Since 1905, the Gibbes Museum of Art has housed celebrated American artwork and has served as an intrinsic part of the visual arts community in Charleston. The organization’s notoriety and long history in the city has undoubtedly helped it maintain a donor base and flow of visitors during the recent economic strain, yet it has not escaped without making a few key changes, especially in regard to their featured exhibits.
“We don’t have the luxury to take a misstep. We have to be strategic. We have to understand what the community wants,” says Angela Mack.
Last year, Executive Director Angela Mack and staff brought Grass Roots: African Origins of American Art to the Gibbes. The traveling exhibit detailed contributions by African artists to American art through the tale of the sweetgrass basket. With the exhibit, Mack and the museum were able to showcase African work, an area that is not a large part of the permanent holdings.
“African art is not something we can readily connect through our collection,” says Mack. “We knew that this was a way we could incorporate African art through the sweetgrass basket and say ‘Oh and by the way, we have a piece by Mary Jackson.'”
This season, the Gibbes plans to feature similar exhibits in the upcoming months. Currently, the museum is housing Ancestry and Innovation: African American Art from the American Folk Museum.
“Charleston and this region are well known for their folk artists,” Mack says. “People can see a larger context that relates specifically to this region and see artists that are indigenous to South Carolina.”
The Gibbes staff is focused on finding exhibits that will continue to “take a larger view of things that are specifically related to this region.” Mack adds, “People are interested in what is unique about Charleston and the South, and what we try to do is present that through these traveling exhibitions and try to present a context for them.”
The museum has combated the pitfalls of an economic recession by increasing their partnerships with other arts organizations in the community, a trend Mack is very excited about. “People want to see that you are working with your neighbor to stretch the dollar. It only makes sense,” she says.