Dissertation: Reconsidering Art Outreach Exhibitions

My dissertation considers outreach exhibitions, shows organized by museums for schools, libraries, and other public or civic places. I argue that outreach exhibitions address larger anxieties within museums regarding relevance. In sending their collections out on the road, the organizations facilitating outreach exhibitions demonstrate their relevance by demonstrating their willingness to send their collections into different communities. At the same time, the mobility of these shows complicates museum practices, with the logistics of transporting works beyond gallery walls complicating best practices as observed in museums.

To examine outreach exhibitions, I consider the kinds of artwork museums choose to share, the types of sites they use to stage their shows, and the community members they work with to facilitate them. By considering the different stakeholders in outreach exhibitions, I interrogate whether these didactic efforts expand art access to new audiences, or whether they reinforce social and cultural boundaries by concentrating on sites and communities already accustomed to museums and their resources.

Chapter 1

The Development of Art Outreach Exhibitions During the Progressive Era

This chapter considers the development of outreach exhibitions in the United States during the early twentieth century. I contextualize them within longer histories of mobile visual entertainments such as moving panoramas and illustrated slide lectures, as well as Progressive-era education reforms and mobile initiatives sponsored through universities, clubs, and civic organizations.

Chapter 2

The Neighborhood Circulating Exhibitions

Chapter Two concentrates on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Neighborhood Circulating Exhibitions, active from 1933 to 1942, and the museum’s most successful collections-based outreach initiative up to that point in its institutional history. I analyze the motives and expectations of the initiative’s three primary stakeholders: the Met, the exhibitions’ hosting sites, and the visitors who attended them.

Chapter 3

Navigating Local and Federal Interests in the Community Art Center Project

This chapter is the first of two examining the Federal Community Art Center Project (CACP), one of the most ambitious arts-sharing initiatives associated with the New Deal. The program operated through small, community-focused art centers that the FAP founded in cooperation with local social clubs, societies, and other organizations. I examine the CACP as an art-sharing initiative by considering the federal, state, and local relationships underpinning this initiative

Chapter 4

Federal Community Art Centers and the Museum Model

This chapter explores the CACP’s engagement with the museum model through two case studies: The Roswell Museum Federal Art Center in New Mexico, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. At first glance, these two institutions appear strikingly different from one another in their institutional objectives, with one actively emulating the traditional, collections-based museum, and the other attempting to redefine it altogether. Yet as I argue, their operations share more similarities than differences, emphasizing the persistence of the museum as a means of enabling art access.

Chapter 5

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Artmobile

Chapter Five looks at the Artmobile developed by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, initially active from 1953 to 1994 and revived in 2018. The first part of the chapter considers the significance of women’s clubs and their labor in the implementation of the Artmobile program. In the second part, I consider how the VMFA used the Artmobile to position itself as a vanguard within the museum field through the kind of art it exhibited and its embrace of modern automotive technologies to access new audiences.