North Carolina Museum of Art hopes to offer escape once doors open again

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – It’s as if the stillness of the early-morning fog is somehow transferred out of the frame from Claude Monet’s The Seine at Giverny, Morning Mists. Other than the art around it, the piece finds itself without much company.

“It does feel very quiet — particularly thinking about some of the other works throughout the campus. You know, when they’re around people, it just has a lifeblood that by themselves they don’t,” said Valerie Hillings, the Director of the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.

The COVID-19 pandemic has kept visitors from seeing what artists intended to be seen in person. The museum, which is owned by the state, would normally by filled with thousands of people during the summer. They’d be eyeing works that include the largest Rodin collection in the South.

They would also see works created in times similar to what is going on now.

“Artists generally provide the light to lead us out of darkness. They also help us to confront the darkness. So, definitely, if you look around all over this building, there are works that were created in periods of war (and) periods of sickness,” Hillings said.

Hillings and the museum staff have been working to make sure it is ready for when the public can return. That includes signage telling people which ways to walk and hand sanitizing stations. The museum has also increased the online experience, which offers other experiences.

Hillings hopes people, once they’re allowed back, are able to escape to another place and the stresses of the outside world may subside.

“Right now, maybe I’m in the middle of a Paris studio. Or I can go to Africa because we’re getting ready to open a show of a Singalese fashion,” Hillings said while standing in the middle of the Rodin exhibit.

“So, I think the ways in which a museum can allow people to go somewhere is also something I think will be very well received.”

Those future exhibits are being worked on right now in the basement conservation lab.

Not all has been sheltered. The 134-acre museum park dotted with outdoor sculptures has seen some 300,000 social-distancing visitors in the last three months. Just a bit fewer than 135,000 people visited the park and galleries combined during March, April, and May last year, indicating it’s something people are longing for.

As tragic as the pandemic continues to be, history has shown it will likely mean new creations that could one day find their home in the museum.

“I do think, too, though, that it sometimes takes a little time to see even, for the artist, the storm and come out on the other side. So I’ll be very interested in the next five years let’s say to see what art is created,” Hillings said.

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