Rand Suffolk is the director of the High Museum of Art. Since his arrival in 2015, he has championed a renewed commitment to community engagement, placing emphasis on collaboration, inclusivity and access. Before joining the High, he served as director of Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo by CatMax Photography)
Around noon on Thursday, March 12, the manager of the High’s call center handed me a half sheet of ruled notebook paper. Written in purple ballpoint ink were the names of two individuals, the date 3/11/20, and a phone number. Below that, in black ink, was written “confirmed COVID-19 visitor.” The first domino had fallen. It took time to gather details and consider our options, but by 5 p.m. the decision had been made to indefinitely cease public access to the museum. By the close of business the following Monday, our offices were empty. We had effectively, though by no means completely, reconfigured our business to survive in a virtual world.
I realize our story is not exceptional. In fact, I’m certain that countless individuals around the nation, and the world, have their own version of this story. Nevertheless, in the moment that half sheet of paper was handed to me (I still have it, by the way), we went from “business as usual” to “business as we’ve never done it before.”
There’s nothing like a crisis to very quickly highlight any organizational weakness you have. In response, you learn a great deal about yourself, your team, the definition of leadership and most importantly, resilience. Not one thing has been easy since March 12. However, throughout the stress test of the past eight months (and counting), we’ve hopefully built different capacities, come to more fully realize our collective organizational strength and, whenever possible, rose to meet the expectations of the community we serve.
In times like these, when we are separated by necessity, ArtsATL is needed more than ever. Please consider a donation so we can continue to highlight Atlanta’s creative community.