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Drop-in hours, private visits, virtual exhibits: The Nasher finds new ways to connect the community

Students interested in seeing artwork at the Nasher Museum of Art now have more ways to do so.

When the Nasher closed on March 13 last year, their newest exhibit had only been open for ten days. Grappling with the ever-changing circumstances of the early days of the pandemic, the museum began to explore other ways to engage the community.

“We went into this mode of, ‘What just happened, what is happening,’” said Myra Weise, manager of museum services at the Nasher. “We had to pivot to virtual mode because we still had an audience even if people weren’t walking through the doors. At that time, more than ever, people were turning to art as a way to find solace and healing.”

One year later, the Nasher is slowly reopening to Duke students, staff, and faculty. Since Feb. 25, the museum began its Thursday drop-in hours for staff, faculty and students from noon to 3 p.m. These visits are capped at 40 people at a time. 

“Much like going to Target or Walmart or the grocery store, we are being conscious of capacity,” said Ellen Raimond, assistant curator of academic initiatives at the Nasher.

According to Special Events Coordinator Rebecca Levine, professors can also request private visits to the museum for their classes. She said that the Nasher has seen “a lot of first-year classes and 101 classes coming, which is lovely.”

The Kenan Institute for Ethics’s “What Now?” program and the Academic Guides program are two groups that organize frequent visits to the Nasher. 

“The academic guide tours are happening once a month with a different theme each time,” said Ashka Shah, a first-year who visited the Nasher with the Academic Guides program. “When I went with my academic guide, our visit was more focused on people, so a lot of the paintings had people in them.”

First-year Cece Rodriguez visited the Nasher as a part of the “What Now?” program for first-years. She noted that her time at the Nasher was “less structured, but in a good way.”

“We got there 10 minutes early, so they just checked us in and told us we have free roam for the next hour,” she said.

Shah added that she thinks it would be fun to go back to the Nasher and take her time “looking at the art and reading all the descriptions.” 

According to Levine, some students who had previously visited the Nasher for class went again during last Thursday’s drop-in session. 

“We loved that on a level that can’t be explained,” Levine said.

One exhibit currently on display at the Nasher is “Graphic Pull: Contemporary Prints from the Collection.” Levine said that prints are a “terrific format” for artists because of their multiplicity.

“It’s a significant way for artists who are passionate about social justice issues to get the word out and encourage social change,” she said.

Another exhibit, “Cultures of the Sea: Art of the Ancient Americas,” was only supposed to be on display for three months. Now, it has been up for almost a year. Students worked rapidly last year to digitize the exhibit for online access.

Raimond added that the students who curated “Cultures of the Sea” did so much with the exhibition. 

“They were able to do 3D modeling of specific objects from the exhibition. They amped it up in every possible way,” she said.

The pivot to virtual offerings during the pandemic has made the Nasher staff more committed to making art accessible to a virtual audience. 

In terms of reopening plans, the Nasher is primarily following Duke’s guidelines. 

“The North Carolina government says that museums can open, but that does not apply to us. We’re just following suit with Duke’s administration,” Weise said. “We’re in communication all the time, and when we plan things, they’re always subject to change.”

The cap for drop-in visits may be 40 people, but the Nasher also has an outdoor exhibition—“RESIST COVID / TAKE 6!” by Carrie Mae Weems—to visit if that limit is reached. 

“It’s just an incredible way to experience art whether our building is open or not,” Levine said. “In such a devastating time, we can find these bright moments to offer art to our audience campuswide, nationwide, and worldwide.”


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