Virtual museum tours and the art of doing nothing

The Weekly Roundup, January 5-12

4 minute read
August Wilson on a mural on the side of a residential home. Various folks are painted within and around Wilson in the mural.
The August Wilson mural in West Philadelphia. (Photo by Patrice K. Armstead.)

Last year this time, we were dealing with an insurrection. This year, we’re facing record numbers of new Covid-19 cases. January hasn’t been very good to us the last few years, it seems. Coming off of the dense holiday season, I can imagine many of us are experiencing a range of emotions that are weighing us down. I thought about that when writing this roundup.

I had an entirely different roundup written up before nearly every in-person event was canceled or postponed, many of which were announced this morning. Just like last year, the first week is mired with uncertainty, alarm, frustration, melancholy, and about a dozen other emotions all at once. To inundate you with things to do would be insensitive.

This week, I’ve picked a few virtual museum tours in the city because that feels tenable. All of them are pocket-sized experiences that you can explore on the very device you’re using to read this. But other than that, I’m going to tell you to do something else: absolutely nothing. And do it intentionally.

“Science is starting to show the value of spending time in silence, in nature, and in not engaging in constant external stimulation,” says Sue Smalley, professor emeritus in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry, in an article about the art of doing nothing. “We need time doing ‘nothing’ to be our best selves: well-rounded and creative human beings. The ‘doing’ side of our nature needs a ‘being’ side to be in balance.” (Funny enough, this article was published in December 2019, right when concerns about Covid-19 were starting to rise.)

Check out these exhibits if they spark your interest, but otherwise, how about laying as low as you can if you can for a little while longer?

Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

The oldest natural history museum in the Americas is keeping up with the times with a handful of online exhibits. With free access, virtual visitors can check out tours of exhibits featuring the discovery of sea creatures, dinosaurs, birds, and more. Personally, I found the diatoms exhibit fascinating as it captures how these microscopic photosynthetic organisms living in the ocean make up for about a quarter of the world’s oxygen and exist in every drop of water. It's over in a few swipes, but it certainly sparked an interest that I'll explore in my free time.

Sometimes I wonder if I should've been a scientist and not a writer, but alas, here we are!

The Barnes Foundation

A classic addition to any Philadelphia museum list, the Barnes offers virtual tours that are ongoing. Explore their collection online, schedule custom online private tours for you (and a companion if you’d like!), or get your learn on with online classes. The classes coming up include a look at cubism and its impact, the history of gothic cathedrals and their revival in Philadelphia, and an Elements of Art class that promises to educate on basic aesthetic principles through the lens of the Barnes’s collection.

African American Museum of Philadelphia

AAMP has a variety of exhibits to check out, including a look at Anna Russel Jones’s artworks, “displaying the intricacies of the artist’s practice” and “illustrating her interest in and the importance of African American history and civil rights, commitment to public service, and fascination with medical practice.” She was the first Black graduate of Moore College of Art and Design and was a pioneering artist in the city. Here’s your chance to catch the exhibit in case you missed it on-site this past summer.

The Marian Anderson Museum & Historical Society

The museum is still recovering from the flooding that hit back in September, but they are continuing their tour season virtually as repairs and restorations are completed. Their tours, exhibits, and events aren’t on their website, though—you’ll have to email them to schedule a tour. Nonetheless, there’s always something new to discover about Marian Anderson’s legacy. Why not spend some time getting to know the legendary performer and activist better than you may have before?

Murals on the Fly

Have you checked out Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Murals on the Fly? The series takes you to various murals throughout the city in bite-sized but insightful videos. The drone shots in these clips are stunning, and it offers a glimpse at the city and its murals that you may not have seen before. It’s a great way to get outside without going outside, which feels especially vital this week.

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