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How the Bechtler offers art beyond walls and websites

In a city focused on growth and finance, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is taking steps toward making its collection more available to people who lack the time, money, and online resources to access its facility and website.

These initiatives include open museum nights and an innovative “InsideOut” program that places works of art throughout the Charlotte community.

The Bechtler opened its doors in January 2010. One of the only museums of mid-century modern art in the southeastern United States, all of its works are owned by the city of Charlotte. The Bechtler was named after Andreas Bechtler and the Bechtler family after Andreas donated their collection of mid-century modern art to the city of Charlotte to found the museum. The Bechtler museum has a goal of creating a personal connection between individuals and the artists behind the 1,500 pieces in its collection. This can be difficult for people who don’t have steady access to the museum’s newsletters or social posts, due to a lack of personal technology or a broadband connection.

“We do a fair amount of traditional advertising,” Andy Goh, a digital communications specialist for the Bechtler, said in a recent interview. “We partner with local outlets such as Charlotte Magazine or CLTure, in order to be able to more effectively promote some of the programming and exhibitions we have at the museum. We feel that partnering with local publications is a really great way to interact with the community at large and be able to access different segments of the population.”

Beyond these media partnerships, Goh said the museum felt there was still more the museum could do to spread the word about its collection to the community, especially to those who lack online resources. A 2016 study by the Carnegie UK Trust indicates that individuals who go without internet access are also excluded from social and cultural experiences and events, and miss political news and opportunities. This includes the cultural and educational impact created by museums. So the Bechtler asked itself, what better way to get the word out about the art of the museum than the art itself?

The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture were selected by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to become the first two museums to partner and collaborate on the Inside|Out Charlotte initiative. Inside|Out is a national program supported by Knight Foundation that launched in 2010 at Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), Detroit and has since expanded to Akron Art Museum, Akron; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; and the Pérez Art Museum Miami, Miami. This makes Charlotte the fifth city to be selected to participate in this initiative.  This community activated art project places high quality reproductions of artworks from the museums’ collections in communities across these selected cities. For the Bechtler and Gantt Center this allows community members to be inspired by art outside of the institutions’ walls. Inside|Out offers people an opportunity to learn more about the art, artists, participate in community-hosted events including docent-led bike tours and art-making workshops with the wish to engage them in programming at the museums. InsideOut offers people an opportunity to learn more about the art, artists, and programming of the museum.

In another initiative focused on broadening museum access, the Bechtler opens its doors for free on the third Friday of each month, between the hours of 5 and 9 p.m. It’s a program called “Bechtler By Night,” sponsored by Bank of America, enabling families and individuals to tour galleries and participate in art activities and other forms of entertainment.

“One of the most important things we can do at the museum is to educate people about the art that we have within the walls here,” Goh said. “The art is made for and by the people of different walks of life. If we can educate people on what the art is, who the artists are, and the significance behind the art, then people will make a more natural connection with that art, and then have a greater appreciation for the type of art that is not only in a big institution like the Bechtler, but also in the studios of independent artists around the city.”

Photo above: Untitled photograph by Manuel Carrillo at University Place, a piece of art offered in the InsideOut program of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts. Photo courtesy of the Bechtler.