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Art & Wine at the VMFA

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BC: REFERENCES | Huber, K. and Johnson, A. (2009) Planning and Managing Museum Programs and Special Events. In A. Johnson, K. Huber, N. Cutler, M. Bingmann & T. Grove, The Museum Educator’s Manual: Educators Share Successful Techniques (pp. 95-108). New York: NY: Altamira Press. Falk, J. (2009). Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. Rossman, J. (2008). Promgramming Approaches. In G. Carpenter & D. Blandy (Eds.), Arts and Cultural Programming: A Leisure Perspective (pp. 23-36). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.


1: The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond, VA offers a number of evening activities as part of their VMFA After Dark programming. Every Friday from 5-9pm the museum offers a program called Art & Wine which includes half price drinks in their two eating venues along with free gallery tours.

2: The following is the mission of the institution: "VMFA is a state-supported, privately endowed educational institution created for the benefit of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Its purpose is to collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret art, to encourage the study of the arts, and thus to enrich the lives of all." Utilizing restaurant drink specials, an attractive public gathering space and performing arts, the VMFA staff has successfully attracted hundreds of visitors with this event, which as defined by Rossman is "collection of activities...usually offered with a theme" (2008, p. 25). This photo essay will explore whether or not this event supports the museum's mission and achieves its purported goals of drawing in new audiences and providing engaging opportunities to interact with art in a relaxed atmosphere. | MISSION

5: FIRST FRIDAYS | On the first Friday of each month the Art & Wine program is hosted in conjunction with a program called First Fridays: Performing Arts. Here you can see a local band, the Atkinsons, performing on a stage set up in the large central foyer of the VMFA. Huber and Johnson remind their readers that when scheduling performers for an event to "use the goals of the event as a guide" (2009. p. 105). Bringing musical artists into this intimate space allows visitors to engage with the medium of music in a different way. And the genre of music performed during this program is usually pulled into the theme of the gallery tours offered throughout the night, asking visitors to think about both the music and the art from a new perspective.


7: Amuse Restaurant and Best Cafe are the VMFA's two dining venues. They each offer drink specials during Art & Wine.

8: Visitors can enjoy their food and drink throughout the museum including in the two restaurants, on a large balcony seen here, and in the central foyer. Food and drink are not allowed in the galleries. In this picture visitors enjoy a Chihuly glass sculpture as they eat and drink. Even if the visitors decide not to enter the galleries or attend a gallery tour they are still surrounded by art. The atmosphere imbues an appreciation for art of all forms and may be seen as a fulfillment of the museum's mission to enrich the lives of others through art.

10: GALLERY TOURS | Two 30 minute gallery tours are offered during Art & Wine. They are each led by a docent and focus on what she called "silly" themes usually based on songs. The theme for this night was "Meet Virginia." The docent led participants to four works of art with connections to Virginia. She was well-versed in the history of the artwork but also engaged the audience through the use of open ended questions and time for reflection. Her questions allowed visitors to engage with the works in ways which they may not have on their own, ultimately fulfilling both the museum's mission and the event's goals.

12: Despite the fact there were hundreds of visitors in the VMFA during Art & Wine (Photo 1), only six people attended the first gallery tour (Photo 2) and only about fifteen attended the second one (Photo 3). There was no signage for the tour and the docent did not make an announcement about the tour before starting. Instead she only gathered the few people who were standing at the tour starting point, some of which knew this to be the case and some who did not. With such a large interested and semi-captive audience it was surprising that so little was done to advertise the gallery tours.

15: With a myriad of other leisure activities to choose from in the city, the VMFA has created a popular program. The museum is simply buzzing every Friday night. The event offers enough free choice (listen to music, dine, drink, visit galleries, take tours, shops, etc.) to draw in a number of different types of visitors no matter their motivations. The "happy hour" vibe creates a relaxed atmosphere where visitors may feel more comfortable to interact with art. The light-hearted themed gallery tours also add to this effect. The event certainly meets the program's goal of bringing in new visitors and creating a relaxing environment but the museum's mission and the goal of allowing visitors to engage with the arts could be more strongly supported if the gallery tours were emphasized more. The VMFA is a large museum with a vast collection. More than two gallery tours could be offered and program staff could at the very least make an announcement about the gallery tours before they begin. They have all of the right elements in place, they simply need to be prioritized.

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