The Springfield Museums have focused on diversifying their collection as part of the organization’s strategic diversity, equity, and inclusion plan. 

“New/Now: Contemporary Art Acquisitions,” currently on display at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, explores works created in the last twenty years, including pieces from Faith Ringgold, Nelson Stevens, and Ai Weiwei. 

The prints, paintings, and mixed media works on display reflect the diversity of the cultural and creative methods of each artist.   

Zydalis Bauer spoke with Maggie North, Curator of Art at the Springfield Museums, to learn more about the collection.   

Hear Maggie North speak about her personal connection to one of the artists featured in New/Now in a digital exclusive clip. 

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Over the last two decades, the Springfield Museums have focused on diversifying their collection as part of the organization’s strategic diversity, equity and inclusion plan.

“New/Now” Contemporary Art Acquisitions,” currently on display at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, explores the diverse cultural and creative methods of artists like Faith Ringgold, Nelson Stevens, and Ai Weiwei.

I spoke with Maggie North, Curator of Art at the Springfield Museums, to learn more about the collection.

Maggie North, Springfield Museums: We’re really excited to showcase these new additions to the permanent collection at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Art. And as you said, these works move us forward in a new direction.

About every five years, the Springfield Museums undergoes a planning process where we take a look at our collections plan and our strategic plan. We think about where we are now and where we want to go. And really the focus of our most recent plan has been diversity, equity, and inclusion. We realize that our collections are not always representative of the community that we live and work in, and we believe that we can do more to tell fuller, more interesting stories about the artistic products of our time and of the histories that we’re telling throughout the museums.

So, certainly, as we move forward in thinking about our collections, we’ll be thinking about reflecting this broad range of artistic approaches, and especially including artists who have perhaps been overlooked by the historical canon in the past. So, this includes artists of color, women artists, LGBTQ+ artists, as well as Latina/Latino artists, and so many more, disabled artists included. We certainly have some work to do, but we’re really excited about this direction.

Zydalis Bauer: And so, that’s exactly what’s bringing me to my next question. The term “diversity, equity, inclusion,” they can encompass many things.

And so, what does the museum define diversity, equity, inclusion as when when it’s talking about its collections?

Maggie North: We’re looking at representing a broad range of artistic approaches, as well as artistic backgrounds throughout our collections. And of course, that’s speaking, you know, specifically to the art museums collections, but also within the fields of history and science and innovation. We’re going to be looking at just broadening the stories that we’re telling and thinking about a more complete picture.

How can we do more to inspire our community to think about the objects and the works that they see within the museums as being really relevant to their own lives and being relevant to this amazing time in which we live, where artistic products and products of science and innovation and technology are as diverse as this wonderful world that we live in?

Zydalis Bauer: And so this new exhibition, it’s really encompassing all of that you’re talking about with diversity.

Tell us a little bit more and how it’s meeting that goal of diversification for the collections?

Maggie North: So, this new exhibition, “New/Now,” represents works of art that have been added to our collection in the past two years. So, they’re new to the collection and they represent the moment that we’re living in right now, because they’re contemporary artworks that have the power to speak to cultural, social, political changes that are happening in our lives all around us.

I think contemporary art can be defined in a number of ways. Some folks will tell you contemporary art is made after 1950 or made after 1970, but I think it’s a much easier way to think about contemporary art, when we think about art that is made by artists who are living in our time. So, that’s what we’re thinking about as we look at these new acquisitions.

The exhibition is anchored by five works by the artist, activist, and children’s book writer Faith Ringgold. I’m so excited about these works of art. They’re stunning and they’re colorful, textural, and beautiful. There are also works in the exhibition by a range of other artists, including Nelson Stevens, who was an important member of the Black Arts Movement and who lived in Springfield; the environmentalist painter Marlene Yu; and the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.

Zydalis Bauer: You’re talking about Faith Ringgold and some of her artwork, and I know that in addition to having a diverse cultural background, each of these artists, they also have a diverse — diversity of creative approaches.

So, can you elaborate more on the different techniques and styles that represent — are represented in this exhibition?

Maggie North: So, within this exhibition, there are paintings as well as representations of printmaking and mixed media works. Faith Ringgold is especially known for pushing the boundaries of media. She’s really well known for these beautiful, imaginative story quilts that she often creates from fabric and textiles. And in doing so, she’s drawing on the work of her mother and her grandmother, who were seamstresses and quilt makers. And she’s pulling these techniques into the realm of contemporary art and in doing so, telling interesting stories about the people that she knows, knew, or about her own life drawing on and sort of autobiographical lens.

So, within the exhibition, there are prints that draw on those story quilts created by Faith Ringgold, as well as a textile piece, which is in itself, a sort of screenprint combined with a quilt. So, an interesting approach to this new media. And that’s a really beautiful representation of women dancing on the George Washington Bridge. It’s a beautiful image of freedom and joy and power, and women were important within faith Ringgold’s body of work. She was a feminist artist and somebody who aimed to represent women as active and joyful and powerful across her work.

So, I hope that this will be a piece that folks come back to. It’s one of my favorites in the show.

Zydalis Bauer: It’s definitely one of my favorites, as well. It’s just — it’s so amazing to me that you can be able to tell stories in all these different ways, like on a quilt. It’s something that I never would have thought about. So, yeah, I definitely agree with you.

And you were talking a little bit about these exhibitions telling the story of our time. You’ve mentioned that expanding the collections, you can tell relevant stories about our communities and our era.

So, what do you think that this collection says about the time that we are living in right now?

Maggie North: I think this exhibition does the work of just expanding the very many types of stories that can be told right now.

You know, experiences are broad and we can’t tell every single story within the space of the museums, but the more that we can tell, the better. And I think that great art, excellent art and excellent artists also, what’s being represented in this exhibition, allows us to connect with one another, engage in conversation. Maybe it challenges us or pushes us to think about art in a new way, or see the world in a new way. And so, I hope all of these works can do that.

But I think one thing that will be especially salient to folks who walk through the exhibition will be Ai Weiwei’s masks. These were displayed in a recent exhibition of ours, and we’re so pleased to add them to the collection. They’re actually surgical masks that have been screenprinted with historical Chinese designs by the artist Ai Weiwei.

So, he’s combining the old with the new in a way that creates a symbol of our time, the pandemic that we’ve all lived through, as well as the resilience of these historical motifs, which were taken from a Han Dynasty text called “The Classic of Mountains and Seas.” And they’re really beautiful pieces that I think speak to the way contemporary art can make us look to the past, the present, and the future.

Zydalis Bauer: This exhibition isn’t the only answer to this multi-year diversification plan. It’s just the beginning.

So, tell us what’s next for the Springfield museums.

Maggie North: Thank you. That’s really well put. This is just the beginning. We really look forward to adding, as I said, more Latinx art to the — to the collections at the museums, as well as work by disabled artists, women artists, artists of color, Indigenous artists will certainly be a focus as we continue to expand our contemporary art collections.

And we’re looking also at our historical art collections. So, throughout the history of American art, for example, how can we make sure that folks who have been overlooked as makers are better included in the stories that we’re telling, in the portraits, in the sculptures, in the mixed media works throughout our 18th, 19th and 20th century galleries?