Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 21)

Do Pop-Up Museums Threaten the Integrity of Art Museums?

Fellow millennial colleagues, get ready: the Color Factory is opening in New York next month. This interactive and immersive exhibition features site-specific palette installations, including a massive bright yellow ball pit that participants can jump into, a room comprised entirely of confetti, and a larger than life size Lite Bright wall. Sound familiar? We have all seen these installations online or on our feeds. When the Color Factory first opened in San Francisco last year, it took the internet by storm, becoming an especially popular platform for colorful Instagram posts.

As an art historian and museum studies student, I’m somewhat uneasy about this latest museum fad: the pop-up museum. These “museums,” such as the Museum of Ice Cream, Candytopia,  and 29Rooms strategically provide multi-sensory experiences that are often geared towards a younger audience constituency.  However, with their commercial and social media appeal, instant entertainment, competitive ticket availabilities, and expensive entrance fees (with some tickets as high as $38 per person), I have to wonder if this pop culture fad is threatening, or helping, the integrity of art museums. Where museums were once thought of as a place of quiet respite and serious contemplation of the art and information available, many museums are now social gathering hubs for millennials, as a place to go to get that perfect Instagram shot. Are the days of “cultivating a broad public for high art” gone? Can we even compare the pop-up museum with other museum institutions?

Philippe de Montebello, the former director of the Met, has argued that quick turnover rates for such exhibitions, while fantastic for a museum’s finances, is sacrificing connoisseurship and education. This is especially true of hyped-up immersive installations; many people pay for the experience, and not to understand the idea behind the artwork- and that is okay. Pop-up exhibitions and installations are still succeeding in bringing in more visitors, many of whom may not have visited in the first place.

The high prices of these installations themselves are a problem. For instance, when the immersive Rain Room experience was at LACMA in 2015, tickets completely sold out in just days. With its widespread, if slightly pervasive, advertising, and the prevalence of the installation on social media, everyone was trying to get their hands on a ticket. However, upon inquiry with a staff member, I discovered I could receive a coveted ticket by simply “signing up for a museum membership for $110.” This was a proposal I declined, not only for the price, but also for the rather unethical nature of the offer. It didn’t sit right with me that those who were able to afford the membership fee would gain immediate access to this in-demand experience, while others, like students, would either have to wait in standby lines or pass up the experience altogether.

Similarly, the Cleveland Museum of Art is currently showing Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, an immersive environment installation like the Rain Room. Although entrance to the Museum’s collections is free, tickets to this experience are expensive, at $30 per person, and almost inaccessible, considering the speed in which they sell out. This is another disheartening example of the threat to the integrity of art museums. It appears that individuals are traveling to the Cleveland Museum of Art in mass numbers to wait in line for hours for this experience, rather than taking the same amount of time to enjoy the Kara Walkers’, Mark Rothkos’, and Paul Cézannes’ all available to view in the adjacent galleries. I hope that visitors to these popular installations also take the time to visit the other collections on site after their three-to-five minute immersive and selfie experience is complete.

Moreover, ‘Instagramable’ exhibitions do not always align with the museum’s mission, and in fact the “museum’s basic mission can be directly contradicted by shoddiness of product,” as Montebello has observed. I contend that LACMA had its financial interests in mind over that of the public when they installed the Rain Room. LACMA’s mission statement is “To serve the public through the collection, conservation, exhibition, and interpretation of significant works of art from a broad range of cultures and historical periods, and through the translation of these collections into meaningful educational, aesthetic, intellectual, and cultural experiences for the widest array of audiences.” I will agree that the Rain Room experience achieved the “aesthetic experience” section of its mission, but what about the “educational, intellectual, and cultural experiences to the widest array of audiences?” Ultimately, it appears that a cultivation of commercial experiences, to the detriment of the inherently scholarly nature of some museums, is the latest threat to an art museum’s integrity.

Volunteers Needed for Free Fun Friday at the Fitchburg Art Museum!

The Fitchburg Art Museum is seeking enthusiastic volunteers to help with kids’ art projects and a Treasure Hunt during its Free Fun Friday event on Friday, July 27th, 2018. This is a great opportunity to see a large community event in action and be a part of it. No artistic experience is necessary!

Helping with the art projects involves explaining to the parents and kids how to do the project, showing them a sample and the supplies and tools, and tidying up the table when kids finish. It might involve preparing some of the supplies (cutting circles out of paper plates, cutting lengths of string, etc.) if supplies get low on the prepared ones. Helping with the Treasure Hunt involves sitting at a table and handing out the Treasure Hunt maps, reviewing the completed Treasure Hunts, and giving a prize to kids who complete one.

The day runs from 10:00 am until 4:30 pm; the Fitchburg Art Museum requests that volunteers stay a minimum of 2 hours. For more information or to sign up to volunteer, please contact Barbara Callahan at

Families Belong Together: How Should Museums Respond?

Two weeks ago, the Department of Homeland Security revealed that over 2,300 children were separated from their families along the Mexico-U.S. border under President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Although he has since reversed this order, parents and children remain separated in detainment centers, and it continues to be unclear how – and when – families will be reunited. In response, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators across the United States took to the streets on Saturday to protest the administration and to march in solidarity with immigrant families seeking asylum.

In this ever-changing political climate, museums have the ability to foster a safe and inclusive learning environment where individuals can come together to speak out and discuss immigration and other social injustices. As platforms for education, contemplation, and inspiration, museums also have a social responsibility to respond. How though, can such institutions take action?

The Oakland Museum of California has recently highlighted its Sent Away exhibition (permanently on view in the Museum’s Gallery of California History), which documents the experience of the seven thousand Japanese American families who were sent to the Tanforan Assembly Center internment camp in the 1940s under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. “With the recent ‘Sent Away’ installation,” according to the Museum’s curator,  Erendina Delgadillo, “we’ve been paying attention to whether the visitors really understand, and if it’s properly conveying the trajectory of racialized communities in moments of political and social stress.”

This is not the first time that museums have promptly responded to President Trump’s divisive policies. In February 2017, after announcing a travel and immigration ban against several Muslim-majority countries, MoMA protested by rehanging art made by artists from the list of banned nations. In a similar demonstration of solidarity, the Davis Museum at Wellesley College removed or covered any artworks in its collection that was “made by an immigrant” or “given by an immigrant,” surmounting to over twenty percent of its art being censored.

However, museums do not necessarily have to highlight their art to make a difference. They could also host symposia, guest speakers, readings, open forums, film screenings, panels, and other public programs that explore current events revolved around American history and culture, immigration, democracy, or government. For instance, the New-York Historical Society recently launched the Citizenship Project, an initiative that offers free American history courses for green card holders hoping to take their naturalization exam. It also hosts naturalization ceremonies, allowing individuals to come together to celebrate their new citizenship in an effort devoted to “telling the American story and fostering a community of learners to consider what it means to be an American, past and present.”

Unfortunately, museums largely remain silent about the stories of individuals who continue to be systematically excluded. While doing research for this blog post, I was surprised and saddened at the lack of museums responding to our current climate. As we have learned from our country’s history, apathy and silence will fuel, not heal, our society’s malaise. If more museums took the small step of acknowledging our political situation by actively becoming a part of the conversation, it would make a world of difference.



Weekly Jobs Roundup!

Here’s the weekly jobs roundup for the week of July 1st!


Education Programs Reservations Specialist [Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic, CT]

Overnight Programs Educators [Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic, CT]

Development Operations Manager [The Trustees of Reservations, Boston, MA]

Linde Family Foundation Coordinator of School and Teacher Programs [Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME]

Visitor Experience Ambassador [Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME]

Communications Manager [Gallery 263, Boston, MA]

Education Associate, Live Presentations [Museum of Science, Boston, MA]

ArtLab Director [Harvard University, Cambridge, MA]

Exhibition Programming Coordinator [Emerald Necklace Conservatory, Boston, MA]

Membership Events Coordinator [Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, MA]


Director of Interpretation [Adirondack Experience, Blue Mountain Lake, NY]

Interpretation and Public Engagement Educator [The Rockwell Museum, Corning, NY]

Program Manager for its Neighborhood Initiative [Atlanta History Center, Atlanta, GA]


Associate Director of Development [Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans, New Orleans, LA]

Museum Public Programs and Education Curator [Miami Dade College, Miami, FL]

Curatorial Assistant [American Craftsman Museum, Inc., Palm Harbor, FL]

Curator of Education [Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, North Miami, FL]


Exhibit Preparator/Designer [University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, Ann Arbor, MI]

Programs and Education Assistant [Cantigny Park, Wheaton, IL]

Collections Curator [Brown County Historical Society, New Ulm, MN]


Associate Director of Education [The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CA]

Curatorial Assistant [Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA]

Curatorial Fellow [Imperial Valley Desert Museum, Ocotillo, CA]

Acknowledging Slavery in Early American Art at the Worcester Art Museum

I’ll admit it. Oil portraits are not my thing.

Yes, I am a museum studies student, and yes, I think there’s something to love about pretty much all museums. But if you take me to the Met or the MFA, I am not dragging you to the 18th and 19th century portrait galleries. In fact, we may skip them altogether.

For me, a history and museum studies student, context is key. I like understanding what’s going on in a piece of art, who the subject was, who the artist was, why the portrait was being made, what common symbols are present in the image.  Frequently, those galleries are thin on details and the takeaway is simply, “Here are some wealthy people demonstrating their capital and standing by commissioning a portrait to become a family heirloom.” I’m not sure I need to spend my leisure time appreciating the vanity projects of colonial merchants no matter how talented the artist was. More simply, I don’t find much relevance in these galleries to my life or the world I live in, and I think that’s true for many museum-goers (or non-museum-goers, as the case may be).

The Worcester Art Museum, however, recently implemented a change to their Early American galleries that made me take notice. Under the direction of Elizabeth Athens, the former curator of American Art there, the museum installed additional labels for many of the works in these galleries that point out the subject’s economic relationship to slavery. These connections vary; some subjects owned enslaved people or belonged to a family that owned enslaved people. Some traded in goods that were entirely dependent on the institution of slavery for their production, such as sugar, rum, or tobacco. Regardless, these influential Northerners benefited and profited from the forced labor of people of color, something that is not always remembered in the South-centric education Americans receive about slavery and the Civil War.

In presenting these new labels, the Worcester Art Museum reminds us that these paintings represent real people who lived and had significant influence over their worlds…and that their existence was supported by and enriched with slave labor. Suddenly this gallery screams to life before me, provoking questions about New England’s complicity and profit in slave labor. It also invites comparison. As a white, middle class person in America, how do I profit from unfair and illegal labor practices? As well, the labels add context, but not representation: I can see myself represented in this gallery, but a person of color still cannot. New forms of art are required to accomplish that.

There is no question that these portraits are pieces of art, painted by talented artists. These labels do not suggest otherwise. They merely reframe the content of the work to reflect a larger story, one that prompts questions about inclusion, representation, power, and profit. All of this happens with a relatively low price tag, as well – research, label creation, and installation powerfully amend an existing exhibit. Museum professionals would do well to look to this example when evaluating their own exhibits to find ways to dispel notions of neutrality, increase representation, or provide multiple views on a topic.

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