Bringing Art to the Public, Post-Pandemic

Freeport Art Museum and Rockford Art Museum remain open and inviting for the community with art that covers many experiences.

Freeport Art Museum’s latest exhibit, “Alice Hargrave: The Suffragette Conference of the Birds after Farīd Attar,” features fabric art inspired by wild bird calls. Sound accompanies the display, which runs through Aug. 7.

The arts aren’t going anywhere, especially at our local museums. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, art museums have been connecting with the public in meaningful ways, and they’ve been adapting to ensure their institutions remain accessible to the entire community. If you’re looking for something new to do, why not step out and experience the arts in a new way?

Freeport Art Museum

Because it has many wide-open spaces and a variety of galleries to explore, Freeport Art Museum (FAM), 121 N. Harlem Ave., makes it easy to spread out while enjoying fine art.

“It’s a safe outing for people who want to get out of the house,” says Barry Treu, director of education programming and exhibitions. “There’s enough space for everyone to keep safe.”

The next major exhibition runs April 17 through Aug. 7, and it focuses on our feathered friends.

The main gallery features “Alice Hargrave: The Suffragette Conference of the Birds after Farīd Attar.” This photographic installation by the Chicago-based Hargrave features immersive sound and fabric art, all related to birds. The unusual title of the exhibit references a Persian poem from 1177 and was inspired by the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting American women the right to vote. The poem describes birds uniting to seek wisdom and truth. 

“She has this wonderful installation that is involved with printing the vocalization of birds,” says Treu. “It’s just beautiful work. She mixes science with her work.”

Accompanying Hargrave’s exhibition is another special gallery show, “For The Birds.” It features 26 Illinois artists who captured the beauty of birds and spoke to the fact that bird populations have been decreasing over the past 50 years.

Treu’s own work is highlighted in an adjacent gallery. He began crafting bird portraits when stuck at home last April and created a display of birds from the Illinois Endangered and Threatened list. All three exhibits run through Aug. 7.

Tying into FAM’s bird exhibits is a special celebration of World Migratory Bird Day on Saturday, May 8. A gathering at Taylor Park, in Freeport, brings together FAM’s latest show and area naturalists with fun, family-friendly programming. FAM will have cardboard wings and paper beaks for children to paint. 

“We’re going to have games, like a migratory bird obstacle course and a build-a-nest relay,” says Treu. “These will be socially distanced, but people can get out and enjoy being around others.”

The Freeport Art Museum operates in a converted school built in 1911. Though the building is owned by the City of Freeport, the museum’s endowment supports facility improvements.
FAM’s SmART After School program provides art activities to 90 youngsters through the Boys & Girls Club of Freeport.

In June, FAM welcomes birder Christian Cooper in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club in Freeport. Cooper is a writer and board member of the New York City Audubon, and he’ll share his experiences birding in Central Park. Cooper also plans to work with the Boys and Girls Club of Freeport to start a birding group. 
FAM has had a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club for many years, with the museum providing extracurricular arts activities for youngsters.

“We are providing visual arts, dance programs and ceramics,” says Treu. “We have added spoken word and poetry, and we now have professional artists and teachers coming in to teach those workshops.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, youths at the Boys and Girls Club began taking meals home with them. So, FAM started offering take-home art projects to go along with the meals. FAM provides how-to videos on its Facebook page so families can follow along. Treu and his team have been making projects for 90 students during the pandemic.

“I have a session tonight that’s a family night,” says Treu. “They dial in through Zoom. We’ve had a very good turnout, and we go through the project and everything is tied to a kind of STEM aspect. It’s a great evening.” 

The nonprofit FAM always welcomes donations from the community. Individual and corporate memberships, as well as several grants, help sustain the museum. FAM’s current Ignite a Spark campaign offers additional opportunities to provide support, by way of funding a new arts plaza in the heart of the city’s downtown, preserving the museum building or increasing an endowment for its preservation.

“State Bank of Freeport recently awarded us a grant that is helping us continue our outreach programs, and several individuals have stepped up their financial giving,” says Treu. “So, we’re able to continue to support the after-school program. I can’t thank people enough for giving donations because it’s allowed those programs to carry on.”

Jeff Koon’s “Donkey.”

Rockford Art Museum 

Among the great gems of our community is Rockford Art Museum (RAM), located in the city’s downtown museum campus at 711 N. Main St. Now through at least June 11, admission to the museum is free, a situation that museum leaders began last year and say they hope they’ll be able to continue.

“It’s so important for me to create a museum that’s accessible to our community,” says Carrie Johnson, RAM’s executive director/curator. “There should be no barriers for someone to come and experience art.”

Museum admission is always free during the two weeks between rotating major exhibits in the main gallery upstairs. The current main attraction, running through May 31, is focused on digital media.

Jonah King’s “How the West Was Won” is an immersive documentary video experience that takes visitors on a journey through the modern American West, where eternal golfers replace rugged cowboys. The exhibition is a collaboration with Rockford-based New Genres Art Space.

Also in the main gallery is Veronica Soria Martinez’s “Memory Access,” another immersive experience that uses experimental sound art and augmented reality light sculptures to imagine the future. The Rockford-based artist creates a multi-sensory experience that interfaces with Rockford Art Museum’s new smartphone app.

Download RAM’S app to view Martinez’s augmented reality sculptures in their entirety while you walk aroundthe exhibition. iPads are also available to view the experience.

RAM’s Anderson Gallery downstairs features samples of the museum’s 2,100-piece permanent collection. American Masters shows off traditional art media, including portraits and landscapes. There’s also a showing of African-American art from the southern U.S.

This summer, pop and modern contemporary pieces from RAM’s collection become the main attraction upstairs. The show features work collected in the past two decades and includes work by Kerry James Marshall, Jackie Tileston, Diane Simpson, Jeff Koons and Nic Nicosia.

Jackie Tileston’s “Paradise Unfound.”
Nic Nicosia’s “Near (Modern) Disaster.”

Meanwhile, a longtime favorite – RAM’s Young Artist Show – takes on a new spin this year. The 80th anniversary event displays the work of Rockford Public Schools students and is presented virtually this year. It can be viewed at

Beyond RAM’s rotating exhibits is a wealth of programming for the public to enjoy. The museum offers classes for children, lectures for adults and resources for teachers, with both virtual and in-person offerings.

Cartoon Club was recently started by Jaymee Fedor, RAM’S education and engagement manager, as a Saturday afternoon art lesson for children 6 years and older. Fedor takes students through step-by-step instructions as they learn to draw things like video game characters, lizards and baby animals. 

For adults, a studio class meets weekly at the museum. Additional adult workshops are rolling out soon.
“We hosted a 2-hour ceramics class in the gallery with local artist/professor Lynn Fischer-Carlson,” says Johnson. “She was working with clay with people in the gallery for about 2 hours.”

Going forward, Johnson believes collaborations with other organizations will prove essential to the museum’s future.

“We’ve got a really strong collaboration with the City of Rockford and are lending out pieces from our permanent collection to the mayor’s office,” says Johnson. “Next year we are working on an exhibition with Buzz Spencer, who will create a 60-foot-long book installation in the galleries. We are looking forward to an amazing collaboration with the Rockford Public Library to do a book drive to support the installation.”

Financial support is just as important now as ever. While the museum is supported by private donations and grants, it also depends upon members’ generosity. Memberships come in several levels, with an individual one starting at $50.

“It’s so important for us to have our communities stand behind this museum as open, friendly and accessible to everyone,” says Johnson. “So, drop a couple of dollars in the donation box if you’re able to. You can always go on our website and donate or participate in class. Either way is a huge help for the museum.”