Directors’ Letter 5th & University / June, 2020


“The museum we closed will not be the museum we reopen.”

Photo of Robert Saarnio by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss CommunicationsThose words are being spoken in nearly every museum across the country as we collectively come to terms with the depth of devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The University of Mississippi Museum and William Faulkner’s historic home Rowan Oak are located in Oxford, Mississippi, removed from epicenters of the virus, but still deeply impacted. Like most museums, in upcoming months, we will have to make hard decisions to rethink and reformat elements of our work.

When faced with a tremendous, unprecedented challenge, such as the pandemic, it would be understandable to retreat inward, conserve resources, and focus on survival. Instead, the University Museum and Rowan Oak are looking outward to our campus and community, to continue our commitment to bring people together around art and cultural heritage, even if at a distance.

This kind of response started with a nimble, resilient, and talented team working from a foundation existing well before this crisis. In the days following our closure on March 17, we postponed the public Opening Reception of our Brian Dettmer exhibition, Hardcovers and Paperbacks, and shortly thereafter the University’s summer public programs closure caused us to cancel our children’s Summer Art Camps. Two lectures planned for our spring Brown Bag Series were put on hold; two Friends of the Museum / Outreach College travel partnerships to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Holly Springs annual pilgrimage were postponed; and Museum and Rowan Oak roles in the 47th annual Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference were also cancelled.

But simultaneously there was also a realization that our focus on connecting the community to art, antiquities, and literary heritage was not on pause, it was moving to alternate platforms. As you will observe in this current edition of our monthly newsletter, and also the May issue that preceded it, we are regularly adding new content to our website and our social media channels on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. This augmented online content is keeping us moving in a positive direction, and is creating a new way of thinking and operating that will remain as the pandemic recedes. Please follow us to appreciate and participate in these online learning, collections-celebrating, and art-at-home activity opportunities.

Universities nationwide may likely face their most perilous financial challenge in a lifetime, the depth of which is still unknown. As the crisis lingers, and due to the uncertainty of when we can host large gatherings again, our annual Harvest Supper fundraiser will be moved into 2021. Substantial earned income sources, such as football gameday parking and facility rentals, will initially be smaller in extent whenever they return. Several aspects of Museum and Rowan Oak daily functioning will likely have to be rethought and reshaped, as will the building environments themselves. The next few years are frankly going to be very complex, unlike anything we have faced as communities and institutions.

In response, we must become even more resilient, nimble, and community-aligned. We will look closer to home for content, continuing to mine our exceptional permanent collection for exhibitions, public programs, and inspiration. We will reopen by this Fall, and when we do, we will join our University community in pledging to all of you who visit and support us, and everyone working here, staff and students alike, an environment that dedicates itself to adherence to public health guidelines, building hygiene, and adapted best safety practices. We will sustain a focus on being warmly welcoming and inclusive of all.

Thank you as always for your continuing interest in the University Museum and Rowan Oak. Do watch our website and social media channels for the latest in news and content. Please do not hesitate to reach me at or 662-915-7202 at any time, for any purpose. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Sincere Regards,

Robert Saarnio's signature
Robert Saarnio 
Museum Director