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VCA spotlight: NCMA park sees boom in visitors during pandemic

Posted September 8, 2020 9:13 a.m. EDT
Updated September 8, 2020 10:46 a.m. EDT

— The North Carolina Museum of Art has seen a boom in visitors during the pandemic, just not inside the museum's galleries. Valerie Hillings, director of the NCMA, said that there has been a 65% increase in visitors to the museum's outdoor park from this time last year.

"It's a place of respite, a place of exercise and place of art," Hillings said. The more than 100 acres of woodlands that the art museum park rests on is an escape from the chaos and uncertainty of the coronavirus. In the early months of the pandemic the NCMA, WRAL's 2019 Voter's Choice Award winner for best museum, saw close to 100,000 visitors each month in the park.

Each art piece is like "dots across campus," Hillings said. Finding an installment is like a surprise. Currently, Hillings said the NCMA is working on connecting them together to create different paths to make the campus flow together.

This year, the Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh decided not to plant sunflowers due to the coronavirus pandemic. But, many people on the hunt for sunflowers in Raleigh decided to check out the patch at the NCMA. Some sunflowers are dying out, while others are in full bloom, so it's best to check them out while you still can.

North Carolina Museum of art now has a sunflower, pollination field at the outdoor museum park.

The museum also recently began a partnership with Raleigh chef Ashley Christensen. Hillings said that Christensen is their residential culinary artist, providing picnic boxes available to order on weekends for park visitors.

If you are looking to get some exercise in, the Capital Area Greenway runs through the NCMA park. If you follow the Reedy Creek Trail you can go from Umstead State Park to the North Carolina Museum of Art and Meredith College Campus.

The park is open from dawn to dusk, and park restrooms remain open for visitors. These are located near the amphitheater.

Gallery opens to guests in Phase 2.5

After Gov. Roy Cooper rolled back some restrictions last week, the NCMA announced it will open its galleries starting Sept. 9 from Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Ahead of time, guests will need to reserve timed tickets to maintain social distancing. The tickets will be free.

To view special exhibits, you can pay an additional price.

Guests in the building will be required to wear masks. Visitors will have to leave food and drinks in their vehicles if they plan on going in the gallery.

Many interactive experiences -- like the African Textile Lab and the Ancient Art Lounge -- remain closed.

Seating has been removed from the gallery and indoor event tours are suspended.

Pivot to virtual art

"There will be people who we won't be able to welcome back," Hillings recognized. "So we will be constantly keeping a balance."

The museum will still be offering virtual events and opportunities so that guests can experience art from a distance.

"There is no substitution for seeing an artwork in person," she said. But, Hillings said that the NCMA has had more opportunities due to COVID-19.

Hillings said that she has been able to get in contact with bigger artists and have them participate in events, because they are now more open to doing partnering with NCMA virtually.

"We as an institutional might be able to do more because it will cost us less," Hillings said.

On campus is a large amphitheater, which usually hosts concerts and movie nights. During the pandemic, this has come to a halt. But the NCMA got creative with the events, instead of canceling them all together.

Chatham County Line, for example, was expected to debut their new album at the venue. Instead of canceling the event, the band instead played live inside the gallery last week.

The concert was streamed on the NCMA's YouTube page so that people at home could get the concert experience.

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