coordinator Karri Clark said the museum wanted bring classes that were dedicated to fine arts to the northwest Houston area. She said there’s an infrared scanner in the front entrance to the museum into the lobby where students will get their temperature checked when entering.
PREVIEW: Get our experts’ picks for concerts, kids’ stuff, fine arts, movies and more each week in our entertainment newsletter.
“Families are not allowed to come in with them, only the students, and then they have to wear a mask while they’re in the building at all times,” Clark said.
In addition to that, Clark said there’s plexiglass stations on the tables that are around the students. She said there’s one per student and the teacher as well, with each student having their own set of supplies and no sharing in place.
Clark said instructors are going to work and teach the same concepts but that classes will be unique in the way that teachers instruct and create projects with students participating in a variety of things like drawing, painting and sculptural projects.
She said all the teachers on staff are certified art teachers in the state of Texas, with some of them being retirees and others who are presently teaching.
“The imagination part of it and the creativity part of it is really one of the main focuses,” Clark said. “It’s kind of a place to escape and for students to have a voice in what they’re making because sometimes art students tend to be a little bit more quiet and sometimes this is the way that they are able to express themselves. “
Clark said participants can range anywhere from a beginning student to a serious amateur.
“We invite anyone to enroll because they’re going to start off with the basic fundamentals, kind of the elements of art and expand off that,” Clark said.
Clark said a lot of times art creates dialogue between students and their classmates and also provides an opportunity for them to create dialogue with parents and teachers.
“Give them an opportunity to express themselves because once they start talking about their artwork, they tend to really get excited about what they’re doing and be able to talk about what they created,” Clark said.