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Tag: mfa boston (Page 2 of 3)

Beauty as Duty at the MFA

Imagine that each person in your family has 36 coupons per year as a clothing allowance. A coat might require fifteen coupons, while a scarf might require 2 coupons. How far can you stretch those coupons? What do you do if a clothing item gets damaged? What do you do when children grow out of the clothes they already have? These were real concerns for the British public in June 1941 when clothing rationing was put into effect. Despite these limitations, however, there was a surge of colorful clothing and propaganda scarves. The exhibition, “Beauty as Duty: Textiles on the Homefront in WWII Britain,” gets its title from these items.

Set against a backdrop of grim, gray walls, the cheerful colors and eye-catching prints of the dresses and scarves on exhibit really stand out like beacons. Likewise, after years of wartime hardship, these fashions were created to catch the eye and boost morale. Though these items were made to meet standards of utility and austerity (limited fabric, buttons, and trim), they are examples of making the best of very little. Not only for beauty, many of the scarves contain messages of patriotism and support for Allied forces and reminders of safety and discretion. Through the use of textiles, photographs, video, and materials distributed by the British government, the exhibition sets up the juxtaposition of determined positivity during a dark period of struggle for the British public. The exhibition can be viewed at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston through May 28, 2012.

Museum Admission Fees

Over the summer, the Metropolitan Museum of Art raised its suggested admission donation to $25. The Museum of Modern Art and our own Boston Museum of Fine Arts have followed suit.

The moves have sparked a number of articles both for and against, and this one from the Art Newspaper website is by far the best, offering a good overview of the questions and challenges that surround the question of what a museum should charge for admission.

What do you think? Do some museums charge too much? Should all museums charge more? Should they all be free?

Where is Spring?

Today, I have the pleasure of introducing another new voice to the blog. Maryam Keramaty is finishing up her certificate in museum studies this spring. Her post captures what all of New England feels about this time of year – where is spring? Maryam journeyed to the Museum of Fine Arts in hopes of an answer.
Stark contrast greets me at the Museum of Fine Arts on this wintry second day of spring. Dark and bright, heavy and light, hopeful and despairing. Where is spring? Why am I cold? Why is there snow outside?

The new Art of the Americas wing is a cold, gray, glass and stone structure, that smells of smothering bacon from the kitchen. A towering explosion of bright lime green glass climbs up to the ceiling with sharp points as if to spear through the wintry mood.

I walk and next see the wintry Calderwood Courtyard. Big flakes of snow swirl outside, I have little hope but soon find new life in fluorescent green buds on weeping willow branches. Peace washes over me.
In the IM Pei atrium, I am drawn to Kristin Bakers’  Full Dawn Parallax, huge acrylic on acrylic, broad green brush strokes I see as young grass, raging hot popping pink are fresh spring blossoms. Growth and freedom fill my soul. With a full heart, I turn the corner.
As if this fateful trip to the MFA is a cruel joke, endless black blobs sluggishly plop down a giant  staircase in a Maria Friberg’s video, Commoncause. Spring fades again and I see my tired winter soul in those heavy deflated basketballs covered in black velvet. Before I can recover, from the corner of my eye, I am startled by men above me free falling to the earth.
Here, Jonathan Borofsky and his I Dreamed I Could Fly reminds me of something deeper. Though the artist intends to “suggest the essential human desires for harmony and individual happiness,” I wonder, how about just some sunshine? Are these people who have jumped off a tall building, are they despairing like me?
At this point the MFA and my quest feels even more hopeless. A stream of flashing lights deliver another depressing message. As if giving me advice: “It’s interesting to test your capabilities for a while but that too causes damage.” I feel my grief deepening.
I feel dizzy. Minutes later I see an Art in Bloom flier and the hope comes back; hope of flowers, freshness and life. I breath a sigh of relief in the gift shop, greeted by glass plates in colorful bloom, pink cherry blossom glasses and greeting cards with seeds to plant. A book about decorating with flowers feels like hope.
Contrast and conflict is part of life, even in the halls of an inspiring place like the Museum of Fine Arts. I find my inner world in black blobs, pink splashes and falling bodies. The despair and joy create tension and drama.
As I exit the building I put on my hat and feel icydrops on my cheeks. I’ll return to the MFA galleries next week in search again of signs of spring.

Boston EMP Tour of the New MFA

Just a quick note to say that the Emerging Museum Professionals event yesterday morning – a highlights tour of the new MFA Art of the Americas wing followed by lunch – was an absolute blast! If you’re not on the Boston EMP mailing list, then you’re missing out on some great opportunities.

EMPs were treated to a tour of the new wing given by Curator of Education Barbara Martin, who focused on museological issues. She gave us some great insight into how the MFA envisioned, planned, and executed the wing. Some galleries allowed the MFA to display more of their collections from storage (the John Singer Sargent gallery in particular was wonderful), some allowed them to expand into new collecting areas (Art Deco, for example), and some galleries finally gave the museum space to achieve what Martin called “critical mass” by displaying a collection together to show its richness (Mayan ceramics). In all, 30% of the MFA’s American collections are on display in the new wing.

After the tours (two tours, actually, due to the enthusiastic response of the EMP group) a group of about fifteen met in the museum cafeteria to compare notes, discuss the all-important job market, and toss out great ideas for the future of museums.

I said it up top, but I’ll repeat myself: follow the Boston EMPs on Facebook and Twitter, and get yourself on the mailing list so you can be there with us next time!

A Guide to Guidestar

With the advent of the internet age, we all have a LOT more tools in our hands to begin to learn about specific organizations – and particularly specific museums. Whether you’re doing some research into a museum you’d like to work for, trying to get a good picture for how a museum of a certain size operates, or considering donating to a museum, there are some great tools out there that are promoting transparency and openness for nonprofit organizations.

Today, we’re highlighting Guidestar.

Guidestar is essentially a database of all sorts of nonprofit information. Organizations can establish their profiles and post information – financial statements, programs and events, staff listings, and recent news items. There’s also a section in which the organization can advertise its current funding needs.

Guidestar’s mission is: “to revolutionize philanthropy by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving.”

To access the full capabilities of Guidestar, you’ll need to register. It’s easy and free, and they send a minimum of email. So, start here.

Once you’ve registered, you can navigate the site by searching for a specific organization, or try a more advanced search for organizations in a particular area or focus. Doing a general search on “museum” brings up some of the heavy hitters on the first page:

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museum of Modern Art

American Museum of Natural History

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Field Museum of Natural History

Organizations are responsible for updating their own information, so what you see is what the museum gives you. The Met, for example, hasn’t put up their budget numbers, but they have linked to their 2007-2009 990 tax forms and their 2010 Annual Report. (Watch this space for a guide to interpreting museum annual reports, by the way.) They don’t have a lot under staff or programs, either.

The American Museum of Natural History offers some different information. It lists all its board members, and gives a programs overview that includes its budget: almost $149 million. The MFA Houston also has all its board members and programs information, though no budget.

After quite a bit of searching and clicking, the best museum profile I found belonged to our local USS Constitution Museum. They have background statements, staff information, financial information, programs information, and they’ve even put up some of their funding goals. Bravo to them. (You’ll notice that a Guidestar user has also given the museum an enthusiastic five star review!)

Most museums put a bare minimum of information in Guidestar, which is a shame – it’s a powerful tool that’s quick and simple to update. Administrative and financial transparency is a hot topic in the nonprofit world right now – check out the Christian Science Monitor’s Guide to Giving for recent articles about that very subject.

Think about it: if you’re trying to figure out where to donate your hard-earned money, do you give to the organization that’s tight-fisted and secretive about how it’s going to use that money, or do you want an organization who opens its books and says “here, here’s how your $20 made a substantive difference in the way we do our work”?

Guidestar also offers other tools for nonprofit professionals, including a series of webinars about development, community outreach, and other important topics.

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