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We Check in With the Barnes Foundation's Thom Collins to Talk Navigating the Pandemic and Upcoming Exhibits

By Kristin Detterline | September 24, 2020 | People Feature

Executive Director and President, Thom Collins,

Like countless businesses around the world, cultural destinations had to negotiate their own kind of post-pandemic pivot. Thom Collins, the Neubauer Family executive director and president of the storied Barnes Foundation, says that museums were uniquely suited to recalibrate the visitor experience. “In the context of the pandemic, I like to point out that many of the key preventative prescriptions from health professionals—social distancing, contactless interactions, careful control of building air circulation—are part of the DNA of art museums, so we can continue to offer relatively low-risk visitation through the current crisis,” says Collins.

Armed with the museum’s new timed tickets, guests happily showed up to tour the world-class collection when the Barnes reopened in late July even as the museum has more digital offerings than ever. Collins says initiatives like the YouTube series Barnes Takeout, featuring curator commentary on celebrated works, and online adult education classes attended by students from 41 states and six countries have been successful ways to bring the Barnes to an international audience.

The fall exhibition, Elijah Pierce’s America, through Jan. 10, readily appeals to global conversations around racial equality and the Black Lives Matter movement. “The exhibit showcases the rich and varied sculpture of the virtuoso African American woodcarver,” says Collins. “This is the first major retrospective of Pierce’s work to be presented outside his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, for more than 25 years, and to say that his account of the African American experience across the 20th century is especially timely and uniquely compelling is a great understatement. It is not to be missed.”

Photography by: Dave Moser