Art and nature museum gets creative to engage members
The Wildling Museum of Art and Nature had just changed its exhibitions when the COVID-19 pandemic closed its doors. It had remarkable works of art from locally and nationally renown artists, but it couldn’t let anyone in to see them.
Its handful of employees diligently worked at mimicking the Wildling experience on its website. But such a large project doesn’t yield a quick turnaround.
The museum, located at 1511-B Mission Dr. in Solvang, opened with reduced capacity Saturday, Nov. 7.
“People really need a space to just relax and enjoy art, because it’s been hard,” assistant director Lauren Sharp said. “Art museums just give a sense of peace through the stress of the pandemic and everything that has been going on politically.”
She says she feels lucky to be able to open, even if it’s different than before. And for those who can’t visit in person, she hopes to bring opportunities online.
This past Saturday, a week after reopening, the Wildling museum launched an online store.
“It’s one of our adventures,” she said. “We’ve done a lot more online with COVID trying to force us to experiment more, which we’re excited to be doing.”
The museum holds a monthly lecture via Zoom. Subjects alternate each month between art and nature. In the future, there might be online art classes.
A variety of upcycled craft projects are posted to the Wildling YouTube channel to entertain kids. Jake Abraham, one of the store assistants, created the crafts.
Jeff McLoughlin has been working to produce documentary videos for YouTube, as well.
The current exhibits are available as photo galleries on the museum’s website, wildlingmuseum.org.
Liz McDermott, owner of Liz G Photography, is working on a 3D tour of the museum for an interactive experience. She donated her services because of the pandemic’s hardship.
“Everything that we were doing had to be shifted to virtual format in some way. It’s quite challenging,” Julie Mock, museum store and office assistant, said.
Donations are important to museums like the Wildling. Grant funding has been hard to secure because many businesses need it.
Staff members didn’t seem worried about the museum’s future. They’re continuing to make long-term plans, like expanding and maintaining the online content.
And during the shutdown, the museum had solar panels installed, an advancement for its green features. It had been planning on going solar for over a year, and the pandemic didn’t stop the museum from making the upgrade.
“We have a local support system,” Ms. Sharp said. “We have members that are helping us through this time and multiple avenues where we’re fortunate to not be so reliant on just admission sales alone.”
The museum has just over 330 members who pay an annual fee.
For non-members, admission is $5 per person, and tour buses usually bring a wave of people. But the pandemic has changed the ebb and flow.
Mission Drive looked the same Sunday — swarming with people. Bakeries and brunch establishments attracted lines outside their doors.
But the tourists are Californians on a weekend getaway. So some of the California merchandise sold in the store probably won’t be popular among Golden State natives.
“We are a small business, essentially. We are a nonprofit, but we also have our store, which all sales support the museum directly,” Ms. Sharp said.
About half of the store’s products are consignment pieces with local artists. The museum usually holds a holiday craft fair for local artisans, but it had to be canceled.
“We support local artists,” she said. “We carry a lot of consignment artists in our store, who are also hurting right now because they can’t do their local craft shows.”
One local artisan makes elegant earrings out of recycled materials. Another crafts one-of-a-kind ornaments.
“Our consignment artists that we have in our store do a variety of just stunning and unique work, and it’s our opportunity to present affordable art to our guests,” Ms. Mock said.
The museum and store are open Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Its hours were reduced to accommodate extensive cleaning procedures.
And it is only open on weekends because many of the volunteers who normally work at the store are vulnerable to COVID-19. Some of the volunteers have been involved since Wildling’s establishment 20 years ago.
One of the three available exhibitions, titled “20/20: A Retrospective,” celebrates the museum’s anniversary and looks at 20 pieces from over the years.
“Starry Nights: Visions of the Night Sky” is the largest exhibit and features local scenes and other works that highlight starry skies, including pictures from a global network of telescopes.
The curated collection was borrowed from multiple museums and artists and was originally supposed to run until June. The museums agreed to continue lending the pieces until the end of January so more visitors can see the art.
The last exhibit features a recognizable piece. It highlights sculptures, particularly James “Bud” Bottoms who sculpted the dolphin fountain by Stearns Wharf. A model of the dolphin fountain is on display.
And to cap it off, a portion of the museum’s first public art project is on display. It challenged residents to upcycle hubcaps and turn them into art.
Ms. Sharp hopes to plan an annual public art project and engage the community in new ways.
The Wildling Museum’s staff may be small, but Ms. Mock said it made it easier for them to pivot and get to work on new projects.