The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is rebranding itself, a move that the museum's director says "really emphasizes the 'National' in our name."
The revamped brand announcement comes one day before the National Gallery reopens to the public after being closed since November 2020. Director Kaywin Feldman says the new vision and strategic plan have been two years in the making. Some of the goals are "practical" with plans to update the museum's website and add more signage in and around the National Gallery's campus which includes the East and West Buildings and the outdoor Sculpture Garden. "There are people who don't even know the National Gallery is here," laments Feldman.
Still, the federally funded National Gallery is the second most visited art museum in the U.S., according to The Art Newspaper's annual attendance survey. The museum's collection of European and American art includes works by Leonardo da Vinci, Johannes Vermeer, Vincent van Gogh, Mary Cassatt, Romare Bearden, Alexander Calder, Lorna Simpson and Diane Arbus.
The new brand's mission statement is a lot shorter than the old one and less about the traditional practices of a major museum.
New: "The National Gallery of Art serves the nation by welcoming all people to explore and experience art, creativity, and our shared humanity."
Old: "The mission of the National Gallery of Art is to serve the United States of America in a national role by preserving, collecting, exhibiting, and fostering the understanding of works of art, at the highest possible museum and scholarly standards."
This rebranding comes at a time when the National Gallery has faced criticism of "institutional misconduct." Last October, an open letter, signed anonymously, claimed that the National Gallery's own employees refer to it as the "last plantation on the National Mall." The National Gallery was one of four institutions to postpone "Philip Guston Now" over the artist's images of hooded Klansmen, leading to another open letter and petition signed by more than 2,000 people including such artists of color as Adrian Piper and Lorna Simpson. The Guston exhibition is now scheduled for 2022. In 2018, The Washington Post reported security guards and other employees faced a hostile work environment that included sexual harassment, racism and fears of retaliation.
While Feldman says the rebranding is not a direct response to those complaints, "We're doing a lot of work to diversify the institution, our staff and our program." According to a National Gallery spokesperson, the museum's executive team has gone from being 100% white since Feldman arrived "to 57% people of color come August when several new hires start."
Feldman herself became the first woman to lead the institution in 77 years when she was hired in 2018.
She adds that the words "shared humanity" in the new mission statement are critical right now. "One of the wonders of art is that it really reminds us of our shared humanity."