As an art historian who revels in looking closely at the real thing, Maggie North never expected her first big project after both a graduation and a promotion to be a virtual tour! Then again, no one expected a pandemic to disrupt our lives and force so many of us to consider how to make our work accessible to those sheltering in place.
“Times of adversity lead people to art,” said North, who was recently promoted to Curator of Art at the Springfield Museums, and secured her Master of Art degree in Art History from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. May 8 was to be her graduation ceremony; like so many other 2020 graduates, the pomp and circumstance were virtual. And with community spaces closed to help fight the virus—access to the Museums’ art has become virtual as well. Undaunted, North said, “We want to make sure we can still connect the power of art to the people who love it.”
“A museum is so much more than four walls surrounding art,” said Heather Haskell, Director of the Art Museums and Vice-President of the Springfield Museums. “It is even more than the art itself. A museum nurtures an experience of stopping and looking; it instigates strong emotional response. The pandemic has slowed us all down—and many people have taken advantage of the time to look closely at art through virtual experiences.”
North, an expert at creating innovative interpretation techniques to engage visitors, created a virtual tour of Fantastic Ruins: Etchings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, which was supposed to have opened three days after the Museums closed. “Can you think about this tour as a substitute for a visit?” North mused. “It is an augmented experience, an educational one for someone who has never experienced Piranesi’s art. Hopefully, the virtual tour will increase appreciation for the art and encourage people to learn more. Ultimately, I hope it will make people want to see the original.”
While the Museums are closed to the public, the staff is simultaneously creating virtual experiences while preparing for the day when the Museums can reopen. Kay Simpson, President of the Springfield Museums said: “The arts are a vital part of the life of a community, and museums provide a place of solace, reflection, fellowship, and enjoyment during the best of times—and even more during times of stress such as this. We look forward to welcoming the public back to enjoy art and nature in our spaces as soon as we can do so safely.”
More about Maggie North
North began her employment with the Springfield Museums in December 2014 in the role of Curatorial Assistant. She arrived at the Museums with a BA in Art History from Providence College and experience working in museum and gallery settings. In May 2017 she was promoted to Assistant Curator, with an additional promotion to Acting Curator in July 2018. She received her Master of Art degree in Art History in May 2020 from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with a concentration in Modern and Contemporary Art, and a minor in East Asian Art. She was promoted to the position of Curator of Art at the Springfield Museums May of 2020.