A mid-sized institution that collects and exhibits American art of the 20th and 21st centuries, the Asheville Art Museum serves the city of Asheville, NC as well as residents and visitors to the four-state border region (NC, VA, TN, SC) of southern Appalachia. Prior to 2020, the museum relied on in-person programs and school visits to reach underserved communities. When the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to such activities, an NEH CARES grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities allowed the museum to quickly pivot to online programming and resources. In greatly expanding their capacity for online programs, the grant allowed the museum to find ways to serve those in more rural areas who might not otherwise be able to travel to the museum itself.
“NEH CARES made a world of difference...We don’t even realize everything it’s going to allow us to do, but it’s transformative.”
–Kristi McMillan, Director of Learning and Engagement
NEH funding and a lack of in-person visitors allowed the museum to begin putting its entire collection online, a goal that had existed for some time but had always been on the back-burner. The museum also took the opportunity to develop new online content. A building renovation from 2016 to 2019 had prompted the museum to consult with a slate of experts in a variety of fields—for example, Cherokee art history and Affrilachian art and culture—in order to use their collection to tell new stories. The NEH grant provided salary support for staff to collaborate with these scholars and develop online interpretive content, such as videos, which offered multiple accessible points of entry into the museum’s collection and special exhibitions.
The museum anticipates that its NEH CARES grant will have a long-lasting impact. “CARES made a world of difference,” said Kristi McMillan, Director of Learning and Engagement. “We don’t even realize everything it’s going to allow us to do, but it’s transformative.” Those transformations are already visible in the museum’s much-expanded slate of new virtual programming. These programs, which are aimed at a variety of ages, showed museum staff how they could use online tools to “truly meet people where they are,” McMillan said.