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Annie Vanoteghem

With the COVID-19 pandemic causing the Albany Museum of Art to close access to the public, AMA Director of Education and Public Programming Annie Vanoteghem took the lead in bringing museum programs into the homes of children, teens and adults.

Click on “read more” to learn more about Annie. Annie Vanoteghem, director of education and public programming at the Albany Museum of Art since April 2019, is a 2017 graduate of Georgia College and State University with degrees in Art History and Museum Studies. An Albany native and a graduate of Westover High School, she and her husband, Daniel, have a 1-year-old daughter, Cecilia.

Q: What have you done in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

 The day the doors had to close at the AMA was a whirlwind. Schoolchildren had just left the very first school tour of Cut & Paste: Works of Paper, and I was not sure if more children would get the same opportunity. I knew we weren’t the only people feeling the anxiety of the unknown.

Closing our doors meant we had to get creative and bring programs to the community in new ways. So many families have welcomed us into their homes for familiar programs such as the Art Lovers Book ClubToddler TakeoverHomeschool Day, and Yoga in the Gallery. They also welcomed new programs, like Sunday evening Art of Meditation, art contests, and a new daily kids blog called Staying Inspired! While staying at home, kids can challenge themselves intellectually as well as artistically.

Now we are reaching our summer camp kiddos through Camp in the Box, an adaptation of the much anticipated yearly summer camps. They receive a box containing of everything they need, get virtual daily instruction and interact with all their friends.

My hopes are that reaching people in their own homes with art and community programming has provided an outlet and an escape from anxiety during this season of worry and loss.  

Q: When did you decide to start your online presence? What does it look like and how did it evolve? What has community engagement been like? What platforms do you use? 

 Right away! The day the doors closed, I launched the daily blog for kids to follow in their homes to help supplement their art education since schools were shutting down quickly. From there, I took a hard look at each program we offer and adapted them to fit the needs of the community.

Now, three months later, the community engagement through virtual programming is extremely inspiring. It is a true testament to how much the arts are needed in difficult times. I have utilized social media and the AMA website in our reach to the community, platforms that have allowed me an international response to programming.

Annie Vanoteghem paints Camp in the Box boxes for the AMA’s first ever virtual summer art camp that began May 25, 2020.Daniel Vanoteghem reads a story to Cecilia while mom works.Q: How did your background inspire you to do this?

 After working with kids for many years, I knew their anxiety about the unknown would be just as heightened as adults’, if not more. With fewer communication skills and a hard time understanding the world around them, helping to keep kids busy was my very first priority. This, of course, quickly included teen and adult communities as well, but how the kids were being affected was my first thought.

Q: How has this pandemic impacted you personally and professionally?

 Personally, this season has been many things for me. It has been a time of reflection and growth, as well as a time of worry and struggle. I am blessed beyond words to have basic needs taken care of for my family and myself.

There has been so much time for us to take care of one another and rediscover what it means to be a family. There have been fewer late nights, less running around, and more time to connect with each other and with ourselves on a personal level.

This has not come without sadness and guilt for families less fortunate, and for those with ill loved ones who are not able to rest and have security. Emotionally, many of us are exhausted, isolated and anxious. All of these feelings have hit my home in big ways.

Professionally, I have been challenged and inspired. This was not a season easily prepared for or expected. I clearly remember in December my mother’s warning that this is going to be big and every home will be affected. I wish I had begun preparations then (thanks, mom). I think we all thought there was no way that the world could come to a halt.

Despite being caught off-guard, AMA staff sprang into action supporting each other’s ideas about how to move forward. Having a small staff is more like having a second family, encouraging each other on rough days and inspiring each other to dig deep and raise to the challenge of being a cultural institution with their doors closed. Professionally, this season has made me more confident and surer in my position.    

Q: How do you keep mentally healthy in these difficult times?

 I think that when working from home, it is very important to keep work mode and home mode separate. This means keeping your routine as normal as possible and creating a work environment within your home. This also means knowing when to “leave” work and be present with your family.

Personal time is also extremely important when you are home with other family members at all times. I have learned to give myself a little more grace and know when to step back. I have also allowed myself to do spur-of-the-moment things, like dye my hair purple and paint several rooms of my home.. 

Q: When all of this is finally behind us, what is the first thing you want to do? 

 I cannot wait to engage with museum visitors again. Being able to teach kids through webcam is such a blessing, but face-to-face interaction cannot be replaced.

​I am also looking forward to traveling north to see my extended family and hug loved ones for a long, long time.

Annie Vanoteghem is shown leading a school tour through the AMA exhibition “Origami Variations” in January 2020.