Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Tag: mfa boston (page 1 of 3)

Building belonging at the MFA with free memberships

When I went to the MFA Boston Hanukkah party this past Wednesday, I wasn’t expecting to walk away with a free membership.

I have an MFA membership now. Go figure.

I didn’t complete a scavenger hunt for the privilege or win any sort of raffle. As it turns out, the MFA is launching a free first-year membership program in celebration of the 150th anniversary of its founding. The only way to enroll is onsite at 14 cultural and Late Nite events held throughout 2020, so it looks like I got lucky with an early opportunity.

Just by the numbers, giving out free memberships is a huge move – even for only one year. An entry-level Supporter membership can cost $75-$114 for one person. Multiply that by one or two hundred visitors (conservatively) signing up at each of the 14 events and you have a six-figure sum that the MFA could theoretically make otherwise. Why is the MFA undertaking such a colossal initiative when even the The Met’s 150-year celebration will comprise mostly a few events and exhibitions?

I wonder if the free first-year memberships were thought of before or after the school group incident in May. In short, a class of seventh graders reported being targeted by racist speech from MFA staff and visitors and racial profiling by security. The MFA was criticized for its handling of the report and communication in the days afterwards; even Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey opened an investigation into the event. In (ongoing) response, the MFA began a “Toward a More Inclusive MFA” initiative involving staff and volunteer trainings, community roundtables, new executive positions dedicated to inclusion and working with the community, and other endeavors.

Reading over the 150th anniversary press release again, it looks like the bulk of the related celebrations will champion diversity and inclusion. The release mentions “community” 16 times, “diversity” 4 times, and “inclusion” 3 times. The focus on community does relate to the strategic plan released in 2017, but I suspect the MFA is also still trying to make up for the events in May and move forward.

The MFA has been working hard to position itself as a place of belonging for the community – something many museums grapple with. We know free admission doesn’t bring in new or more diverse members on its own; however, the slate of cultural events with free admission planned for 2020, including celebrations for Nowruz, Juneteenth, and an ASL night, may attract such a crowd. By providing free first-year memberships at these events, the MFA incentivizes return visits by audience segments it desperately seeks to connect with. In theory, this will give the Museum more opportunities to build and rebuild relationships with the community.

I haven’t heard of other museums offering free memberships like this, so I’m curious to see how the next year unfolds for the MFA. What do you think of the plan – will you be going to get your free membership?

Here and There: Mixing Business with Pleasure

Here: First, sign up for Drawing in Pubs, a ten week session hosted by the MFA that meets in a different pub each Thursday and covers basic drawing skills in pencil and ink. Open to all levels over age 21.

Next: Get your tickets for the Gardner’s After Hours Opening Bash on January 19. Be one of the first to explore the new wing and revisit the historic galleries. There will be drinks, snacks, a concert in the concert hall, a band in the courtyard, art activities and more.

Visit the MFA for more information about Drawing in Pubs. January 5-March 15. $285.

Visit the Gardner for details, ticket options and to purchase tickets. January 19, 7pm. $40-60.

Art or Toy?

Last week, I visited the MFA with my friend and her five month old son, Lucas. We’re doing our part to create a museum advocate of the future. Lucas was especially engaged in the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art. He remained content for a surprising amount of time, simply looking at all of the interesting objects around him. Spotting Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ Untitled (Beginning), a green and silver beaded curtain which is deliberately hung as a partition between two galleries, my friend immediately walked Lucas through it. When she turned to pass through a second time, the employee stationed nearby informed her, rather unkindly, “it’s art, not a toy.” Now I understand the need to protect a work of art, but this particular object is meant to be experienced by touching, looking closely and even listening to the lovely sound it makes when the beads are moved. I don’t imagine they would have hung it in a busy entryway if it wasn’t durable enough to endure constant handling. So, if a visitor is handling an object with appropriate care, why shouldn’t they be allowed to experience it more than once? If a visitor, even a five month old one, is interested enough to linger instead of simply passing through en route to something else, isn’t that a good thing? Visitors are often uncomfortable in museums; they may feel unsure of the etiquette and what they may and may not touch. It concerns me that by encouraging visitors to touch a work of art, but then reprimanding them for wanting to touch it again, employees of the museum may cause visitors to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. That surely was not the intention when it was installed. So what do you think? Can it be art and a toy? Is it less of a work of art if visitors are allowed to touch it as much as they like? I encourage you to visit and see it for yourself. Be sure to pay close attention the first time around though, because you might not be allowed to pass through twice.

Here and There: The Real Housewife of Beacon Hill

Find out about exciting local exhibitions and programs that make a connection with “Here and There.”

Here: First, attend Historic New England’s “Women of Beacon Hill” walking tour, dedicated to four centuries of fascinating women. The tour features a diverse group of women activists, educators, and philanthropists, including Hepzibah Swan. The group visits the exterior of Mrs. Swan’s home, as well as the exteriors of three matching homes built for her daughters.

There: Next, see some of the sumptuous French furnishings that decorated the interior of Mrs. Swan’s homes, on view at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Historic New England offers the “Women of Beacon Hill” tour in the spring and fall. It is scheduled to occur next on March 25, 2012, but tickets are already available for purchase. Objects from the Swan Collection can be found at the MFA in the Art of Europe wing on the second floor.

Here and There: Ancient Life and Love

Find out about exciting local exhibitions and programs that make a connection with “Here and There.”

Here: First, encounter remnants of everyday life in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius in “A Day in Pompeii,” at the Museum of Science.

There: Next, head up to the peak of Mount Olympus and spend some time among the gods in “Aphrodite and the Gods of Love,” at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Both exhibitions feature fascinating objects on loan from Italy. This is an amazing opportunity to visit them in our own backyard. The exhibitions are open until February 12 and February 20, respectively.

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