Exhibiting resilience

MONCA stays connected to art and the community during pandemic

Museum of Northern California Art (Photo by Jason Cassidy)

The Museum of Northern California Art is one of the main hubs for art in Butte County, and one of the traits that has made it so central is how committed its board and volunteers have been to the mission “to make art accessible.” But last spring, when COVID-19 forced the closure of our houses of art—galleries, theaters, concert venues and museums, MONCA included—access to art was suddenly cut off. During the three state closures, not only were MONCA’s exhibits shut down, the hands-on workshops, artist talks and school outreach were also off limits.

While most local venues have had to stay dark, MONCA—like many of Butte County’s art galleries and museums—has been able to keep the lights on with online-only versions of exhibits. MONCA quickly converted its content to virtual “pop-up museums” during the closures, moved art classes online and reached out to other venues to collaborate (joining The Turner print museum in providing at-home art kits for kids). The museum has hardly missed a beat and has provided one of the few constant sources of art to the community throughout the pandemic.

MONCA also made tweaks to its programming to give a forum for artists to respond to the pandemic, as in the current exhibit, Selfie, which asked for submissions that considered the “self” during the tumultuous year.

The CN&R spoke with MONCA Executive Director Pat Macias via Zoom recently about the challenges the museum has faced by having its doors closed for most of the past year (MONCA was open 84 days in 2020, versus 190 in 2019, she said) and what the future holds.

What was your mindset for how MONCA would respond to having to close its doors?

I didn’t change a whole lot of my thinking. I thought of it as just a bump in the road; it ended up being three bumps in the road because we were closed three times. It wasn’t an excuse to not connect with the community, because that is what we do—connect with the community—and they needed us more than anything. How were we going to do that? We all learned along the way.

Pieces from MONCA’s current Selfie exhibit.

How did you approach programming when you were forced online?

Luckily, we have a board member [Kimberly Ranalla] and some volunteers who are much more adept at doing those things, and that’s where they kind of step in. My skills are improving in that, but I’m not the one who’s going to do the virtual tours. It’s been a good way to make our team better and bigger.

Have people responded positively to the virtual exhibits?

Yes, they [have]. I’ll see somebody in the grocery store and they’ll say, “Ooh, I watched the virtual tour and it’s great!” Even though we have a [current] exhibition that’s been up and nobody has seen it [in person], it was seen virtually.

How is MONCA doing? Do you expect it will come out of the pandemic OK?

Yeah. You’ve caught me on a day that I’m looking at writing those state grants [COVID-19 Relief Grant program for small businesses]; we can fit into those. We’re OK. We have wonderful donors, wonderful members, wonderful community support. But [the pandemic restrictions don’t] allow you to do that little extra stuff that we used to do when we had rentals, [or all the] people we got in just because of those rentals.

MONCA Executive Director Pat Macias during a Zoom interview.

MONCA is currently accepting submissions for a new group show, Dream State; what’s the exhibit about?

It kind of began with the fact that we got a really nice acquisition to the museum given to us by the daughter of Maria Aguilar. Her things are very mystical, very dreamlike. They’re amazing works. We thought, “OK, that will take up one gallery. Let’s put out a call for art for that same idea of what is your dream, or not? What’s your inspiration?”

How do think the arts community as a whole will fare after all this?

It’s hard to guess. I think we’ll be fine. I think we can build it back up again. We are just missing so much of a community—like the students at the university, like students [at Chico High School and Inspire] across the street from the museum. It’ll come back; I’m sure it will. It’s just going to take some work. People have to get used to the idea that they have to rebuild. You may rebuild it differently than what it was before, but it may be stronger.

On the walls:
Selfie, through Jan. 24. Virtual tours available via website.

Call for art: Submissions for Dream State (opening Feb. 4) accepted through Jan. 22. Visit site for details.

Museum of Northern California Art, 900 Esplanade, 487-7272, monca.org

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