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Building Access Through Virtual and Bilingual Offerings at The Fairfield University Art Museum

Marsden Hartley’s Give Us This Day inspires interdisciplinary collaboration at the Fairfield University Art Museum (FUAM).

FUAM Registrar Megan Paqua with Marsden Hartley's Give Us This Day, 1938, oil on canvas, 30 × 40 in. (76.2 × 101.6 cm), framed: 38 1/2 in. × 48 1/2 in. × 4 in. Art Bridges.

Examining Our Impact

Embracing the great diversity of bird life in the region, the Fairfield University Art Museum (FUAM) created Birds of the Northeast: Gulls to Great Auks, an exhibition that celebrated local birds and examined humankind’s impact on our natural world. Featuring works from the nineteenth century to today including Marsden Hartley’s Give Us This Day from the Art Bridges Collection, the exhibition brought together art and science to encourage interdisciplinary thinking.

Working with members of Fairfield University’s Biology and Modern Languages and Literatures Departments, FUAM set out to not only show the enduring interest in depicting birds in American art, but more broadly, use disciplines outside of art history to create more entry points for learning and engagement.  Co-curated with University biologists, Birds of the Northeast employed a strong scientific lens that featured scientific labels to accompany every work, a similarly oriented exhibition brochure and Birds of Fairfield guide. These materials, like the exhibition’s marketing, public programs and social media were offered in both Spanish and English, the product of a collaboration between the Museum and the University’s Modern Languages and Literature’s Department – a first for the Museum. Consultation with the Cornell Ornithology Lab and their allaboutbirds.org website was also integral to creating the exhibition’s collateral.

Excerpt from FUAM’s guide to campus birds.

Creating a Worldwide Audience

As the exhibition ran throughout the course of the pandemic, building virtual access was of paramount importance. With Art Bridges’ support, they were able to create a Mattaport 3D virtual bilingual exhibition, allowing regional and global audiences to experience and learn about Birds of the Northeast from school and home.

On the importance of virtual access during this challenging time, Frank and Clara Meditz Executive Director, Carey Weber stated:

“The generous Art Bridges grant we received was incredibly meaningful to us, in part allowing us to purchase a Matterport camera which let us create virtual tours during the 2020-21 academic year. These tours allowed students, faculty, the greater community and visitors from across the world to access our exhibitions.”

Virtual Field Trips

In Connecticut, these tours were instrumental in creating virtual field trips for over 300 students in the 4th, 5th and 6th grades. Providing learners with access to this immersive digital exploration, students participated in close-looking exercises and created their own species of birds. Using art kits provided by the Museum, participants sketched and painted a range of feathered friends, some of which are featured on FUAM’s exhibition landing page.

Marsden Hartley’s Give Us This Day, 1938, oil on canvas, 30 × 40 in. (76.2 × 101.6 cm), framed: 38 1/2 in. × 48 1/2 in. × 4 in. Art Bridges.

Why We Love This Project

Building upon the success of the exhibition and its offerings, FUAM intends to continue to create virtual tours to accompany all its exhibitions. We love their commitment to prioritizing all members of their community; recognizing distance, transportation and accessibility present significant challenges for many to participate in the life of the Museum. We also love that this interdisciplinary collaboration has spurred great interest from FUAM to continue to work with departments across campus to co-curate upcoming exhibitions. Recognizing that learning is only enriched and deepened through multiple points of access, the Fairfield University Art Museum has transformed the way they interact with their audiences and campus community.

Article Information

Published August 17, 2021

  • Collection Loan
  • Exhibition
  • Programming
  • Fairfield University Art Museum

About  Fairfield University Art Museum

The Fairfield University Art Museum (FUAM) is a dynamic space for engagement with the visual arts on the campus of Fairfield University. In its Bellarmine Hall Galleries, FUAM presents its small but choice permanent collection of European and American paintings, drawings, prints and photographs, as well as Asian, African and Pre-Columbian objects.