North Bay museums reopen with new mission amid coronavirus, social unrest, economic uncertainty
It’s been said that art reflects life.
If that’s the case, North Bay museums are reinventing how they get their crucial messages and exhibits across to the public while trying to remain relevant in a turbulent world filled with a global pandemic, civil unrest and economic upheaval.
“I think museums have the responsibility to hold up a mirror and ask ‘who we are,’” Museum of Sonoma County Executive Director Jeff Nathanson told the Business Journal.
The Smithsonian-affiliated fine arts museum plans to reopen to the general public after more than four months of sheltering in place on July 9. Its Santa Rosa neighbor, the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, announced its doors will swing open again on July 8.
Like many around the globe, these North Bay institutions in Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties have opted to post exhibits online and increase their community outreach outside their walls, instead of standing on the sidelines of history.
While one area museum highlights the ongoing friendships seen in children despite their differences, another reflects on significant moments in history that have become pertinent to current events as powerful as a civil rights movement.
In the heart of the Napa Valley, a foundation for art preservation also demonstrates the complexity of an author known for his literary work. Yet another museum has taken its interactive displays on the streets of Marin County, literally.
“We really are collectors of history, culture and art. This became clear after the wildfires — that history is happening every single day. Museums look at it as we collect and preserve what these stories are,” Nathanson said.
Case in point, the exhibit on display for the museum’s re-opening covers the women’s movement as a century-old wink to civil rights. It’s titled “From Suffrage to #MeToo,” referring to an era spanning the push for the women’s right to vote to a recent generation of women coming forward to denounce sexual harassment and assault.
“Museums want people to utilize (them) as important resources and a place of solace to gain some perspective,” the director said. And just like the turmoil society experiences overall, “each museum has own challenges” to confront and tackle.
Answering to the issue of our times, the museum has planned for an upcoming online exhibition titled 1918 Pandemic that highlights the Spanish flu. The museum collaborated with the Sonoma County and Petaluma libraries on the project.
Providing lessons for, learning from our children
One of Sonoma County’s most treasured landmarks, the Schulz museum is aiming to provide as much relevance to its guests, members, visitors and donors as it did when it originally opened in 2002.
Schulz died two years prior, but his legacy lives on.
“In this time of daily unease, we are grateful to be reopening our doors and providing a place for people to have a joyful escape, said Jean Schulz, the cartoonist’s widow and museum board president. “I think we could all use some good cheer right now.”
Current exhibitions include “Lucy! Fussbudget to Feminist” and “Greetings, Charlie Brown!” along with “Girl Power in Peanuts” on view at the end of the month.
Commemorating its 70th year, the Peanuts comic strip showed the world how a group of varying personalities, including those considered misfits, can find a welcoming society.
The popularity has remained steady over the last several years, averaging about 85,000 visitors annually.
What’s new is a showcase of memorabilia and artifacts from Schulz’s life, including his eyeglasses, childhood photos and a football helmet that even showed up in his famous comic strip. An augmentation of other biographical galleries that highlighted parts of his life, the museum received many of the items from old friends and relatives.
“He grew up in the Great Depression, so things got passed around,” curator Benjamin Clark said. “Some, like the football helmet, got tossed around until one cousin said: ‘Oh yeah, that was Sparky’s (Schulz’s nickname).’”
The color of history repeats itself
Schulz had shown his own appreciation for history unfolding through the years.
He introduced his first Peanuts character of color — Franklin — upon receiving a letter after the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from civil rights supporter Harriet Glickman. A Los Angeles schoolteacher, Glickman wrote to Schulz asking him to integrate “the world of Peanuts,” Jean recounted in last April’s online tribute to her life upon hearing Glickman had died.