Creating Connections at the New NMWA

National Museum of Women in the Arts

View of the National Museum of Women in the Arts building from outside showing the Neoclassical building from one corner. The building is a tan-colored stone with an arched doorway, long vertical windows, and detailed molding around the roof.

Some museums exist to house art, and then there is the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA). As the world's first major museum dedicated to championing women artists, this singular institution is as much a sanctuary for advocacy, community, education, and social change as it is for art. While undergoing an extensive $70 million renovation designed by Sandra Vicchio & Associates to bring their 1908 Classical-Revival-style building into the present, NMWA engaged Art Processors to help bring visitors closer to the contemporary and historical artists within the museum's remarkable collection.

In collaboration with NMWA and our partners, Art Processors created experiences that inspire thoughtful exchanges and reflections about art and ideas. We reimagined the first floor's Long Gallery to combine immersive linear media, static imagery, and digital touchpoints that bring visitors inside artists' worlds, offering a fresh perspective on the women behind the work. On the third floor, anchored within the museum's collection galleries, an interactive table invites exploration, revealing unexpected links between artists across time, medium, and geography.

 

“We wanted to spark curiosity and help visitors make a personal connection to the art and artists in NMWA's collection. We hope our work will encourage people to move a little more slowly, and a little more consciously, through the museum."

–  Julie Flechoux, Design Director, Art Processors

Inside a theater-style gallery; to the left theres a black wall with words: "In Focus: Artists at Work," centered are three screens hung in a triptych with a film playing. The center screen shows a women dressed as a gorilla holding a sign that says "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?;" Two women are in the audience looking forward at the film, one sitting and one standing.
"In Focus: Artists at Work" inside the Long Gallery at the National Museum of Women in the Arts; Photo by Joy Asico, courtesy of NMWA

Setting the tone

Located just beyond the museum's ticketing area, the Long Gallery is pivotal in setting the stage. This small yet powerful space is tasked with many things: welcoming visitors, piquing their curiosity, reinforcing NMWA's unwavering commitment to advocacy, and, perhaps most importantly, establishing the tone for the artistic voyage that awaits.

In Focus: Artists at Work serves as the gallery's overture. This media-driven exhibit strikes the perfect balance, demanding just enough from visitors to prepare them for the wonders that await in the upper galleries without overwhelming or exhausting them.

The gallery serves as a bold introduction, an affirmation of NMWA's purpose, and a gentle reminder to each visitor of their role as ambassadors for women artists. Everyone who steps through the museum's doors can become an advocate for gender equity in the art world.

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Awakening curiosity

Static graphic panels introduce four contemporary artists from NMWA's collection, offering brief insights into their practice, approach, and motivations. In a departure from the typical artist CVs, often lengthy and academic, these panels are designed to be simple, accessible, and unforgettable—compelling questions beckon curious visitors to delve deeper into an artist's story through adjacent QR codes.

The centerpiece of the Long Gallery is a series of short films produced by Smartypants Pictures. Candid, emotional, unexpected, and relatable, they spotlight the artists as people, going beyond their creative output.

Rather than projecting these films on a single wall, Art Processors orchestrated a symphony across multiple canvases. The main film plays on a central screen flanked like a triptych by two angled screens, adding texture, detail, and a powerful sense of immersion. Each story ends with a provocative prompt related to the film, a question that provokes introspection and dialogue. Whether visitors watch one or linger for them all, they walk away with a new sense of intimacy and connection that accompanies them throughout their journey at NMWA.

 

"NMWA is about people, not just art. Since the Long Gallery is one of the first places visitors will see when they get to the museum, we wanted to bring some of the artists from the collection into the spotlight and give visitors ways to get to know them."

–  Nora Bauman, Senior Content Developer, Art Processors.

A father and daughter walking towards a 4-panel glass door, graphics on the door say 'In Focus: Artists at Work.' Inside are people sitting in a theater setting with screens partially visible.
Three people (two women and a man) are standing in front of a three-sided wall that is deep red in color. There are 4 graphic panels displayed (two centered, and one on each side wall). The panels have typography and an image.
A visitor interacts with a waist-high touchscreen in the center of a museum gallery. Paintings of various sizes are on hanging on royal blue gallery walls, and small sculptures are in a glass case.
"Create Connections" kiosk in the collection galleries at the National Museum of Women in the Arts; Photo by Jennifer Hughes, courtesy of NMWA

Past meets present

NMWA's renovation transcends the confines of space, time, and tradition. The third-floor galleries have been reimagined to group works thematically rather than chronologically. As Deputy Director for Art, Programs, and Public Engagement/Chief Curator Kathryn Wat points out, "Chronology ends up being the enemy of women artists and artists of colour," relegating them to the fringes of exhibitions, where "your feet and back hurt."  

Inspired by the museum's thematic organisation and the desire to spotlight older works alongside contemporary pieces, Art Processors designed and developed an interactive “Create Connections” kiosk that invites visitors to discover unexpected ties between works within NMWA's collection.

As visitors explore, they deepen their understanding of the artworks on view. They discover which pieces demanded immense physical exertion for their completion or how different artists have depicted the notion of family. They also deepen their understanding of themselves through thoughtful, personal prompts related to each theme.

Two women are standing and looking forward at a kiosk screen that is white and features an image of an artwork and a description, purple buttons describe it as "Sneaky Science"

A museum and a megaphone

In this remarkable transformation, NMWA amplifies its commitment, echoing the words of Director Susan Fisher Sterling, to be both “a museum and a megaphone,” passionately illuminating the accomplishments of women artists worldwide. From a temple once home to the Masons, excluding women from their ranks, to a symbol of change and empowerment, NMWA's renovation rekindles the connection between art and humanity, uplifting women and nonbinary artists and advocating for their rights—a testament to art's enduring power to inspire change.

 

“Take note of artworks that speak to you. Tell a friend about them. Share them on social media. These small actions matter—and they add up. The more people learn, talk, and think about women artists, both historical and contemporary, the more equitable the story of art becomes." 

–   Susan Fisher Sterling, Alice West Director, NMWA
 

Acknowledgement of Country

In the spirit of reconciliation, we acknowledge the many Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and honour Elders past, present and emerging. We respect their deep, enduring connection to their lands, waterways and surrounding clan groups since time immemorial. We cherish the richness of First Nations Peoples’ artistic and cultural expressions.