Nothing could have prepared Wilmington businesses and nonprofits for 2020 (and we aren’t even halfway finished yet!). Some business have folded under the constraints. I was personally saddened to read that V-Trap was closing. Those operations that remain are having to reINvent themselves. Along Market Street you see restaurants working to get more outdoor seating to allow for social distancing due to COVID. Businesses are displaying signs and art to show support of the Black Lives Matter movement. IN Wilmington has been checking IN on some of the businesses and organizations that have anchored our cultural scene. Recently I had the opportunity to ask Tatiana Michels, Director of External Affairs at Delaware Contemporary, how the art space is faring. It isn’t all bad news. She shared with me some of the workarounds and exciting INitiatives that the Delaware Contemporary has employed due to the extraordinary circumstances of 2020. Below is our exchange (edited for clarity and brevity).
IN Wilmington: Give us a recap of the last couple months. What has working life been like for the Delaware Contemporary during Covid? Have you had to lay off staff? Have artists had access to their studios?
Tatiana Michels: We are very fortunate to have a talented and dedicated staff that was able and willing to rise to the occasion. Due to quickly securing relief funding, we were able to retain our full and part-time staff members. Because our artist studios are single-use occupancy, we were able to set up a schedule for access that was monitored along with added cleaning services and sanitizer stations.
IN: What happened to the exhibits that were scheduled during the time the museum has been closed?
Tatiana: Once it became clear that we were going to need to close due to COVID-19, we immediately created virtual tours of the existing exhibitions. Some of the exhibitions were coming to a close anyway. The ones that had either just opened or were scheduled to open during the COVID-19 closure have been rescheduled through the end of the summer.
IN: How did you manage to keep audiences engaged during the closure?
Tatiana: We ran two social media challenges organized by Rick Hidalgo. The first one focused on Found Object art and the winner was determined by the number of post likes. The winner, Christian Kanienberg, will have his work on display in our Lobby through the summer.
The second one was a social media Call for Art, juried by social media influencer, Sam Duplessis. This exhibition titled FROM CHAOS TO ORDER: MAKING OUR WAY IN THE NEW WORLD OF COVID-19 will be on display July 1 – August 23, 2020. This exhibition considers creative responses to the mayhem and confusion of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as work in the spectrum between chaos and order. While many continue to struggle with pandemic-induced health concerns, social isolation, and economic challenges, parts of the world are adjusting to a new way of life. With this new way of life comes fresh perspectives, new structure, and renewed clarity.
IN: Now that public spaces are opening, what protocols have you put in place for public safety going forward?
Tatiana: We have taken this opportunity to refresh our lobby space with a new COVID-safe layout. The museum has been sterilized and routine deep cleaning procedures are in place. The measure we have taken include: social distancing signage, monitoring the number of visitors to ensure proper spacing. We have plexiglass barriers and routine temperature checks for staff as well as masks and gloves at all times. We have added cleaning protocols and services. Visitors must wear masks at all times, and we have made sanitizer stations available in our lobby. In addition, we have opened with abbreviated hours with designated times on Friday afternoons for seniors only.
IN: You have come up with a unique alternative to indoor gallery spaces. Tell us about it.
Tatiana: We are excited about our Art Escape Drive-Thru event, happening Friday June 19 from 5-8 PM. We originally conceived it as a way to host an art opening during the COVID-19 lockdown. We met with local and state officials to ensure that running the event would adhere to DE Department of Health guidelines. The event debuts The Platform Gallery, our exterior gallery and launch pad for our new public art initiative. The inaugural show, Stepping Out to Step In, features three massive banners by artist Theresa Chromati, enhanced with a soundscape conceived by Chromati and composed by pop and electronic artist Pangelica.
The event is designed to be enjoyed from the safe, social distance of one’s vehicle. We have a designated driving path to view these banners along with an interactive “Art Toss” activity and a DJ will be outside in our back parking lot. Plus we will have Greek Express Food truck available for takeout.
Now that we are in Phase 2 of Delaware’s reopening guidelines, the museum will also be open during this event. Guests will have the option to park and view our interior exhibitions in addition to the drive-thru tour.
IN: How do you envision future exhibitions during this time of uncertainty? What is your Fall schedule like? Do you have contingency plans?
Tatiana: In an oddly serendipitous way, we had already been in the process of revisiting our exhibition schedule format. We are moving our exhibition schedule to a seasonal format which allows for a more cohesive structure to our overall programming. We intend to use the summer, with abbreviated hours as an opportunity to build in more virtual programming and remote access to the art on display. This will serve as our “contingency plan” should another closure be unavoidable.
Our Fall Programming will launch on September 11th and features: Stepping Out to Step IN: Part 2, which is a continuation of our exterior banner exhibition showcasing the exuberant and bold visions of Theresa Chromati. We also will have Riverfront 20/20: a Juried Exhibition of sixteen selected Mid-Atlantic artists. Lastly, we will have We The People: For Sure or For Show, Chawky Frenn which features forty-seven mixed media paintings executed on posters of the Constitution by artist Chawky Frenn.
We will also host our major Annual Fundraiser ART & COUTURE: A CONTEMPORARY CENTENNIAL, originally scheduled for April 25th, which will now be held on Saturday, September 12. The event celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment assuring Women’s Right to Vote, the suffragists who made it happen, and contemporary women of influence who are our “Modern Day Suffragists.” This event will capture that adventurous and rebellious spirit with a VIP Speakeasy, jazz and big band music, and will highlight contemporary female artists.
IN: Are you doing any art camps/programming for youth this summer?
Tatiana: Our team is working closely with summer program administrators who reached out to us in order to provide virtual programming for their camp/students. Virtual engagement includes meeting with groups via conferencing platforms, creating instructional videos, and providing art supply packets with step by step instructions.
IN: How has the Wilmington art world worked together during this time?
Tatiana: The Delaware Arts Alliance has done a fantastic job of keeping the arts connected during this difficult time of closure and has provided multiple opportunities for arts leaders to share ideas and concerns on how best to move forward for our community. TDC has continued to engage in partnerships with other arts organizations and non-profits to broaden access. Currently, we are working with DCAD, and the University of Delaware on programming related to the Theresa Chromati exhibition, and on future programming with the Delaware Children’s Museum.
IN: We have seen and participated in the marches and demonstrations in Wilmington for Black Lives Matter. Do you have any plans for artwork or community response that reflects this call for justice?
Tatiana: Yes. In response to marches and demonstrations in Wilmington for Black Lives Matter and across the globe, we have designated one of our galleries as a “Response Gallery.” We at The Delaware Contemporary care deeply about our role in engaging civic dialogue through the arts and recognize that now is the time to listen. To hear the voices in our community, we have invited artists and community members to participate in a gallery “take-over” through the month of June. The exhibition will remain on display through July, 26, 2020. We have dedicated our DuPont II Gallery as our response space, and we offer this as an all-inclusive, safe place for peaceful expression and community engagement.
IN: Thank you, Tatiana, for taking time to answer all our questions. Stay tuned for an addendum to this story as IN Wilmington brings you a review of the Art Escape Drive-thru at the Delaware Contemporary’s Platform Gallery. Really, I wanted an excuse to ride with my neighbors in their convertible. Doing the sunshine dance. Hope to see you all there.
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street, Wilmington, DE, 19801.
Fridays: 12-8pm (12-2pm for seniors only)
Saturdays and Sundays: 12-5pm