VMFA and Chase: Meeting People Where They Are

Profile image of CelesteCELESTE FETTA is the Director of Education at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, a role she has had for the past five years. She has been with the museum since 2001 serving in several capacities within the Education Department. Here, she shares VMFA’s nurturing of creativity in the community, its steadfast commitment to its mission, and its partnership with Chase.

In the 20 years I’ve spent in the art museum field, while facilitating conversations in galleries, leading workshops, helping out in studios, or just in passing, I’ve often heard the following: “I’m not an artist,” “I can’t draw,” or “I’m just not creative.” But here’s the thing—such statements aren’t that accurate. Creativity is something that resides in all of us. You just need the tools, support, encouragement, and space to try.

VMFA Education believes in this potential in every visitor, from infancy to infinity. Through our programs, classes, virtual and in-gallery experiences, and variety of resources, our aim is to help participants and members of the community engage with authentic objects, exchange knowledge, and hopefully, stimulate their creativity. Through art and shared experiences, we invite an exchange of diverse perspectives to uncover layers of meaning and, in turn, to support discovery, learning, and deeper connections.

In response to COVID-19 and faced with the museum’s closure March 13–June 30 as well as continued recommendations of social distancing and discontinuing of large-scale programs, we have paused participating in large festivals. At the museum, we have also suspended group tours and museum programs such as Family Day as in-person, on-site events. And while classes have resumed, capacity limits are currently in place. Although our doors were closed, the museum had to continue its mission, and we, like so many of our colleagues across the country and around the world, had to figure out a way to do so. While we achieved great gains in video content creation, virtual classes, performing arts and lectures, and adapted our established Distance Learning Program, we still needed a way to bridge the digital divide and to ensure that access to the arts was possible for all.

Celeste and Paula at the Art Bags event
From VMFA, Director of Education Celeste Fetta (left), and Director of Audience Development Paula Saylor-Robinson (right) helped distribute art bags at Broad Rock Elementary School on November 16.

Thankfully, we are not alone in the belief that access is key to connectivity. In Chase, we found a partner who was looking to support initiatives that connect communities with the museum and vice versa. With Chase’s support, which includes sponsorship of Fridays After 5, Distance Learning, Girls for A Change, and the VMFA Learn website, we created the #VMFAatHome art kits project. Creativity is important at any time in life because it stretches imaginative thinking, improves problem-solving skills, and provides a means for self-expression. In the past several months, we’ve seen examples around the world of just how important creative expression can be during times of uncertainty and isolation from friends and extended family.

These happy faces were the priceless reward for VMFA and Chase volunteers who gave out over 400 art bags during Broad Rock Elementary’s Second Quarter Material Pick Up Luau.

Envisioned in April, at the start of the statewide shutdown, these kits provide supplies and printed activity sheets to school-aged children who are learning from home and, for many, doing so without access to art-making materials. Working with the museum’s Director of Audience Development, Paula Saylor-Robinson, VMFA Education reached out to our partners at Richmond Public Schools (RPS), a district VMFA serves regularly through guided and self-directed visits and through various programs, to ascertain the need and interest in art kits and determine logistics. This past week, 3,000 #VMFAatHome kits stocked with colored pencils, glue sticks, construction paper, a sketchbook, and two printed resources (Create a Book Inspired by Louis Draper and Make a Miniature Paper Sculpture) were either handed out by VMFA staff and Chase volunteers or delivered to six RPS schools in Southside Richmond in coordination with the Meal Distribution program.

VMFA is also offering other art kits as part of virtual programs such as Family Day and select studio classes. In the community, the art kits’ reach extends to Girls for A Change; VMFA is hosting one of their Girl Action Teams and their Black Girl Showcase in May. And, made possible by Chase, a student will intern at VMFA in summer 2021.

Colored pencils and a glue stick may not seem like a big deal, but what is created with them just might be. If you start to hear yourself or someone else say “I’m just not creative,” take a pause, grab a piece of paper and pencil and just try. VMFA believes you can do it, and we are going to do all we can to help you say instead: “Look what I made!” As VMFA connects with the community to inspire creativity from infancy to infinity, the museum strives to meet people where they are—literally and figuratively—fulfilling its mission “to enrich the lives of all.”