FARGO, N.D. • Early this year the Plains Art Museum had a goal once a month to host a meet-and-greet breakfast in an effort to better connect with the business community.
It met just a couple of times – and then the pandemic was declared, putting an end to those plans.
The pandemic also affected the museum in other ways. In January and February the museum had record visitor numbers – more than 1,000 guests a month, said museum curator Sandy Thompson. But then March came along and it temporarily had to shut its doors, forfeiting additional plans and exhibits.
“We were down for about three months,” said Thompson. “It was very painful for us.”
But all of those setbacks are hopefully a thing of the past. The museum reopened on June 4 and, though it has scaled back some of its programs, is still offering the community something to enjoy during these unusual times.
“The fact is this is a place where people can come to find respite, it's a calm place. It's known as a gathering place,” Thompson said.
Thompson said it also has recaptured about 80% of its visitors count from last year at the same time. “That’s not bad,” he said. “At least we’re going in the right direction.”
Come Nov. 11, it also will bring back the Art & Business Breakfast. Thompson said he is extremely excited about that, even though it will be in a virtual format. Unless the pandemic gets worse, the museum plans to keep it going once a month, indefinitely.
The Wednesday meeting starts at 11 a.m.
Something else to look forward to this fall is an exhibition called High Visibility, which will open on Nov. 23 and run through May 30, featuring contemporary art created in rural communities.
“More often than not, the narrative around contemporary work is really established – or people think it’s established – in urban settings, in urban museums and galleries, in urban auction houses,” Thompson said. “But there's a lot of really cool contemporary work being done in rural communities, and so we're going to highlight that, particularly when there's this very strong urban rural divide in the United States right now. It won't be political, but it’ll draw attention to that schism going on right now.”
Thompson said art displayed will include pieces from the region – Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota.
Masks are required when visiting the museum, and social distancing is practiced, including allowing only five people at a time into the gift shop and 10 at a time in the galleries. To his knowledge, Thompson said there hasn’t been any pushback from the community about it. Visitors have been very respectful to follow guidelines. That includes out-of-towners, who also visit the museum, from Tennessee to California and many points in between.
“We're clear about it (facility guidelines) on our website,” he said. “We’re clear about signage before you enter the museum. We have sanitizers all over the place. … We monitor it very closely. We have an amazing facility staff that sanitize every single day, except Sunday because we're not open then. We're doing a really good job and are very civically responsible.”
He calls these times not the new normal, but the “new abnormal.” It is the art – and the business of art – that helps ground him, keep him balanced. He believes it can do the same for others.
“It's just been a joy to see who continues to understand that and want to be involved in the creative side of things,” Thompson said. “Whether it's listening to music being played from the rooftop in Rome or a group of families on a cul-de-sac in Great Britain doing chalk art, it's just all over and we are a part of that. We really believe that we're part of the basic human need contingent.”