This post comes to us from Danielle Bennett, a first-year student in the History and Museum Studies Master’s program.
Historic Houses often suffer from two issues that make them less relevant to visitors. One, they
tend to present a history that focuses on great (or semi-great) men from history, ignoring the women,
people of color, working people, and queer people that enabled the actions of these great men (and
ignores the accomplishments of those people in their own right). Two, to combat a lack of interest in the
stories presented, some sites resort to gimmicky semi-relevant events and activities that divorce sites
from their specific historic interest and flatten history into storybooks. It is possible, however, to combat
these problems and capture new audiences for historic sites.
In “Ending Nostalgia at the Heritage Museum,” we learn about the process the new curator at the Museums of Mississauga (Ontario) has undergone to dismantle the nostalgic trappings that used to be present at historic house museums in Mississauga, including horse drawn buggy rides and costumed interpreters. Instead, he has commissioned contemporary artists to stage “interventions” in the houses to strip away nostalgia and re-engage the public with new thoughts about the houses that more fully reflect the diverse communities living in Mississauga.
One of the artist interventions, by Erika DeFreitas, explored how the history presented in historic
houses is staged and highly curated to tell certain narratives. Part of the work, titled “like a conjuring
(bringing water back to Bradley)” was intended to disrupt the understanding of the setting of the house
itself, which was moved from the shoreline of Lake Ontario for the purpose of becoming part of the
historic site several miles inland. The piece included singing wine and water glasses filled with Lake
Ontario water, as well as posters of the waters of the Lake, free for the taking. Another section of the
installation used blown-up photographs of a small textile woven by the hand of an unknown immigrant
worker alongside video of hands (the artist’s) dip dying into indigo dye, meant to evoke unseen labor of
many kinds, including that of the indigo plantation the Bradley family held in the (US) American South.
The program is scheduled to continue, with new installations from different artists coming in. All
the work on display intends to ask questions about the narratives that are on display at historic houses
and what other narratives are suppressed in service to the dominant ones. There are other examples of
using media to recontextualize historic sites, for example the Haas-Lilienthal House in San Francisco, but
the work on display at the Bradley is noteworthy for its intentions to encourage dialogue about larger
questions about who gets to have a history, and what we celebrate when we enshrine certain narratives.
This article is by Taylor Fontes, a first-year student in the Masters of Museum Education program.
A trending issue in a vast number of museums today is keeping visitors engaged and creating conversation with the collection. Educators and professionals are always creating new studies to find out what the daily visitor wants, what they spend time looking at and for how long, etc. The list for conversation problems will always be an issue that museums will look to fix, the historical society has been working to create more engaging programs to benefit their community of visitors. Being placed in New York City the historical society has many people to serve but also an opportunity to expand outside of the “museum norm” and take chances to bring in the population that does not typically visit the museum. The Citizenship Project is a perfect example of how the historical society is bringing a new visitor into the museum and creating conversation.
The New York Historical Society Museum has created some discussion in regards to their free program for immigrants looking to take the naturalization exam to become United States citizens. The Citizenship Project is a class that immigrants can take with the New York Historical Society to learn more about the United States and questions that will be on the exam. The class is discussion based around pieces of art that pertain to important points in American history, including the darker parts of the Nation’s past. The museum pushes for participants to try and relate the images to themselves personally through conversation and to find a personal relationship to make the concepts that will be on the exam stick.
The museum is expanding their reach to visitors who are looking to become productive members of society and are also learning about the history of the country that they are about to become citizens in; another point is that many of these people taking the citizenship course may have not felt inclined to visit the museum prior to hearing about this opportunity so the museum is also reaching out to a new inclined visitor as well. The New York Historical Society is welcoming in new aspect of community involvement and engagement with their programs, whether free or otherwise.
The programs that the historical society has create conversation and allow for a broad audience to visit the museum and find a topic in which people could find interest and possibly a personal connection. The issue of creating conversation within the museum is one that the New York Historical Society has been trying to incorporate more into their programs. Creating programs for immigrants, family programs, children’s programs, as well as lectures and gallery tours are just a few ways that the historical society has been working to tackle their problems.
113 Dutch and Flemish painting masterpieces, have been gifted to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, doubling the institutions Dutch collection. Couples, Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo and Susan and Matthew Weatherbie, decided to contribute their two private collections to the museum, which include Rembrants and Rubens. This gift constitutes one of the most significant donations in the institution’s history, and the single largest gift of European Art ever bequeathed to the MFA. According to the Boston Globe, The MFA was one of a handful of New England Museums(who were not named) competing for the van Otterloo collection. Rose-Marie van Otterloo reported to the New York Times that she and her husband are happy their collection will be housed at the MFA where “it can be displayed, loaned and shared with the widest possible audiences.”
In addition to their generous art donation, the van Otterloos also intend to establish a Center for Netherlandish Art to house the Haverkamp-Begemann Library. This center will serve as a scholarly research area, and will consist of 20,000 books.
Rather than stuffing these collection pieces into storage, the MFA, Boston has graciously decided to host a special installation displaying pieces from these private collections. Visitors can view the art in galleries 243 and 244, and can expect to view 17th century masterpieces such as “Portrait of Aeltje Uylenburgh” by Rembrandt, “Coronation of the Virgin” by Peter Paul Rubens, and “Orpheus Charming the Animals” by Aelbert Cuyp. This will certainly be a gem to explore!
This past week, the American Alliance of Museums 2017 Annual Meeting was held in St. Louis, Missouri. This year’s theme was “Gateways for Understanding: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion in Museums,” a topic that continues to become more crucial to discuss than ever in recent years. Dr. Francis Levine, president of the Missouri Historical Society and the local host committee chair for the Annual Meeting, stated that “museums are very hungry” for this opportunity to discuss diversity and inclusion in the field, and that St. Louis was a particularly relevant location to host that discussion given the region’s responses to issues like these in the past. For the first time, this discussion was opened up to the public as well, in the form of a national survey of museum leadership and demographics. Dr. Donald Suggs, publisher of the St. Louis American and a co-chair of the host committee, noted that the goal of this meeting was to encourage some real changes in the way museums operate with regards to diversity and inclusion rather than further empty talk with no action.
With that, AAM delivered a new award at the Annual Meeting this year, the Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion (DEAI) award. AAM launched the award last year as a way to “honor and celebrate institutions of any type or size who advance the museum field, either internally through workplace programs and policies or externally with museum audiences and communities.” The Missouri History Museum was the first recipient of this award, a museum that has shown time and again its devotion to diversity and inclusion in its local community. Among other initiatives, the museum hosts their ACTivists program wherein re-enactors help bring St. Louis’ history of civil rights activism to life for museum-goers, especially students and those who may have participated in the movement themselves. Sarah Sims, the director of K-12 education programs at the Missouri History Museum, stated that the museum also works toward diversity and inclusion through “the focus of our exhibits, making sure we’re telling multiple different perspectives and stories that represent every St. Louisan, and also through our programming,” of which the museum hosts about 700 public programs per year. In addition, the museum works to train and support all of their staff in a way that reflects these standards.
As we think about how our own museums can and do promote diversity and inclusion, we can also ponder on an “uncomfortable question” that Dr. Levine poses in light of recent threats to cut federal funding for arts and humanities institutions and the politicized nature of museums: “Will museums continue to serve everyone in the future?” Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
For further reading, see the following articles:
Yesterday, ArtNews published an article discussing the J20 Art Strike, a call for museums, galleries, theathers, studios, venues, art schools, non-profits, and artists to “shut down” on inauguration day as a way to “fight back” against the new presidency. The ArtNews article also detailed many museums’ decisions to close, remain open, or change their admissions policies for Inauguration Day and the days following and/or proceeding. This live list is constantly being updated as museums make their decisions known, and include museums like The Whitney, The National Museum of Women in the Arts, the ICA Boston, and the Guggenheim. Many museums like The Whitney have made public statements saying that “This is America. And we really need to express what we believe…It is our role not to let them own what we think of as America but to express what we believe is America.” Likewise, the ICA Boston has stated that they “believe strongly in the role of museums to advance discourse and engagement in a pluralistic society, and invite all in our community to join us in reflection and conversation on January 20 and in the weeks, months, and years to come.” Many museums are offering free or pay-what-you-wish admission on Inauguration Day as a way of welcoming all visitors into spaces of reflection and conversation, and The National Museum of Women in the Arts is even offering “Nasty Women” tours to visitors on Inauguration Day.
With the Inauguration just a week away, where museums stand in all this is a topic that is hard to ignore. What do you think about changing admission prices and choosing to remain open or close for the day on Inauguration Day? Is this a topic your museum has grappled with? If so, how was it resolved? Do you think museums should be making statements about our current political situation? Let us know in the comments below.
For the original ArtNews article, click here.
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