Behind-the-Scenes: The Block Crew in Quarantine: Block Museum - Northwestern University
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Behind-the-Scenes: The Block Crew in Quarantine


When the Spring 2020 exhibitions could not go forward as planned due to COVID-19 closure, The Block Museum and its scheduled installation team found innovative new ways to make meaning together. 

Learn more about our project and the creative work of The Crew. 


No exhibition installation period ever feels like standard procedure even in routine times.  There are unique problems to solve and troubleshoot; plans that go wrong;  artistic visions to support and execute; and there are always items that seem to be in danger of not arriving in time for the opening night celebration. Learning to work under pressure is a necessity.  The Block is able to navigate every one of these typically, atypical installation experiences because of its dedicated team of talented art handlers, known as preparators, who we affectionately call “The Crew.”  The individuals making up The Block Crew can change season-to-season based on availability and exhibition needs, but their essential role to our work remains constant. Like almost every art museum worldwide, we rely on this dedicated, behind-the-scenes group of creative problem-solvers to present our exhibitions. 

Needless to say, the spring 2020 installation did not go as planned.

When the ripples of the current COVID-19 pandemic were starting to be felt in mid-March, it became clear that we would have to temporarily shutter the museum. Our spring exhibition could not be installed in a pandemic. How could we honor our commitments to our loyal Crew of temporary workers and enable them to also honor their commitments to us; commitments that had been made many months prior to the pandemic’s necessary shelter-in-place response?   How might we engage The Crew with our galleries closed? 

The Block knew that our Crew, as gig economy workers, would be especially impacted by the pandemic because they could not perform their work from home.  We also recognized that these individuals, so important for what the public experiences in museums, are often invisible to visitors. How could the Block raise awareness of their contributions and also draw attention to the fact that so many preparators are artists who support their creative practices by working behind-the-scenes in museums?

As a response to these questions, The Block suggested The Crew create new work using their originally scheduled hours. The Block proposed documenting this new work on the museum’s website along with profiles and statements introducing The Crew to the public.

We are excited to share the creativity of The Block Museum preparatory Crew with you.  This is also a special opportunity to learn first-hand how working with objects in museums impacts the creative process.  We could not have wished for better collaborators as we entered into this first-of-its-kind endeavor.  Our colleagues on The Crew not only embraced the unknown, but used this project to create inspiring, thoughtful projects; meeting the challenge of this moment with a spirit of inquiry, innovation, and generosity. 

We conclude the project with a renewed gratitude for The Crew's contributions to the mission of The Block and with deeper appreciation of their collective work in the museum and in their individual work as artists. We join with our colleagues across the museum field in anticipating the opportunity to return to the galleries and to continuing our work together.

– Dan Silverstein, Associate Director of Collections and Exhibition Management (June 2020)