‘Stories from Storage’ exhibit tells new stories through art

Oakwood High School graduate Haley Kedziora is the Digital Project Manager for the Cleveland Museum of Art. CONTRIBUTED
Oakwood High School graduate Haley Kedziora is the Digital Project Manager for the Cleveland Museum of Art. CONTRIBUTED

Oakwood grad is Cleveland Art Museum Digital Products Manager

Even before the pandemic took over our lives, the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) had been recognized as a leader in providing creative digital experiences to museum-lovers, both at the museum and at home.

Who knew that technological head start would come in so handy when the world began to shut down? Immediately upon closure on March 14, 2020, the use of Cleveland’s collection’s online platforms increased.

“From March to December, the museum saw a 153% increase in open access downloads compared to 2019,” said Jane Alexander, the CMA’s chief digital information officer. She said the shift to virtual engagement leveled the playing field for the CMA. With the collection and exhibits accessible online, it didn’t matter that the museum wasn’t located on a coast.

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She and her team are understandably proud of the ArtLens app, developed before COVID-19. It features images and didactics for every object on view, an interactive map with wayfinding, and additional interpretive content.

“We wanted to use our existing app to make a special exhibition accessible to all visitors during COVID, whether they used the app onsite like an audio guide or browsed the galleries virtually from home,” said Alexander. The resulting show, “Stories from Storage,” was put together in nine months during the pandemic when it became clear that other planned exhibits would have to be put on hold. It is available both on premises and at home through May 16.

How it worked

Curators on the CMA staff were asked to select some favorite pieces from the vaults, then come up with a story and theme that provide new insights into the group of objects they’d chosen.

It wasn’t an easy task! The prestigious museum owns more than 63,000 objects with only about 4,600 regularly on view in the galleries. Museums keep works in storage for a number of reasons: many are light-sensitive, some have condition issues, some have contested attributes and others may not fit into particular spaces in the galleries.

The project has resulted in an anthology of 20 short stories told by nearly two dozen curators and accompanied by 300 pieces of interesting art, much of it rarely, if ever, seen before. Approaches to the stories range from philosophical to humorous, from contemplative to playful and historical. Taken together, the stories encompass human creativity across the globe, from the ancient to the contemporary. Some curators designed a story about their experience during quarantine and living through a global pandemic, others delved deep into the vault to share art that hasn’t ever been on view before.

The museum’s ArtLens app allows anyone to tour the current “Stories from Storage” exhibit. CONTRIBUTED
The museum’s ArtLens app allows anyone to tour the current “Stories from Storage” exhibit. CONTRIBUTED

CMA director William M. Griswold said this exhibit gives visitors the opportunity to experience a wide range of curatorial approaches and learn how museums shape historical narratives through various lenses. Curators are influenced, he says, by factors ranging from their own backgrounds to time and place as well as cultural and social trends.

‘Paper Airplanes’

Barbara Tannenbaum, CMA’s curator of photography, said she and her colleagues were given free reign to choose objects for the current show. She had “great fun” scouring through 8,000 images before making her selection.

“All photo curators are image junkies and I love looking at the work,” she said, explaining that works on paper such as photos, textiles and manuscript pages are light-sensitive and may fade or become brittle when exposed to light. “So we limit their exposure to keep them in the same state for our children and great-grandchildren.”

Tannenbaum named her story “Paper Airplanes.” “I travel a lot for work and during the weeks and months of sheltering in place I really began to experience wanderlust,” she said. “I found I was looking at the photos and using them to take me to different places so I decided to create a wonderful imaginary trip around the world. The great thing about photos is that you can not only travel through space but through time.”

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The 15 photos in her mini-exhibit range from a photo taken in Egypt 1857 to one of the New York harbor in 1998. They include an Ansel Adams view of Alaska, a Laura Gilpin photo of Chichen Itza in Mexico, a Lois Conner view of a giant Buddha in China and an Adam Fuss photo of the Taj Mahal.

And the title? “Just like when you fold a paper airplane and make it fly, you can fly away to any destination,” Tannenbaum said.

The Cleveland Museum of curator of photography, Barbara Tannenbaum, chose travel as her theme for the “Stories from Storage” exhibit.  CONTRIBUTED/CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART
The Cleveland Museum of curator of photography, Barbara Tannenbaum, chose travel as her theme for the “Stories from Storage” exhibit. CONTRIBUTED/CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART

Credit: Andrew McAllister

Credit: Andrew McAllister

Gerhard Lutz, the CMA’s Curator of Medieval Art, believes the past year has caused many of us to think about other historic pandemics including in the late Middle Ages. His story, “Art in the Time of the Black Death’' is told through the museum’s collection of medieval art. Lutz said the pieces he has chosen provide insights into the thinking, piety and artistic production in Western Europe in the 14th century before, during and after the Black Death.

A Dayton connection

As the CMA’s Digital Projects manager, Haley Kedziora was on the team that developed the “Stories from Storage” exhibit. “My role is to facilitate and coordinate the museum’s outward facing digital initiatives which includes applications, live virtual events, web presence and other public facing digital initiatives,” explains the 28-year-old graduate of Oakwood High School and The Ohio State University.

For “Stories from Storage,” Kedziora’s team worked with all of the curators that were part of the exhibition. In a one-minute video each curator explains how and why he or she selected specific objects. The app offers 20 of these vignettes and the exhibit covers more than 300 objects.

“I’ve always been a strong believer in the arts and the ability for the arts to create amazing, engagement experiences,” said Kedziora, who served as director of the ROY G BIV Gallery in Columbus before taking on the Cleveland assignment. “I think digital has a really excellent capacity to connect people with art.”

HOW TO GO: (IN PERSON)

What: “Stories from Storage,” 20 vignettes featuring CMA curators

Where: Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd, Cleveland.

When: Through May 16. The museum’s hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. Tickets: Free on Wednesdays. Other days: $12 (adults); $9 (seniors and adult groups); $6 (students and children ages 5-17) Admission for children under 5, members, and members of the Dayton Art Institute is free. Tickets can be reserved online at cma.org, at the box office or by calling (216) 421-7350.

Note that admission to the permanent collection galleries is always free.

Parking: $12 for non-members and may be paid in advance during the ticket reservation process. Visitors can also pay on-site at the garage entrance using a credit card.

HOW TO GO: (ONLINE)

Visit cma.org/app to download the ArtLens app.

Meredith Moss writes about Dayton-area nonprofit organizations and their specific needs. If your group has a wish list it would like to share with our readers, contact Meredith: meredith.moss@coxinc.com.

Curator Barbara Tannenbaum chose “Paper Airplane” as a story theme.  Pictured, a Daguerreotype by Adam Fuss entitled “My Ghost: For Allegra.” CONTRIBUTED
Curator Barbara Tannenbaum chose “Paper Airplane” as a story theme. Pictured, a Daguerreotype by Adam Fuss entitled “My Ghost: For Allegra.” CONTRIBUTED

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