As yet another eventful year ends, it’s a good time to reflect on the challenges, as well as opportunities and successes, that affected every aspect of the American Museum of Ceramic Art in 2021. The pandemic required AMOCA to close its doors on March 14, 2020 and to transition to online lectures, demonstrations, and digital exhibition tours. My colleagues and I worked remotely. In addition, we arranged some outdoor exhibitions that could be viewed in person, as well as services, including supplies, to be delivered to artists working from their homes. As people worldwide discovered, it was a daunting time.
In June of 2021, we re-opened the museum to the public after a 15-month hiatus. We celebrated that occasion with an ambitious show: Don Reitz: Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal. The genesis of the exhibition involved three intersecting tragedies. First, Don Reitz nearly lost the use of his left arm and leg in a vehicle accident. While convalescing, his father died and his favorite five-year-old niece was diagnosed with cancer. A torrent of new work came out of this period and speaks to how art can heal—an important and relevant message as we emerge from the pandemic.
Thanks to the continuing, generous support from the Windgate Foundation, Julianne and David Armstrong, and Laguna Clay Company, AMOCA was able to support four Artists in Residence in 2021. In many ways, AMOCA’s residency is unique. Artists are provided 24/7 access to a well-equipped ceramics studio as well as access to our exhibitions and extensive permanent collection. And perhaps most important, visiting artists are provided time and space to develop their work and explore new ideas. Natalia Arbelaez, a Colombian American artist, used her time at AMOCA to research the work of historical and influential women ceramicists of color in our permanent collection.
AMOCA responded to requests from our teaching partners to increase access to our exhibitions and hands-on programs. With a grant from the California Natural Resources Agency, AMOCA launched a Mobile Museum & Virtual Visits “Mudmobile,” a program that transports a “pop-up” museum exhibition and ceramics studio to K-12 schools. This new program will increase equitable access to the arts and to arts education for these students and educators, with a special focus on serving Title I schools within 60 miles of the museum.
The museum mounted 10 exhibitions in its three galleries, including Don Reitz: Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal and MIND+MATTER: Five Bay Area Artists. The Acquisitions Committee accepted 386 works of art into the permanent collection, and the 42 private and semi-private studio spaces available to artists in the ceramics studio, all following LA County Department of Public Health Guidelines, have been rented throughout the year with a substantial waiting list.
Finally, during the unexpected pandemic closure, the Board of Directors approved several renovation projects within the building and on the campus. You will hear more about the progress of these exciting initiatives in early 2022.
I am so grateful for your continued interest in and support of the museum and its affiliated programs, and I look forward to seeing you throughout the year at AMOCA.
Beth Ann Gerstein