At annual meeting, Fresno Art Museum’s Michele Ellis Pracy casts an optimistic eye toward a better 2021

After six months of doubt, financial angst and having to deal with one of the worst scenarios that could happen to a museum — being forced to close its doors because of a deadly pandemic — the future sure appears to be getting brighter for the Fresno Art Museum.

Pictured above: At lower left, Bonnie Peterson’s ‘Valley of Domes.’ At lower right, Helen Lundeberg’s ‘Nocturne.’  Photos: Fresno Art Museum

At the institution’s annual meeting Thursday evening, executive director Michele Ellis Pracy told museum members that a trio of staff members next week will begin installing a major new exhibition. If all goes well, this means the facility will be ready to open if and when the museum gets the pandemic go-ahead from state and local authorities.

The hope is that all this will take place quite soon, by mid-October. Appropriate social distancing will be observed, of course.

“We’re definitely going to be open this fall if we’re allowed,” an upbeat Ellis Pracy told me before the meeting.

Looking ahead, she sees great things for the museum in the next few years, including a premier 2022 exhibition supported by the McClatchy Fresno Arts Endowment that was announced just days ago.


“We are anticipating that by the summer of 2021, the pandemic will have come under control, a vaccine made available, and the in-person visits to FAM will be reminiscent of pre-Covid times,” she told members.

A rundown of news from the meeting:

The main exhibition: Titled “Here She Stands,” the new exhibition will feature works by women artists from the museum’s permanent collection. There are a couple of reasons the show is staying in-house: It’s cheaper than trying to put together a show with original works from outside the museum (or renting a pre-packaged show) because of transportation costs; and it’s safer for museum staff, led by curator Sarah Vargas, because of less handling of artworks.

In terms of subject matter, the museum has long been dedicated to the promotion of women artists, including its annual Council of 100 Distinguished Woman Artist Award. The works in “Here She Stands” were selected with an emphasis on pieces that have not been frequently exhibited and include such names as Helen Lundeberg, Claire Falkenstein, Isobel Sanford, Amy Kasai, Jean Ray Laury, June Wayne and Marguerite Stix.

Another new exhibition: The fiber art of Bonnie Peterson is featured in “Another Glorious Sierra Day,” an exhibition of narrative art about geography and science in the Sierra Nevada.

From the museum: “Peterson grew up in the Midwest but has been backpacking in the Sierras since the 1980s. In 1997, she participated in an artist residency at Yosemite. Her selection of textiles and maps integrate the geographic features of the Sierras with 19th and 20th-century exploration and contemporary wildness encounters. Using rich fabrics and intricate stitching, her work provides a unique opportunity to create interest in further research on the Sierra environment and geography.”


Continuing: Several exhibitions will be continued that were in progress when the pandemic interrupted: “A Family Dynamic: Richard Amend, Susan Stinsmuehlen-Amend, and Wyatt Amend”; “Impressions of Bohemia: Portraits by Jack Coughlin”; and “Will Bulas: M is for Masterpiece.”

Members get preference: Strict social-distance protocols will limit attendance when the museum does open. Ellis Pracy anticipates that for the first two months after opening, admission will be limited to current museum members.

Silver linings: The pandemic forced the museum to develop a virtual presence that will be maintained in perpetuity, Ellis Pracy told members Thursday. A new point-of-sale system allows for touchless admission and museum store transactions, including an online museum store.

Financial update: The upshot is that In these tumultuous months, the greater Fresno area has come through. People renewed their memberships and contributed to the annual fund drive, and local family foundations came through with support.

The Munro Review has no paywall but is financially supported by readers who believe in its non-profit mission of bringing professional arts journalism to the central San Joaquin Valley. You can help by signing up for a monthly recurring paid membership or make a one-time donation of as little as $3. All memberships and donations are tax-deductible.

“We’re holding our own,” Ellis Pracy told me. “We’ve been able to remain in the black this entire time. I’m so proud of that.”

Like most cultural institutions in the pandemic, the museum faced a devastating loss of income, including admission fees, school and other group tours, museum store sales, new memberships and fundraising events. A fortuitous January bequest, combined with federal monies from Payroll Protection Program and Small Business Administration grants provided a solid foundation for weathering the first few months of shuttering the doors.

Looking ahead: At the annual meeting, Ellis Pracy offered a tone of cautious, thankful optimism.

“The future of FAM rests, as its survival always has, with this community because we are Fresno’s only art museum,” she said. “All of us are experiencing such extraordinary times right now. The pandemic, as well as all of the conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion remind us that we need a place like the Fresno Art Museum that offers comfort, reflection, and some joy.”

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (2)

  • Jackie Ryle

    Great summary, Donald. I attended the annual FAM meeting and was very impressed with how they have managed through these past few and current months. It’s great to see them financially sound and planning for great future exhibits. They have shown good stewardship and well deserve the forthcoming grant, as do the other recipients. The art scene is looking up in Fresno. Thank you for keeping us up to date.

  • Patricia Hoffman

    Happy to read this positive and optimistic column, Donald. Thank you. Patricia


Leave a Reply