Few U.S. museums share the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ (VMFA) proclivity for developing long-standing relationships with Chinese museums. In pre-COVID-19 times, these agreements led to high profile, well-attended exhibitions, such as the rare glimpse of Imperial China offered through the 2014 exchange with The Palace Museum, or the presentation of VMFA’s world-class Jean Schlumberger collection five of years later at the National Museum in Beijing.
Landmark exhibitions have been staged alongside deeper exchanges between the VMFA and its Chinese partners. Both parties strive to share expertise across a range of fields including exhibition design, education, and technology. The annual trips and staff exchanges that typically facilitate such cooperation may have been waylaid, but the cultural exchange agreement signed with the National Museum of China in 2018 prompted the VMFA to join its livestream relay in which 16 museums across five continents directors shared collection highlights with a global audience. The National Museum of China’s “Treasure Hunt Relay” was featured in Jing Culture & Commerce’s most recent report.
Here, the VMFA discusses the impetus behind joining the livestream and its broader digital programming efforts in 2020.
How did The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ become involved in the Treasure Hunt Relay?
The National Museum of China created this project during the pandemic out of the desire to engage viewers and further cultural exchange with museum partners when a number of the institutions were closed to the public. Participation in the Museum Treasure Relay was borne out of our cultural exchange agreement with the National Museum of China. Dr. Wang Chunfa invited VMFA to participate in the broadcast series, where an episode highlighted VMFA, the museum’s mission, and our collections.
What did VMFA hope audiences learned about the museum through the livestream?
The museum was happy to participate in the program and share a few treasures from VMFA’s permanent collection with others around the world. We hope viewers learned more about the museum and the artistic resources available in Richmond, Virginia, as well as the important global alliances museums maintain. We used the viewership metrics provided by CGTN and tracked metrics related to relevant news media coverage available through our media data platform.
VMFA has a giant collection, how were the curatorial decisions made?
VMFA maintains a global collection of art that spans more than 6,000 years and the permanent holdings encompass nearly 50,000 artworks. To decide which five diverse works to feature on the program, we worked with Stephen Bonadies, Senior Deputy Director for Conservation and Collections, and Dr. Michael Taylor, Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education.
What were the in-house logistics required to execute the livestream?
VMFA’s video production and editing was done in house by the museum’s Director of Imaging Resources over a period of less than one month. One of the requests by the broadcast’s producers was for separate video segments for each of the selected works of art so that they could be streamed individually. In addition, footage from past video projects was used in VMFA’s introduction. Written content and descriptions of the highlighted works was provided in English by VMFA and required Chinese translations and editing reviews.
How does VMFA reflect on its broader digital strategy in 2020?
Over the years, VMFA has been expanding its online programs and events, taking art beyond the museum, statewide, nationwide, and internationally. As the museum was closed to the public we found it especially important to broaden our online and virtual offerings. We brought art into people’s homes out of necessity—to continue to serve the public—to provide art and learning programs and activities for students at home due to school closures, and to share engaging, insightful, contemplative, and delightful experiences.