By Karen Carr Keefe
Saturday is a very big day in the local art world.
The Castellani Art Museum is reopening to the public with five new exhibits and a completely revamped gallery. The museum on the Niagara University campus was closed to visitors more than a year ago due to COVID-19, and NU used the gallery as a distance classroom.
The artwork being introduced this weekend ranges from a 300-year retrospective of Niagara Falls imagery, to Salvador Dali lithographs, to paintings and sculptures acquired by the gallery in the past 10 years.
In between are collections of artful, colorful quilts and a showcase of contemporary mixed media artworks by more than 65 WNY artists.
“It feels fantastic; it feels energizing to reopen,” Interim Director Michael J. Beam said.
“We can’t wait to see our visitors again. We miss our members; we miss working with the community,” said Tara Walker, senior manager of marketing and public relations. “We just can’t wait to open our doors this Saturday.”
The museum is open weekends throughout the summer of 2021. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 1-5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free – and the CAM is air-conditioned.
“It’s just going to be exciting to see the museum filled with life again – to see people enjoying the works of art that we’ve put on display for them,” Walker said.
Beam said a lot of work has gone into the reopening.
“These past months – a year-and-a-half – all of us on staff, everyone has stepped up and gone over and above to do projects that have been on hold for a while. The time being closed to the public … we were able to launch a whole bunch of exciting projects,” he said.
Beam said a website revamp that includes visual access to the collection was a huge project overseen by Registrar Mary Helen Miskuly, assisted by Folk Art Curator Edward Millar and Walker.
He also noted the development of the museum’s YouTube channel, as well as a new membership program Walker launched.
“We’re working on getting our long-term members and our long-term supporters back into the loop … so it’s very exciting to be reopening,” Beam said.
“Gather Together: Quilting Niagara,” features traditional and contemporary quilts by local quilters from the Kenan Quilters’ Guild. (Photo courtesy of the Castellani Art Museum)
He noted the staff of five people has taken on extra duties to accomplish the vision of the gallery. Beam still is curator of exhibitions and special projects as well as interim director. A search is underway for a permanent director.
The fifth staff member is Barbara Borkowski, who is in charge of weekend and special events.
“We all are doing so many things – really turning a negative, which had been the COVID pandemic and the situation of being closed, to a positive – where we took that time to say, ‘What can we accomplish, what can we do?’ ” Beam said.
There is a new reception desk – the first big new construction project in the museum for the past 30 years. COVID-19-related manufacturing delays had an early impact on construction, but it’s nearing completion.
Beam said reopening has always been a moving target, with changing state guidance on protocols for halting the spread of the coronavirus.
“We will be an amazing place once we reopen – physically, and also online,” he said.
Carla Castellani, whose parents, Armand and Eleanor Castellani founded the gallery, said, “We’re just totally excited to be reopening … and welcoming our audience and our community back.”
She said the COVID-19-related museum closure actually helped bring the new exhibitions to fruition.
“It’s something that we at the museum have wanted to do for a long time, and this just gave us a chance to really go through 10 years of acquisitions and to look at things, prioritize, and to also look at how we can further use the art in the future, especially in educational programming,” she said.
Castellani is an adjunct professor at NU in the fine art program. “I have curated, over the years, three or four exhibitions. But it’s been a long time, so this was really nice to dip my hand back into it, to work with the staff.”
She said the three permanent collections have been reorganized this past year, as well, giving the visitor the opportunity to fully view the artwork in all onsite collections.
Castellani said the museum means a great deal to the family and the community: “It’s very fulfilling and it’s just a mission my parents had been on since the late ’60s to use art as a vehicle for education, for enjoyment, for growth, for enrichment – for all those kinds of things.”
She said her family has close ties with NU that brought the gallery to the campus: “There was just a wonderful relationship there, and at the university campus it’s a perfect forum for using the arts for education.”
Castellani said one of her parents’ main goals was achieved five or six years ago with the inception of the art history museum studies program: “It allows students to come in and really use the collection in a different way than just non-majors would.”
“Every year, the relationship between the academics and the museum tightens up and more and more instructors, professors, are using the museum in all of their varied disciplines,” she said.
Walker, the museum’s educator for 15 years, knows the collection inside and out. Before the pandemic hit, she had been curator of education for four years, and assumed her current position six months ago. She has a bachelor’s in art history, a master’s in museum studies, both from Buffalo State College, and is now getting an MBA at NU.
“Of Their Time: Abstraction, Hard-Edge and Op art,” is a gallery in the permanent collection of Castellani Art Museum. (Photo courtesy of the Castellani Art Museum)
On a tour of the museum, she showed off the five new exhibitions, plus the three permanent collections, which include works by Picasso, Modigliani, Frederic Church and Charles Burchfield.
The new ones are:
•Salvador Dali’s “Les Diners de Gala” – lithographs with a surrealistic twist on some of his favorite meals.
•“Artists View the Falls: 300 Years of Niagara Falls Imagery,” dating from 1698 to 2006.
•“Acquisition Highlights 2010-2020: Paintings and Sculpture” – a 10-year retrospective of significant donations to the museum’s permanent collection that draws from a diversity of artists.
“Everyone from Giacamo Balla of Italian futurism, to Mark Kostabi, who’s a living contemporary artist,” Walker explained. “What unifies the show is that everything was added to our collection within the past 10 years. And this was actually curated by Carla Castellani,” Walker said.
•“Gather Together: Quilting Niagara,” featuring traditional and contemporary quilts by local quilters from the Kenan Quilters’ Guild.
•“The Buffalo Society of Artists 125 Catalogue Exhibition” – a showcase of contemporary mixed-media artworks.
The Castellani Art Museum is part of the free Discover Niagara Shuttle route.
“You can jump on the shuttle right outside of the museum and take it all the way to Lewiston, take it all the way up to Old Fort Niagara. It goes all the way out to Lockport this year, all the way down to the Falls,” Walker said. “So you can really spend an entire day up here in Niagara County. Check out the museum, grab lunch in Lewiston, go see Niagara Falls. It’s a short trip up from Buffalo. And if you haven’t been to our museum yet, you really need to stop by this summer.”
The new membership program offers reciprocal partnerships with 12 Niagara County cultural organizations.
“For example, the Underground Railroad Heritage Center offers a buy-one, get-one-free admission for our members. Every institution offers a different deal,” Walker said. The network of institutions is called Cultural Alliance of Niagara.
Visit www.artsniagara.org to check the online calendar of events and more information on each organization.
CAM is online at www.castellaniartmuseum.org.
Posing in front of “Grand Mesa” by Friedel Dzubas are Castellani Art Museum staffers Tara Walker, senior manager of marketing and public relations; and Michael Beam, interim director. (Photo by Karen Carr Keefe)