By Emily Williams
As a child, Birmingham Museum of Art Director Graham Boettcher read a book that stuck with him, “From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.”
The story’s protagonists spend a night in the Metropolitan Museum of Art after eluding security at closing. Inspired by the story, he often imagined how cool it would be to spend a night in a museum all by himself.
“As an adult, I can tell you that an empty museum is better left to the world of the imagination,” he said.
The halls of the museum are now consistently empty; the coronavirus pandemic forced the BMA to close its doors to much of the public and staff.
Despite social distancing, Boettcher has found a way to share the BMA’s collections via a new Facebook Live video series, “Director’s Cut.” Each video provides an in-depth discussion focused on one work of art or a specific collection of works. The videos are posted on the BMA’s website, artsbma.org.
“We have a talented team of collection and education curators and a dedicated corps of docents who are normally the ones who bring the works of art to life for the public through tours, gallery talks and lectures,” Boettcher said. “But the current situation is anything but normal, and I’m the only content expert working in the building at present.”
Boettcher has been director of the Birmingham Museum of Art for the past 2½ years, but before that he spent more than a decade as the museum’s curator of American art.
“As an administrator, I don’t have nearly the number of opportunities to speak to the public about art as I used to, and that’s something I’ve really missed, though I never imagined that my return to my curatorial roots would be occasioned by these dire circumstances,” he said.
After sharing 10 videos with the public, he said the response has been overwhelmingly positive. The video tours had received about 12,000 views, as of April 8 – roughly equivalent to the BMA’s monthly attendance.
“I’ve gotten many expressions of appreciation from our local community, as well as from throughout the United States and as far away as Norway,” Boettcher said.
The BMA also has gained some new fans because of the success of the Director’s Cut. He noted that the museum recently received a donation from a development professional for a museum based in New York City with an accompanying note that read, “Director’s Cut brilliant!”
“This was especially meaningful coming from someone who knows the challenges art museums face during this uncertain time, both to connect with audiences who have been locked out and to raise funds needed to retain staff,” Boettcher said.
There is a void as he walks the empty halls without his colleagues and museum visitors.
“They are the lifeblood of our institution,” he said. “However, until we can safely be together again, I’m grateful to play a small role in continuing to connect people with our collection, alongside the work of our talented staff, who have produced many exciting ways to engage with the museum through the #BMAfromHome.”
In addition to Boettcher’s videos, the museum’s new #BMAfromHome initiative includes online art classes, kids’ art activities, puzzles, mini exhibitions by museum curators and more. You can access that through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.