In a nation increasingly divided over politics, policing, and even public health, there seem to be few opportunities for people to come together, build connections, and remember those qualities everyone has in common.
One such opportunity is viewing and experiencing visual art.
For the past year, the staff at Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) has burned the midnight oil to regularly produce virtual and socially distanced arts education programming that encourages viewers to expand their perspectives and consider those around them.
“Art is a way to see the world from another person’s perspective," says Marie Vickles, the museum's director of education. "I believe that, through the work we do at PAMM, we are supporting the empathy and understanding so needed in the world right now."
On Saturday, April 17, PAMM will host its seventh annual Art of the Party, a fundraising event to support the museum’s arts-education program. Apart from Miami-Dade County Public Schools, it's the largest of its kind in the county, having served more than 300,000 children since it launched in 2013.
During the event, museum director Franklin Sirmans will announce the third-annual Pérez Prize winner, a no-strings-attached award of $50,000 for one artist who achieves excellence in international contemporary art and who represents a diverse artistic perspective. Last year’s prize was awarded to Puerto Rican artist Daniel Lind-Ramos, whose work echoes the legacy of African diasporic traditions and Latin American history through an Afro-Caribbean lens.
Sirmans says a gift like this couldn’t come at a better time, as many artists in Miami and beyond have struggled financially while COVID-19 restrictions kept museums and galleries shuttered.
“The systems of distribution for artists are challenging even at the best of times. I can’t even imagine how much this gift will matter in someone’s life,” the museum director tells New Times. “I can’t reveal who the winner is just yet, but I believe this gift will make a big impact in their life and in the lives of others because the type of work this artist does is all about community.”
Last spring, the museum's staff rallied to plan and orchestrate a full schedule of virtual arts-education events for audiences in Miami and beyond. Sirmans himself spoke with renowned international artists over Zoom, curators visited local artists’ studios for an intimate look into artists’ processes, and virtual tours of collections were recorded. Art kits were delivered to children, and teaching artists created a repository of how-to videos on various techniques and mediums.
“We closed the museum on March 16, 2020. On March 17, 100 staff members got on a Zoom call. Since that day, our teaching artists and other staff members have taken up so many important responsibilities,” Sirmans says.
Vickles notes that though the year produced a fair amount of challenges, it has also provided invaluable lessons PAMM will carry into its future.
“Like most institutions, during this global shutdown, we are coping with changes to how we deliver our programs to a range of audiences with a range of accessibility points," she explains. "We are also dealing with reduced resources that certainly make the work more challenging as well. But there have been many silver linings, as we have truly developed a wide range of virtual programming that is engaging in ways that almost make up for the physical limitations of closures and restrictions.”
No matter what the future holds, Vickles promises that PAMM remains committed to providing Miami’s children with much-needed skills in art and beyond through its continued partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools to offer free admission to all students.
“Art education provides children and adults the tools to live creatively and develop critical-thinking skills, skills that are necessary in an increasingly complex and diverse global community,” says Vickles. “Pérez Art Museum Miami seeks to inspire the next generation of youth to see art as an integral part of our shared human experiences.”
Sirmans sees PAMM as a safe place to dig deep within oneself and reflect on the history that’s being made every day. He hopes the museum's collections and offerings, which will soon include an open-air exhibit of high-resolution reproductions from the institution's various collections, will spark conversations about issues that PAMM has pushed to the forefront since first opening its doors seven years ago.
“We’re a modern and contemporary art museum. We’re dynamic, and we’re focused on being part of a conversation that reflects daily life in the here and now,” Sirmans says. “How can we use those conversations to engender a greater degree of empathy and critical thinking in our children and adults? For the whole world, the spotlight is now on these conversations about diversity and equity. At the museum, these conversations are not new. It’s a chance to look within. Now is the time to go forward. We have to.”
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