Published on December 15, 2020
2020 changed the world, and with it, how we connect with art, culture, and each other.
The #MuseumWithoutWalls was borne out of people’s need to engage art in a time of great uncertainty. In the nine months since it launched, it has become an online destination for art, performances, talks, and family activities that spark curiosity, inspire hope and resilience, and foster community.
To celebrate art’s ability to disrupt disconnection, here’s a look back at 20 of the most popular #MuseumWithoutWalls experiences of the year. Our roundup isn’t a ranking, but rather a sampler platter of diverse artistic encounters that brought people together when they really needed it.
20. April saw the Museum launch its first-ever online-only music festival. Attended by tens of thousands of people worldwide, remixTOGETHER boasted 10 acts who each take a deeply rooted tradition and lift it to new heights.
Performing from home to an online audience didn’t stop renowned kathak dancer and vocalist Bageshree Vaze and tabla maestro Vineet Vyas from pulling off a show that was equal parts passionate, charming, and educational.
19. Did you know you can tour many of the Museum’s fabulous exhibition and gathering spaces from the comfort of your home? Visit the #MuseumWithoutWalls Immerse Yourself page to explore our collection of 3-D virtual tours, or get started with this digital stroll through the Bellerive Room.
18. In June, we revisited women’s rights advocate Dr. Lauryn Oates’s perspective-expanding 2019 talk at the Museum. Drawing on two decades of supporting education initiatives in Afghanistan, Dr. Oates reflects on the role of art, literature, and music in empowering women and girls.
17. Starting in the spring, our curators have amassed a series of short videos telling fascinating stories about objects in our Collection. In an entry from June, Assistant Curator Bita Pourvash reveals the poetic ideals and narratives baked into a stately ceramic dish from 17th-century Iran.
16. Closing the immensely successful remixTogether Festival was Toronto’s Sina Bathaie, who mesmerized with the soothing sounds of the santur.
15. It doesn’t matter whether she’s performing to a packed club or a virtual audience tuning in via their smartphones — Bonjay singer Alanna Stuart has the power to make people move. Behold the cascading emotion and exquisite melodicism of her filmed-at-home set for the remixTOGETHER Festival.
14. The Museum’s Atrium is a celebration of light. Revisit our bright, airy gathering space on this 3-D virtual tour.
13. Our Exhibitions team sourced as many sustainable building materials — including 3,000 second-hand t-shirts — as they could their hands on to create Sanctuary's unforgettable gallery design. Exhibitions Manager Hayley Andrew reveals how and why they did it in her May video for the #MuseumWithoutWalls.
12. The #MuseumWithoutWalls Play and Learn page is a growing treasure trove of puzzles, word searches, and arts and craft activities perfect for the young and the young at heart. Feed your appetite for adventure with this puzzle starring Rustam, the dragon-slaying hero of Iranian lore.
11. What do battling beasts, strange birds, and flame-engulfed treetops have to tell us about how to be a successful leader? Curator Dr. Michael Chagnon investigates in this short exploration of a 17th-century manuscript of the Anvar-i Suhayli (Manuscript of the Lights of Canopus).
10. This year, the Museum commissioned avant-jazz and spoken-word alchemists Kaie Kellough and Jason Sharp to develop a show inspired by the exhibitions Sanctuary and Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From. The transfixing result is UBGNLSWRE, a mixed-media performance that combines literature, electronic and acoustic sound, and graphic design by artist Kevin Yuen Kit Lo.
9. In their April 2020 Pocket Performance, Egyptian-Canadian singer Maryem Tollar and husband and musical collaborator Ernie Tollar unsheathe Arabic and Sufi devotional songs — and bust out a few traditional instruments in their collection.
8. In the spring and summer, Armaan, a local middle-schooler and great friend of the Museum, showed off his flair for storytelling in a series of short videos for the #MuseumWithoutWalls. For several weeks starting in April, he read from the Museum-commissioned children’s book Two Crafty Jackals, regaling audiences young and old with the adventures of Kalilah and Dimnah.
7. Artist Olga Stefatou’s Chrysalis, an exhibition of portrait photography, introduced Museum audiences to the stories of 11 refugee women living in Greece. In an April video for the #MuseumWithoutWalls, Stefatou opened up about her creative process, her drive to promote freedom and gender equality with her art, and the 11 refugee women who made the project possible.
6. In a special Family Sunday video from the spring, Dr. Michael Chagnon beguiles with heroic stories from the Shahnameh, linking the protagonists’ exploits to examples of bravery and leadership from the present day.
5. Originally slated to perform the Museum Auditorium in April, multi-disciplinary artist and poet Tanya Evanson joined us virtually for a lively conversation with Amirali Alibhai, our Head of Performing Arts. During the enlightening exchange, Evanson delved into her recent works “YAHU” and “Act of Creation,” poems that are poignantly relevant in the COVID-19 era.
4. In April, with the Museum temporarily closed, Curator Dr. Marika Sardar led online audiences on virtual tour of the Chrysalis exhibition, highlighting the stories of two of the refugee women who participated in the portrait series.
3. In Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, 15 artists from around the world navigate their blended identities and act as emissaries between the cultures they inhabit. Exhibition Co-Curator Marianna Fenton examines the complex questions the artists ask — and the answers they present — in their work as part of her April virtual tour of the exhibition, an innovative collaboration between the Museum and Luciano Benetton’s Fondazione Imago Mundi.
2. Curator Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip sheds light on three 15th-century blue and white ceramic pharmacy jars in the Museum’s Collection. These peculiar artifacts reflect the rich tradition of intercultural exchange that led to their creation.
1. Our first big concert during the COVID-19 lockdown was also one of our most successful. Here’s the Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad Qawwali Ensemble's March concert at the Museum, a co-production with Toronto’s Small World Music.