Colby College is making digital images of famous paintings available online. This is Winslow Homer’s “The Trapper,” from 1870, an oil on canvas from Colby’s collection.

Maine museums have transitioned to an online world pretty well. Most were prepared for the shutdown, because online content has been part of the DNA of effective museums for a long time, especially those challenged to engage remote audiences.

“Creating online content allows us to reach audiences around the world, around the country and around Maine while still making connections with our local audiences, our Maine audiences, who come to us with great frequency,” said Colby College Museum of Art director Sharon Corwin. “This situation has forced our hand in some way, and I think the field has responded with great innovation and great creativity and shown how museums still matter and that art still matters. Arts matters more than ever now.”

Here’s what five art museums in Maine are doing to adapt to the new world:

As part of its new Art at Home initiative, the Portland Museum of Art created a virtual tour, narrated by curator Jaime DeSimone, of the “Tabernacles for Trying Times” exhibition by feminist artists Carrie Moyer and Sheila Pepe, which had been open a little more than a month before the shutdown. The two-part video series, each at about five minutes, offers up-close images of the art work, gallery-wide installation views, studio interviews and insightful narration from DeSimone.

The idea behind the in-person exhibition – and the crushing irony of its shuttering – was to create a place where people could come together as a community to talk about how they want to live. The artists, who are partners in life and met at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, created a safe space, which is now accessible to no one except gallery ghosts. The virtual tour gives a sense of what that space is like and reasons behind its creation. The museum also created a collaborative drawing project for siblings at home, ages 5 or older, that’s designed to identify their individual skills and encourage them to work together.

The PMA has given its curatorial staff some room for personal reflection, as well. Curator Diana Greenwold has a nice written tribute to the late artists Duane Paluska and Wolf Kahn, and museum director Mark Bessire and deputy director and chief curator Jessica May both left personal remembrances about David Driskell.


Courtesy of the Farnsworth Art Museum

The Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland made a series of podcasts using audio content it had already created for a bicentennial trail audio guide. Chief curator Michael K. Komanecky explores the history of Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” in one episode. In another, longtime Andrew Wyeth model Walt Anderson talks about working with the artist. Maria Nevelson, granddaughter of artist Louise Nevelson, describes the early days in Rockland, after their the family’s arrival from present-day Kiev.

“Since the audio content was already at my disposal, I decided that the best way to make it available to our community was in the form of podcasts,” said David Troup, communications and marketing manager for the museum.

Michael Komanecky, chief curator of the Farnsworth Art Museum. Courtesy of Farnsworth Art Museum

It seems to be working. Last year, from March 19 to April 22, the Farnsworth engaged with about 7,300 people, in person or by email. During that same period this year, when the museum was closed, it engaged with more than 49,000 people via email, many of whom followed links to the museum’s web content, Troup said. “This does not include our social media engagement. Simply emails,” he said. “The engagement we are witnessing with our linked content, such as the podcasts, the blogs and the videos has been quite extraordinary.”

Colby College introduced its Colby Museum @ Home program in April, with new ways to appreciate artwork in the collection. The museum posts new content for each week. Artful Movement is a video yoga series that suggests practicing gentle yoga inspired by artwork in the gallery. Each session begins with an exploration of one work of art, followed by poses and meditation. The first in the series featured Marsden Hartley’s “Late Fall,” a painting from 1909. Every Thursday, Colby will put a new virtual jigsaw puzzle from the collection online. The activity encourages people to slow down and pay attention to details of the painting. Each week, there will be a new video exploring a single work of art, and various at-home art projects.

At Bates College, the museum has opened up a beta test of its new collection website and database to the public. The museum has about 8,000 items in its collection, highlighted by the the Marsden Hartley Memorial Collection of personal items. The museum had planned to make the collection available to small group of users to test its effectiveness, and opened it up to all to support research and remote learning. “This substantial project and important undertaking provides far greater access to the museum’s collection, the largest and most significant research field at Bates,” museum director Dan Mills wrote in an email.

Bowdoin College has prepared for an online world since 2013, when it created a campus working group called Really Open and Accessible Museums, which works to make collections, exhibitions and programming available online. Today, most of the museum’s 30,000 objects have online images and data, many of them high-resolution, and 90 percent of Bowdoin’s Arctic Museum’s 45,000 objects have been digitized.

Comments are not available on this story.