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The title of the new exhibit, "Personal to Political," greets visitors as they enter the gallery. This installation features over 50 prints, paintings, quilts, and sculptural objects from a variety of contemporary African American Artists.

The Art Museum of WVU held its first public virtual tour of the semester on Sept. 18, which featured its new exhibit “Personal to Political: Celebrating the African American Artists of Paulson Fontaine Press.”

“I work really hard to get people in here when they can, but obviously the situation has changed with COVID,” said Heather Harris, educational programs manager at the Art Museum of WVU. “I do think that you can still have meaningful experiences with works of art in the virtual sphere.”

Robert Bridges, curator of the Art Museum, and Joseph Lupo, professor and coordinator of printmaking, led the virtual tour, followed by a Q&A.

“Personal to Political” is part of a traveling exhibition organized by Bedford Gallery that features contemporary African American artists who created works at the Paulson Fontaine Press, a printmaking studio based in Berkeley, California.

Overall, the Art Museum houses more than 4,000 individual works of art, including more than 50 prints, paintings, quilts and sculptures featured in “Personal to Political” alone.

“For many contemporary African American artists, there’s really always interwoven the assumption of politics… within artwork,” Harris said in reference to the new exhibition.

While the exhibition seems to relate to the recent resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests throughout the nation, the Art Museum booked “Personal to Political” more than three years ago, according to Harris. She notes that while the new exhibit’s connection to recent social conflict is coincidental, it conveys a powerful message about the country’s history of racial injustice.

“It’s important to know that these discourses have been around for really as long as this country has been around and that…the arts have been responding to it for that long,” Harris said. “It’s something that is underlying the experience of black people in this country every day.”

The new installation features diverse forms of printmaking and other mediums, such as Lava Thomas’ use of Tambourines in “A Change is Gonna Come (Oh Yes It Will),” 2018.

Tambourines hold cultural and historical significance in the African American community. Throughout the civil rights era, the instrument was used in a variety of protest songs, according to the Smithsonian Institution.

 “I think that this is an ongoing dialogue that we all, regardless of what race in this country, need to be involved in,” Harris said. “Art is one form that can stimulate those conversations and perhaps move them forward in ways that, you know, writing and talking may not.”

The Art Museum’s virtual website launched last week, offering options for larger groups in the area.

While large in-person tours are temporarily suspended, the museum is allowing limited tours to small groups throughout the fall semester.

According to Harris, it had planned to offer in-person tours to K-12 schools in the surrounding area, but due to the state-wide transition to online classes for public schools, field trips were either canceled or postponed.

Because of the museum’s new virtual options, public school teachers now have the option to register for online tours.

Most public schools throughout the state are unable to visit the Art Museum due to county bus schedules, but with the virtual tour option, they can schedule virtual tours through the website.

“Having a virtual tour opportunity, would actually mean that we could expand our reach further into the state,” Harris said.

 The Art Museum will continue to offer virtual options to visitors after the pandemic, according to Harris.

 Harris said a challenge she faces as the educational coordinator is reminding people that the Art Museum offers resources to public schools throughout the state.

“If you’re an art teacher in the schools who feels stressed because your kids don’t have art supplies, we can help you with that in a way that maybe public schools don’t have the resources to do right away,” Harris said.

The Art Museum recently received funding from the Art Bridges Foundation, an organization that supports art programs throughout the nation.

According to Harris, the first phase of the grant was used to distribute art supplies to K-12 schools in the area; the museum donated just under 1,000 art kits to fourth graders in Monongalia county.

Harris plans to use the remaining grant money to purchase a Matterport camera, which utilizes a 3D technology to create a more immersive experience for virtual tours. 

“I’m doing my best to get as proficient as possible in those platforms, as quickly as possible, so that I can provide those resources to the largest audience and we’re able to invite them back to the galleries,” Harris said in reference to new technology the museum is implementing.

Currently, the Art Museum is open to the public from 12:30 to 6 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. While admission is free, they require all visitors to book in advance through the Art Museum of WVU website: https://artmuseum.wvu.edu/visit