Lehigh University Art Galleries (LUAG) recently received a $5 million gift from Kenneth Woodcock, ‘65, the single largest contribution ever given to the organization. The galleries rely on a mix of support from the College of Arts and Sciences and external support in the form of gifts and grants. According to a Jan. 13 email from President Simon, the funds will be used at the discretion of Director William Crow and future directors of the galleries. The Brown and White sat down with Crow to find out what the donation means to LUAG and how he intends to use it.
Q: What does the donation mean to LUAG?
William Crow: This really is a transformative gift for the art galleries. I think all of my museum colleagues, both at academic museums but also at civic museums, would agree that this type of endowment support, that is flexible and that will last for future generations, is critical. Over the past year we all learned, with the pandemic and all of the economic challenges we’re facing, that this type of support is really critical for museums to be able to survive and hopefully thrive in the future. It is truly a transformative gift for us.
Q: What will the money allow you to do?
WC: We are particularly excited about this gift because it is flexible or unrestricted, allowing us to be nimble and responsive to ever-changing contexts. We will be using the funds in a variety of ways. It will certainly be going towards supporting our exhibitions and education programs, but also growing the impact that we have. Prior to COVID-19 we had grown our attendance by 86 percent over two years, which is an amazing achievement. I’m very grateful to my dedicated team for making that happen. I think it’s a real signal that there is an interest in the art galleries and that there are people who want to be engaged.
Q: What is the importance of an art education in today’s day and age?
WC: I think it’s critical for everyone to have a broad, well-rounded education that includes art and the arts. As we’ve all experienced, the challenges that we are all facing in the 21st century are ones that are not going to be solved by a single discipline. They are challenges that require looking across disciplines, exercising our critical thinking, and being understanding of diverse cultures and perspectives. I think art helps us do that. By exploring works of art we can understand how people have addressed problems, how they think critically about the world, and how they might hypothesize about the future.
Q: What type of impact has the pandemic had on LUAG? How has art education been affected?
WC: Like everyone in the museum field, we very quickly shifted to focus on online programs and digital resources with the onset of the pandemic back in March. In some ways that has really helped us. We now have about 2,400 works of art available on our website out of the 17,000 in the collection. We’ve had over 8,000 people access that online collection just in the second quarter of this fiscal year (Oct. 1 to Dec. 31). I think that’s really remarkable. Typically it’s people from over 100 different institutions that are using our collection for research, teaching and learning.
Q: Do you have any plans to incorporate the pandemic into the types of exhibitions in the future?
WC: We are doing a few things in response to the pandemic in addition to our digital work. We have an outdoor exhibition along the South Bethlehem Greenway called “Doing Democracy,” featuring 22 photographs that are reproduced from our permanent collection. We also have an online exhibition called “Black and White Sketches in Quarantine” that features drawings and sketches made by artists around the world during the lockdown. That has been a very rewarding project to work on. This fall we will have an exciting exhibition in the main gallery called “Thinking Through Drawing.” It will showcase the way artists, designers and builders use drawing as a way of thinking and it will surely have some components that reflect how people responded to the pandemic as well.
Q: What excites you in the art world on the horizon?
WC: I am continually excited by the enthusiasm and the interest that people have at Lehigh and in the local community in our art collection and in the art galleries. We hold one of the most diverse and largest art collections in the region — over 17,000 objects — so we’re excited to maximize the public value of that collection. Whether that’s through programs or exhibitions but also through faculty and students doing research on the collection, those are all things that are really exciting and that we’re going to grow in the years to come.