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ExhibitsUSA: Touring exhibitions find a way

By Margaret A. Keough

Masked museum visitors tour art and cultural exhibitions during the pandemic

During the past year, museums, libraries, and other venues continued to operate cautiously due to the pandemic. While some hosted virtual displays of exhibitions, a gradual reopening allowed visitors to return to the galleries. Exploring various topics from Johnny Cash’s performance at Folsom Prison in 1968: A Folsom Redemption to Adrian Bloom’s playful images in A Colorful Dream, the exhibitions of ExhibitsUSA found ways to connect to visitors.

Despite the pause many institutions took due to COVID-19, ExhibitsUSA started the tours of two new exhibitions—Courting Style: Women’s Tennis Fashion and The Fourth Grade Project. Drawn from the collection of the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, Courting Style is on tour into 2024. The Fourth Grade Project travels into 2025 and showcases the work of the late photographer Judy Gelles, who focused her images on the children of the world for more than a decade.

ExhibitsUSA also bid farewell to the exhibitions Vibrant Bounty: Chinese Folk Art from the Shaanxi Region and Blake Little: Photographs from the Gay Rodeo. The impact of both was tremendous, especially the Blake Little exhibition. The exhibition traveled to thirteen communities from California and Oregon to South Dakota and Florida, and more than 120,000 visitors saw the artist’s work. At its last stop, the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art in St. Petersburg, Florida, the museum staff witnessed deeply personal experiences while exhibiting Blake Little in 2020–21. Curator of Art Emily Kapes shared, “The James Museum was proud to host Blake Little and bring little-known stories of the gay rodeo to our community. Our initiative of amplifying voices of diversity has had an incredibly positive response from visitors, and this exhibition proved to be a wonderful addition to our program. It brought a new, eye-opening perspective to our gallery with beautiful photographs and a compelling narrative.” The experience led a visitor to write, “the photographs are quite beautiful. I wasn’t expecting to see the exhibition through the lens of AIDS and loss, and that was a bit like a gut-punch. I found myself choking back tears as each photo was revealed within that context. I also commend the James Museum for curating such an important and stunning bunch of works.” The James Museum’s installation included a selfie station that invited visitors to “Break stereotypes,” just as this exhibition did. As another visitor put it, the exhibition was “a wonderful tribute that has taken too long to happen.”

Image credit: Installation view of Blake Little: Photographs from the Gay Rodeo at the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, St. Petersburg, Florida