NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Museums such as the Zimmerli find themselves at a critical crossroads as they search for ways to remain relevant even while their galleries have been forced to close by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the recent launch of its eMuseum, the staff at the Zimmerli is showing that even if you can’t come to the art museum on the College Avenue campus, maybe it can come to you.
Zimmerli’s eMuseum is continually being updated to include more and more of its 60,000 or so works, bringing a mouse click away everything from cartoonish sculptures of French high society in the 19th Century to black and white photos of the gritty life in New York City in the 1980s to propaganda poster art from Cold War Russia in the 1950s.
The link on the Zimmerli's home page will lead you to thousands of sculptures, paintings, works on paper and more.
“The eMuseum at this point is really a small fraction of what we really own, so we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but it’s very exciting,” said Donna Gustafson, interim director of the Zimmerli Art Museum which was established in 1983 after its founding as the Rutgers University Art Gallery in 1966.
“We’re delighted that the eMuseum is now out. It’s a tool for students, it’s a tool for the faculty and it’s a lot of fun for people … because now they can really dive deep into the collection and see what else we own.”
When it comes to the most important color in an artist’s pallet – green – the Zimmerli has not had to cut staff or even salaries.
To paint the financial picture, Gustafson said the nonprofit is fortunate to be part of Rutgers, since it is incorporated in the big university’s multimillion dollar budget while also receiving funds from foundations and some grants which are being extended into next year.
Unlike other museums that depend on membership and admission fees for part of its income, the Zimmerli has not faced this major deficit because it doesn’t accumulate money from the number of people that walk through its doors, Gustafson said.
Grants, such as the one it recently received from the National Endowment for the Arts, will be used to revamp the museum’s website.
“One of our issues that we’re grappling with is how do we do programs and events online,” Gustafson said. “We’ve started working really hard on coming up with a strategy for that, and we’re starting to think about ways that we can be as open as we can without actually being physically open to our public.”
Gustafson said that while it continues to try to provide a typical museum experience through the wonders of technology, the tricky part has been to remain ready to re-open and resume traditional operations. Rutgers announced last week that it would be moving the vast majority of its fall classes online, but the staff remains ready for anything.
The pandemic has even affected long-planned renovations to the front of the building and the patio and the plans to upgrade the furniture.
“Right around the COVID closing, we found out that that was not going to be able to be done on the timeframe that we had hoped for,” Gustafson said. “We are talking to Rutgers about when it might be able to happen, but it’s certainly not going to happen this year.”
Behind the scenes, the staff continues to work on projects, do research, plan online programs and look ahead to when they can reopen from home.
Gustafson said that the staff has been fortunate to be able to go in and out of the museum to get information and supplies, check on the collection and ensure security protocols are being followed each day.
“If we put the lights on, you really get a chance to reacquaint yourself with the galleries, but it’s quiet,” Gustafson said. “We’re very much looking forward to reopening to the public and filling the galleries with people.”