A Message from Director Pamela Franks

December 22, 2020

Dear friends,

Warm greetings from the Williams College Museum of Art! We have missed seeing you in person over these last many months. As we approach the close of 2020 and reflect on what a challenging year this has been—marked by losses of all kinds—I send you and your loved ones our heartfelt wishes for healing, courage, and hope in the year ahead. 

The past year has asked a lot of us as individuals, families, communities, and organizations, and has forced us to pause, reflect, regroup, reevaluate, and reinvent. In this process, we at WCMA have grown in camaraderie and creativity, and most especially in unity around our shared mission and values. Recognizing that although timelines and expectations may shift, our commitment to the incredible potential of the campus art museum guides our focus and keeps our work moving forward. We have found inspiration and resiliency within our Williams College and regional communities, sharing ideas and finding new ways to collaborate and support one another. 

One such collaboration is currently underway: a presentation of the public art project ​Resist Covid/Take 6!​ by renowned artist and performer Carrie Mae Weems, whose work is part of the museum collection. WCMA is partnering with the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance, the Davis Center, MASS MoCA, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Usdan Gallery at Bennington College, Bennington Museum, the Clark Art Institute, and the Town of Williamstown to present Weems’ messaging around public health and the racial disparities of the pandemic throughout the Northern Berkshires and Southern Vermont region. This project offers us the opportunity to respond to this moment in close concert with campus and community partners. WCMA’s activations of the project will include a banner on the museum exterior, posters on BRTA bus shelters in Williamstown, and a series of student-led campus engagements next semester. 

This artist project is not the first area collaboration to spring from the pandemic. In early summer, we launched the Northern Berkshires Art Outside Tour, an online map providing walking and biking tours of outdoor art in Williamstown, Adams, and North Adams. A joint project of MASS MoCA, WCMA, and the Clark, the interactive map features sculptures on the Williams campus, and is an integral part of our Explore Outdoors and Online campaign, which welcomes people to engage with WCMA while the building remains closed to the public.  

Starting back in March, we put a lot of energy toward creating new opportunities for virtual content and connection. A year-long program series, ​New Ecologies: Gatherings Around the Art and Ideas of Our Time​, organized by Nina Pelaez WCMA’s Curator of Public Programs and Interpretation, launched over the summer with a program inspired by the ​Landmarks​ photography survey exhibition and one inspired by outdoor sculpture. Both programs brought together artists and scholars in conversation, with the latter featuring three sculptors with work in our collection: Alice Aycock, Rona Pondick, and Ursula von Rydingsvard. Our live attendance for these conversations has been manyfold what we can accommodate in the museum space and the program videos are available on our YouTube channel for folks to enjoy at leisure. Also on the YouTube channel is a wonderful tour of ​Landmarks​ by exhibition curator Horace Ballard, a series of interviews with museum staff and artists conducted by our student group Agents for Creative Action, Virtual Studio Visits with Class of 2020 Studio Art majors, and a recent musical performance at WCMA by the Williams College I/O New Music Ensemble. 

This year’s Plonsker Family Lecture in Contemporary Art was presented online by MacArthur award-winning interdisciplinary artist Trevor Paglen. The talk drew a broad audience and also served as the keynote for a WCMA Digital symposium called Exquisite Data. The virtual symposium, beautifully managed by WCMA’s digital humanities fellow Beth Fischer, was the culmination of an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded grant for the WCMA Digital initiative. Another WCMA Digital project that launched in 2020 is the online browsing tool Collection Explorer, supported by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation as well as Mellon, which allows viewers to move seamlessly from a bird’s-eye view of 12,400 objects to a high-resolution view of a single work of art. Collection Explorer provides an overview of the collection and inspiration for teaching, learning, and research. 

Teaching and learning with art is the heart of our mission and remains vital during this time. Our signature hybrid gallery-classroom Object Lab is alive and well, used for both in-person and virtual visits this fall. Since March, our education and engagement teams have supported remote teaching and learning in ever more innovative ways, providing high-resolution three-dimensional images for virtual object study sessions, facilitating socially-distanced course visits, and supporting student and faculty projects. One such project, ​Solo Sound Walks with Art​, ​is an experimental collaboration of sound pieces (such as music or poetry) paired with works of art from the WCMA collection. Developed by Professor of Art Amy Podmore, with WCMA Curator of Mellon Academic Programs Elizabeth Gallerani and Williams’ terrific Instructional Technology staff, the collaboration is designed for students to foster intimate experiences with and connections between art. Students can spend time with a work of art on view at the museum and listen to a sound piece created by a faculty member or invited artist that reflects on or responds to the object.  

When I look back on the year gone by, I am humbled and proud of what we have been able to accomplish amidst adversity, and inspired by the compassion and creativity that the crises we faced have engendered. I feel so fortunate to work with the dedicated and talented staff and faculty at Williams. As we move forward together into 2021, I am ever grateful for your support of the museum’s mission, support that makes possible the work we do today and allows us to imagine, with joy, the possibilities of tomorrow. Thank you for being a part of the WCMA community.  

Warmly,

Pamela Franks
Class of 1956 Director