Art and human connection during a pandemic


Margaret Landesman comments on a work of art during a UMFA virtual tour for Osher.

When Jody Andes moved back to Utah, she was tired of teaching and instead volunteering her time. A friend invited her to train to become a volunteer lecturer Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA). That was 12 years ago.

Margaret Landesman studied art history at the Graduate School and worked as a librarian at the J. Willard Marriott Library. When she retired, she too began to work as a lecturer for UMFA. That was nine years ago.

It was Landesman who recruited Jill Meyer in 2016. Today Meyer is both a lecturer-volunteer and director of the U’s Osher Institute for Lifelong Learning that supports lifelong learners aged 50 and over.

All three women share a love for art and human connection. Being a volunteer lecturer, they say, is the perfect combination of both. Because of this, in March 2020, when the museum had to close its doors to stop the spread of COVID-19, they were determined to find a way to keep offering guided tours.

“It was a very busy time for us as everything shut down,” said Ashley Farmer, co-director of learning and engagement at UMFA. “We had large groups of often 60 or more students who came for tours four days a week, and about 65 volunteer lecturers who helped us. When that all came to a standstill, I got an email from Jill pretty quickly inviting me to take virtual tours for Osher instead of canceling planned museum visits. “

In her role at Osher, Meyer led a course in which UMFA curator and Osher teacher Luke Kelly found out how to give the class a virtual tour of his exhibition of Japanese woodcuts. She immediately thought of the Osher members, who liked to go on tours and suddenly could no longer do guided tours, and the voluntary UMFA lecturers who could no longer do guided tours.

Fortunately, a public database of the UMFA collection and high-quality photos of the objects already existed. A group of around 15 instructors quickly learned how to discuss the art on Zoom and they were back in business.

“We have found that there are even some bright spots when the tours are offered online, e. said countryman. “You can also show people details in art a little better and show things like signing and preservation treatments.”

“I think it would have been a shame to miss the opportunity to reach a lot of people that we would never have gotten at the museum,” said Andes. “A couple of my friends who live in Texas got a tour that is pretty cool.”

Aside from reaching new people, the importance of keeping in touch with one another has kept them motivated.

“Lecturers really connect people with each other and they connect people with art,” said Meyer. “There have been and are so many ups and downs in the pandemic that being able to share these experiences with other people was something very special. It was a process of discovering, connecting and constantly learning from one another. “

The UMFA will host personal programs from January. You can visit them Calendar for events and learn more about tours here.


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