Leslie and I want to thank each and every one of you for an enriching semester. Your contributions of knowledge, ideas, questions, resources, productive critiques, creative energies and insights made for a particularly lively Museum Studies learning community this semester. We very much enjoyed and were inspired by your creative final project presentations and thoughtful reflections examining museum engagement approaches and proposing your own innovative strategies.
Hoping you will continue to explore museums. Would love to see you and/or your ideas at play in museums in the future!
Wonderful experience at MOAD for our last field trip of the semester. Our visit was hosted by Demetri Broxton, Senior Education Direction, with a tour led by Sedey Gebreyes, MOAD new Education Program Manager, followed by observations, class meeting, and finally a discussion Demetri and Sedey, along with Nia McAllistor, Visitor Experience Manager, and Azha Simmons, Development Associate.
Overview of MOAD
“MoAD, a contemporary art museum, celebrates Black cultures, ignites challenging conversations, and inspires learning through the global lens of the African Diaspora.” (MOAD website) The museum’s current emphasis on contemporary art is a shift from MOAD’s earlier mission. Opening in 2005 as a “modern museum designed to showcase art and culture through the lens of the African Diaspora” MOAD emphasized the history of the diaspora, defined as the migration of people and culture away from their homeland. The content was organized around four themes: Origin, Movement, Adaptation and Transformation. Some Bay Area educators are dismayed by this shift of focus to contemporary art, as they were accustomed to using MOAD as a resource for teaching African diasporic histories. Some of this content can still be found through museum’s website portals, such as the Wells Fargo Heritage Center, and the Slavery Narratives. The website also includes information on its street-facing, staircase photomosaic The Face of the African Diaspora, made up of over 2,000 individual photos submitted by people across the world and ascends three floors. It is based around an original photo portrait by Chester Higgins, Jr. and has a musical component– the MoAD Suite. This piece, composed by Babatude Lea working with producers Greg Landau and John Greenham to “take listeners on a musical journey through time, demonstrating the ways music has evolved as it has traveled across the diaspora.”
MOAD has no permanent collection and now focuses on mounting changing contemporary art exhibitions, featuring the work of African artists throughout the diaspora. MOAD is a Smithsonian affiliate. This means that MOAD has access to training, library and archive. This arrangement does not include generally include funding, although occasionally the Smithsonian may provide a small amount of support for a particular short-term project.
Tour of Galleries
Sedey walked us through the exhibition on the third floor Black is Beautiful, a show organized by the Aperture Foundation, featuring the photographs of Kwame Braithwaite and exploring the Pan African movement of the 50’s and 60’s in Harlem. She explained the overarching perspective in play of “nothing about us, for us, without us.”
Stopping in front of a few select works, she shared information about the artist and pointed out specific imagery, his graphic design and aesthetic sensibilities, as well as his interest in generating and circulating resources and creativity within the Black community. Sedey also asked us questions to provoke individual observations, collective reflective, thinking and discussion. We paused together to look and consider possible meanings. We spent a bit of time in each section of this show–African Jazz Art Society; Think Black, Buy Black; The Gradassa Models. Curatorial text for each of these sections is included in the Educator’s Resource Guide, available for download online and includes a handy list of themes and guiding questions that can be used to stimulate thinking and conversation.
Sedey walked us briefly through the second floor exhibitions. Don’t Shoot: An Opus of the Opulence of Blackness features the work of local artists (co-curated by Melanie Green and Melorra Green who are co-directors of the African American Art & Culture Complex in San Francisco) and includes some participatory engagement opportunities–i.e. photo opportunity within an art installation. She also walked us through Chanelle Stone’s exhibition Natura Negra / Black Nature exploring the re-naturing of the black body in the American landscape.
We explored the museum and exhibitions on view individually and in pairs, as a class on our own, using the following guiding prompts:
Global Observation. How do the curators open space for the contest of ideas in the museum? What questions and thoughts are being upended and explored? Are the artists and/or the exhibitions functioning as catalysts? Are the artists and/or the exhibition addressing and/or rewriting history? If so, what strategies are in play?
Intimate Observation. Artist as catalyst…. Find a work of art that you find challenging or don’t fully understand. Spend 10 minutes or more with it, observing, reading labels or contextual text. What strategies is the artist employing to engage thinking and challenge assumptions? What happens? Does this experience shift, unravel or expand your thinking?
Community Engagement.How can exhibitions be a catalyst for community learning and dialogue? Spend time with one exhibition at the museum? What relevant issues are addressed? What visions, thoughts, or questions are evoked? How could this exhibition be used to advance meaningful community dialogue or engagement?
We gathered in MOAD’s classroom and while we were settling in, we noticed the poster on the MOAD classroom wall depicting the Transatlantic Slave Routes, adding another contextual layer to our experience.
We spent a little time discussing the final assignment and clarifying all lingering questions before jumping into a conversation about video homework assignment–Thelma Golden’s Ted Talk, How Art Gives Shape to Cultural Change and your observation experiences in the gallery.
A rich conversation…a very few highlights:
Appreciation for the arts capacity to open up the world to new thoughts and ideas.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same” an appropriate catch all for our dialogue about aesthetic styles and fashions from the sixties to the present day. Several of you felt there were noticeable differences; others saw similarities; someone commented that today’s styles make the sixties look tame.
Curatorial vision and strategy of Golden, where an exhibition serves as a sort of think tank engaging a series of questions she’s curious about–in her case African American artists and communities and how they can help us shape and understand the world.
Several discussed images they studied and found powerful, or were perplexed by and curious about. A few examples: Mothers of the Church – five women all dressed in white, bringing to mind the power of spirit and maturity; Stone’s Fruitvale 2019 – woman under a fig tree within a bleak landscape, would this be referencing the Garden of Eden and being cast out as a metaphor? ALSO naked imagery in Stone’s work–different speculations on its impact and what her intention might be.
Conversation with MOAD Staff
Career Pathways – Each person introduced themselves and talked about their specific job and career trajectory.
Demetri – He is also an exhibiting artist with an undergraduate degree in painting and a minor in education. He received a graduate degree in museum studies from SFSU. He began working at MOAD in 2007 as an education coordinator. Due to a philosophical difference with MOAD leadership at the time, he left this position and went to work in the area of nonprofit and educational policy, working for 6.5 years with Americorps at a middle school. In 2016 he came back to MOAD and was hired onto his current position, Senior Education Director.
He discussed how his education philosophy has evolved from earlier days to his current work. He has a new lens on the transformative aspects of education that he has applied at MOAD. For example, his predecessor started the MOAD in the Classroom Program serving third- graders at Title 1 Schools (where 50% or more of the students are eligible for free/reduced lunch). When he came to MOAD, rather than imposing his own ideas, he held a teacher focus group and asked teachers what they needed and wanted. The program grew to provide more wrap around services–involving schools, families and communities, growing from 300 – 1,300 students served annually–especially important given the lack of art education in schools.
Sedey – New to MOAD as the Education Program Manager. She has less than two weeks on the job, but feels like she’s come home. She studied art in college but found work in the corporate world until she realized her passion was in art and education. She worked in education in schools as a teaching artist, as well as after-school programs, and museums (DeYoung and SF MOMA).
Nia – Visitor Experience Manager, is a writer who majored in Environmental Justice. Her job includes managing the bookstore and focusing on visitor engagement by developing programming around specific exhibitions, i.e. films, theatre, readings, music performances, etc. She is passionate about being a resource for the community and cultivating meaningful connections with curators and artists. She is an avid reader and loves the part of her job where she selects books for the bookstore–the only Black bookstore in SF.
Azha – Development Associate. She focused on African Studies at SFSU and worked as an intern at MOAD. She got her graduate degree in museum studies and education interpretation from JFK University and during this time worked as an intern at a variety of museums. Once she completed her MA degree, she returned to MOAD and was hired into her current position. Responding to a question on her vision for museums in the future, Azha commented that she would like to see more hands-on participatory engagement–going beyond the role of traditional museums in exhibiting and preserving objects. “Like the Exploratorium but not so loud.”
Open Dialogue & Exchange – Introductory remarks were followed by a question and answer exchange with the staff. A few highlights:
Collections – Demetri explained that MOAD does not have a collection and that young culturally specific museums (MOAD is only 15 years old) prefer not to have collections so that they do not have to get involved with identifying the provenance of objects and addressing repatriation issues–giving back objects that were originally stolen, changed hands, and then eventually donated to museums. He mentioned that donating objects to HBCU’s (historically Black colleges and universities) is an established practice.
Traveling Exhibitions – MOAD has partnered with other museums and exhibited their traveling shows. The museum is also interested in organizing exhibits that travel but has not yet done so.
Beyond exhibitions, MOAD has a variety of programs to engage a diversity of visitors. At least two or three programs a week are held. A few examples: Chef in Residence events (talks, panels, discussions, symposia) on topics like food justice; Poets in Residence readings; Hosting the African American Bookclub.
NEXT WEEK (December 19th): Meet in our CCSF downtown classroom. We will harvest learning across the semester through presentations, dialogue and celebration in our last class together. Leslie & Ann will bring healthy snacks to share. You are welcome to add to the mix–but definitely NOT required.
Final Assignments Due: Final Project (students taking class for a letter grade): 5-7 minute oral presentation; turn in cover sheet and worksheet; or Final Reflection Paper (students taking the class P/NP) . NOTE: Bring self-addressed, stamped envelope if you would like us to return your assignment with grade and comments.
Blog Posts for MOAD field trip.
Finish up any blogs or outstanding missing assignments to turn in.
Good to step back into class and spend time in our CCSF eighth floor classroom with you digging into museum engagement in preparation for the final assignment.
Blog Posts Conversation
We discussed a few highlights from recent blog posts, thinking more about the CJM, the values conflict several of you pointed out–contrasting immigration/emigration experiences with their exhibits and their financial relationship with Salesforce, ICE collaborator.
We also discussed the need several mentioned for more interpretive signage as a way to better understand the abstract work in Annabeth Rosen’s exhibit “Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped.” We also talked about the Exploratorium and its website and rich content along with the need mentioned for better organization and a wish for a stronger statement of Oppenheimer’s exceptional vision as founder.
Finally, we discussed concerns and Beverly’s post about the abrupt and disturbing class cuts at CCSF on the eve of registration–actions to take and efforts underway to restore classes. Museum studies is one of the over 300 classes that has been cancelled.
We talked about what engagement means (active participation vs. passive consumption) and why it is of value–listing a few things, i.e. making museums accessible to all, increasing visitor rates and meaningful encounters, helping a diversity of people connect with each other for the sake of enjoyment, learning and meaning making OR as the Oakland Museum puts it, to “increase our reach and impact in the community and become a more sustainable organization.”
We discussed Simon’s definitions of the traditional and participatory museum structures. She distinguishes the traditional model as “content provider” (centering the museum as voice of authority, providing highly vetted, accurate and high quality content) and the participatory model as “platform providers” (with museum focus on visitor engagement and connection with content, sharing stories and diverse, unique perspectives). Museum are not all embracing participatory practices. Many successfully employ a blend of traditional and participatory strategies. What will work best can be determined by context and aims. Appropriateness of activities and assessment of success is based on the specific museum’s vision, exhibition and target audience goals. We wrangled with the fact that there is no one right way, yet some strategies work better than others. Museums are experimenting and learning what works best for them.
After a long discussion and analysis of specific engagement examples, we worked in groups to brainstorm ideas for final projects–listing strategies and using the frameworks to generate thinking and analysis. Excited by what you’re cooking up and am looking forward to seeing the results of your work on December 19th!
The Oakland Museum is celebrating its 50th anniversary…lots of exciting events and activities coming up.
REMINDERS FOR NEXT WEEK – December 12th
MEET UP: 2:10 at MOAD in the lobby / 685 Mission (near 3rd) – $4 fee to reimburse me. THEME for class: Art/Museums/Exhibits as catalyst for change.
We opened class with a brief overview of Bay Area Science Museums: the Exploratorium (San Francisco), where we would later spend time at its web portal, the California Academy of Sciences, (San Francisco), the Chabot Space and Science Center (Oakland), and the Lawrence Hall of Science (Berkeley). Chabot, like the Lawrence Hall of Science, is less expensive than the Academy of Sciences and the Exploratorium. Though the Academy and the Exploratorium are expensive, both of them, along with the Lawrence Hall of Science and Chabot, participate in the Museums for All program, which offers free passes to people and families in the EBT program, aka Food Stamps.
Best deal of all, however, is the free, hands-on school of science education, the Mission Science Workshop, founded by Dan Sudran, a former City College electronics technician who says: “Science is about doing experiments and believing the experiment.” This “people’s science museum” is located at Mission High School, with a branch location in the Excelsior District.
Then we continued on to an assessment of the Exploratorium website. The Exploratorium, founded by Frank Oppenheimer in 1969, moved from its original home in the Palace of Fine Arts (originally part of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition) to Pier 15 in 2013.
Museum web portals are useful to visit both before an actual visit for planning, and after a visit for reminiscing and maybe even checking out the online gift store.
The Exploratorium website, our collective case study, provides an excellent example of a rich and multi-layered on-line experience. With 50,000 pages, the site invites visitors to explore projects, collaborations, permanent and temporary exhibitions, and view a diverse collection of videos. Though the entrance cost is prohibitive for many, the museum offers projects and exhibitions surrounding the museum and at sister sites, all open to the public. This information is available here.
Most of you agreed that information is easy to find and organized in an intuitive manner. There is a lot of information with some of it popping up in unexpected places, but in general you thought navigation was pretty good with lots of options under each pull-down menu and clear instructions on how to navigate through each sub-heading.
The content was clean and shines, but some of you recorded “sensory overload.” It seemed that it was easy to discover new information but not so easy to find the permanent exhibitions. You can find them by going to “Visit” and then clicking on “Museum Galleries.”
You liked that there was a repository for all the videos in one place and some one appreciated both the “random” and “most popular” selection options. You commented on the excellence of the teaching videos.
The apps, the blogs, the online engagement strategies were enticing, though the social media sites were a bit hidden and could have been integrated better throughout.
You liked discovering that the Exploratorium offers ASL guides and Braille maps. Eight different languages were available under “Visit” and were mostly satisfied with third party browser (google translates), though commented on its sometime inaccuracies.
You liked the resources for teachers and the free field trips for their students and the heads up about visiting The Tactile Dome, the Exploratorium’s signature installation. The museum is free five days a year, including pi-day. It is also free to EBT card holders with up to four in the family.
You found the layout to be pleasing and clean–simple, no frills–though some thought the text could be bigger and bolder for an easier reading experience. There was some disappointment that the whimsy in many of the museum’s exhibitions was not reflected in the website’s design.
First Time Visitors
It looks like a place for children or people with children, so first time visitors might need to see the After Dark program for adults on Thursday nights more prominently displayed on the home page. The site could also focus on the museum as a place of wonder and curiosity for people of all ages. A much more developed and highly visible introductory video could welcome first time visitors. There could be a quick link to a “Are you a first time visitor?” question.
You thought that the website might be seriously overwhelming for someone with little museum experience and/or little science literacy, so you proposed a page for those folks: “Are you new to museums? Go here.” “Is this your first time at the Exploratorium? Go here.” Or “What to expect at the Exploratorium for first time visitors.”
After the break, we left the Downtown Campus for a second visit to The Contemporary Jewish Museum where you enjoyed a guided tour with former Museum Studies student Beatriz Escobar, while I met with some of you about your final projects or third reflection paper (pass/no pass students). You visited Annabeth Rosen’s “Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped” and Izidora Leber’s “LETHE: Peristyle.” The blogs will fill me in, and Beatriz’s notes below will complete this Summary.
The tour started by us gathering in a circle within Izidora Leber LETHER’s exhibition called Peristyle. As peristyles are known to be gathering spaces, it seemed that we could honor her work by starting off with that. Beatriz shared some information about Izidora’s work and some highlights of a conversation they had, including how Izidora thinks about emigration in contrast to imigration and the experience of diaspora. Each student briefly introduced themselves and described their general mood for that day choosing an element to describe their emotional state, such as fire, air, earth, water, wood, metal or even a chemical element from the Periodic Table as chosen by one student. We used the introductions and the connection to elements to get us warmed up for Annabeth Rosen’s exhibit.
Moving to Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped, we explored individually for five minutes and then gathered in the back of the room (near the work Sample, 1999). From there we followed the unusual flow suggested by celebrated curator Valerie Cassel Oliver, almost zig-zagging around the room while experiencing the works from each of the six sessions.
Some students felt really drawn to the drawings on the wall and were glad they were included in the show. We discussed how this curatorial choice helps us experience what Annabeth’s process and studio are like.
We discussed how Annabeth’s work can be seen through the lens of endurance-based performance and how the intense physical labor put into the work is translated in the pieces, creating an interesting tension and contradiction between control and chance. We also discussed the titles for the pieces and the role of sound in the process of naming them.
We ended our time together in a circle again, each person sharing one word about the Annabeth’s work and one question that the exhibition prompted in us.
There is no class this coming week. On December 5, you will meet again at the Downtown Campus with Ann in our usual room #625. Have fun work shopping your final project with her and each other. Bring your Final Project worksheets if you are taking the class for a letter grade.
I will see you at our class class on December 19.
– View Nina Simon video: Visitors as Participants – take notes on key ideas and questions in your journal for class discussion.
– Research & Development – Continue to work on Final Project Research Worksheet. Be prepared to discuss your final project or reflection paper ideas and challenges and share your progress, for class feedback support.
The theme for the day “Museums for All: A College Setting” used activities and observations at two exhibitions at City College of San Francisco’s Ocean Campus to focus on free spaces offering cultural enrichment. Here’s the promised link to other objects and installations on the Ocean Campus.
PART 1: THE FOSSIL GALLERY
We convened class in The Fossil Gallery, the first section of City College’s “Story of Time and Life” Exhibition which—across four floors in the Science Hall—explores the evolution of the universe, the solar system, and life on earth.
Dinosaur collecting has provided evidence of biological evolution. But in addition to sometimes serving as a cover for spying, smuggling, resource exploration and exploitation, it had at one time also served as a bolster for Social Darwinism, a racist practice that incorrectly posited a hierarchy of human “races.” Since one of you raised a question about how the dinosaurs–though innocent themselves, of course–became embroiled in this story, I want to refer you to an excerpt from our reading.
Social Darwinism mis-appropriated Charles Darwin’s proven principles of evolutionary biology, aka “survival of the fittest,” to promote racist ideologies. In particular, Henry Fairfield Osborn, a discredited paleontologist, “and his followers sought to use systematic arrangements of specimens to prove the ‘spiritual, intellectual, moral and physical’ superiority of ‘the Nordic race’.” Those systematic arrangements often began with the dinosaurs, which is how they became unfairly implicated in this racist pseudo-science. (Schwarzer, Riches, Rivals and Radicals, 84)
Despite some of the nefarious history of dinosaur collecting, the preserved remains of dinosaurs have provided natural history and science museum visitors with enriching educational experiences.
At the City College Fossil Gallery each of you focused on one of the five specimens (including fish and dinosaur bones and footprints of the elephant’s older relative) and then talked with a partner(s) about what got your attention.
In your debriefing a couple of you raised how some of the information in the exhibition was out of date. Together you brainstormed ways that the Science departments could implement low cost ways to keep signage up to date: QR codes and/or easily replaceable signage under glass. Video screens would entail more cost in the short-run but less cost in the long run.
The vastness of time and the intriguing designs of our extinct ancestors added an element of awe to the start of our afternoon. We owe much to the genius of City College faculty, staff, and students who were smart and swift enough to gather these treasures from the California Academy of Sciences and install them in Science Hall, the College’s iconic 1940 building.
PART 2: Diego Rivera’s Pan American Unity Mural
“Intro to Museum Studies” alum and Pan American Unity Mural docent, Helen Pinto, presented a rich multi-layered analysis that melded art, history, and politics. She explained that the mural was part of the “Art in Action” program of the Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE, 1940), which invited various artists to create work in a gallery/studio space at the Treasure Island site while fair visitors could observe their process. Timothy Pflueger, an organizer of the fair and City College’s original architect, invited Rivera to San Francisco to create the mural. Rivera used the fresco technique where the artist paints into wet plaster. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Federal Art Project (FAP) funded the mural.
Though the Rivera mural was intended for a proposed “grand library” at City College, the war effort required concrete and steel, which stopped construction of the library. By the time the more modest but still substantial Rosenberg Library replaced the “temporary” digs in Cloud Hall, in the early 1990s, the Rivera mural had been removed from storage and installed in the Diego Rivera Theater (1961).
Helen pointed out that Rivera was interested in an internationalist political perspective and so honored not only the indigenous cultures and art forms of ancient Mexico but also its legacies in contemporary Mexico as well as the technological advances of the 20th century in the United States, which included his fascination with cinema. That interest gave the mural its official name: “The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on this Continent.” In addition to indigenous cultures, he honored women (partially because he thought the mural was going to a women’s college), workers, and freedom struggles.
I am glad that I can respond to one of the blog comments and look forward to more blog entries soon. It’s true that Rivera was a communist and would have critiqued the exploitation of workers, but he was also enamored of modern technology and machinery. So, like most complex personalities, he contained contradictions. Henry Ford was a notorious anti-Semite, but his son Edsel Ford commissioned Rivera’s Detroit Art Institute fresco cycle, while Rivera, as Helen pointed out, believed strongly in fighting against fascism in Europe.
I also wanted to address different interpretations of one of the images on the panel to the left below. If you follow down from Hitler holding the globe, you will see what is definitely a weapon; however, Helen saw it as a representation of a breast, similar to what you see to the right of the large hand (see image below to the right). I think it is entirely possible that Rivera may have been repeating (as Helen pointed out he was wont to do) the theme of death and life that you see in the human head that is half skull and half flesh to the right of the “breast” image in this panel and behind Dudley Carter working on the Ram sculpture. Rivera depicts Coatlicue, goddess of Death and the Earth. I actually do not think these two interpretations contradict one another but instead offer us a representation of the power of life and death, creation and destruction. Chicana scholar Gloria Anzalduá explains the power of Coatlicue: “Coatlicue depicts the contradictory. In her figure, all the symbols important to the religion and philosophy of the Aztecs are integrated. Like Medusa, the Gorgon, she is a symbol of the fusion of opposites: the eagle and the serpent, heaven and the underworld, life and death…beauty and horror” (Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1999 , 69).
You can read more about the Pan American Mural here. Be sure also to click on the beta version of the new website if you want to dig deeper.
As you learned, the current plan is to install the mural in the front lobby of the planned Performing Arts and Education Center (PAEC). With a large glass window passersby will be able to view the mural 24/7, including dramatic lighting at night. Also, the new location would give viewers the necessary distance to view the mural properly.
You also learned that the mural will be on loan to the SF MOMA for one of its free/public spaces starting October 2020. When it returns to City College in 2023, the PAEC will have been built on Frida Kahlo Way, so we can tell visitors “Take Frida Kahlo Way to the Diego Rivera mural.”
A focus on Rivera’s honoring of indigenous artistic production provides another thread in the discussion of re-enlivening museums and reconciling their often shameful history with a more honest and truthful representation of indigenous culture, which brought us to our next stop.
PART 3: Debriefing in Creative Arts 218
We returned to our tour with Carmen Mahood at the de Young, where we had raised the issue of Land Acknowledgment at the de Young. I recently met with Carmen, and she was pleased to show me these photographs depicting the Land Acknowledgment practice at the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology.
Carmen raised the idea of not only developing a Land Acknowledgment practice at the de Young but also marking the presence of the Ramaytush Ohlone peoples elsewhere in Golden Gate Park. Clearly, this practice would need to involve Native people in discussion with museum staff. As City College deepens its own relationship to the Ramaytush Ohlone peoples in the process of seeking to develop a Land Acknowledgment policy, it’s entirely possible that the College’s Museum Studies program could become a partner in this process at the de Young. Always, it is key that these practices do not become empty gestures but rather living documents and practices that address brutal legacies and the ongoing resilience of Native peoples.
I asked you to offer ideas on how we could make the de Young experience more effective. There seemed to be a consensus that you appreciated the docent tour but would also like more time for personal exploration. Based on this valuable feedback, I am contemplating a reconfiguring of the next semester’s experience at the de Young which would continue to include an introduction to the free spaces and highlights of the galleries of the Americas, Africa, and Oceania but would incorporate your suggestions.
Museums for All Slide Presentation
This presentation raises a key goal of the class to “marry” community engagement with accessibility. It is not helpful if museum staff create engaging exhibitions but poor and working class people can’t get inside. And it does no good if museums are free all day every day but what’s inside does not interest visitors, or worse, insults them. (You can review the slide presentation in Class Resources.)
Beyoncé and Jay-Z at The Louvre
The “Apesh*t” video provoked a lively discussion about the intentions of Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Like the Obamas, the Carters (Beyoncé and Jay-Z) can now not only enter but also command spaces they would not have felt welcome in before they had made their respective marks in politics and music.
Some of you liked the video a lot; others, not so much. And some, not at all. Consider how your race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, and other social identity markers might influence your reaction to the video. Be sure to factor in your own personal taste in music and popular culture.
Meanwhile, please make sure you consider Lisa Ragbir’s praise and critique of the video, which she claims “…is important because people of color rarely have the opportunity to claim such spaces, but it also perpetuates the dangerous notion that art is a luxury.” Most important, she argues, is that museums become more accessible for working class people who cannot afford the current high admission prices in most museums. Consider re-reading Ragbir: “Can Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Louvre Video Change Perceptions of Who Belongs in Museums?”
Though Ragbir sees value in the Carters (Beyoncé and Jay-Z) and the Obamas—people of color being able to claim spaces like The Louvre, she questions seeing art as luxury. “…[W]hat happens,” she says, “if we believe that these spaces can only be claimed by people of color if they are the Obamas or the Carters?” Instead she talks about exactly what we’ve been discussing all semester:
A 2010 study by the American Alliance of Museums found that while people of color will make up 46% of the American population by 2033, they are on track to only represent 9% of museums’ core audiences. However, museums like the High Museum of Art in Atlanta are trying to buck this trend. Earlier this year, that institution reported that it had tripled its number of visitors of color (now comprising 45% of the museum’s total visitors) in just two years. How? By showcasing the work of under-represented artists, adjusting admission fees, diversifying its staff and volunteers, and adopting the slogan: “Here for you.” (emphasis mine)
As much as the art critic in me would like to have spent more time analyzing the video itself and what I see as its critiques of racism, what’s most interesting for our purposes, I think, is the very fact of our dialogue and disagreements. So please blog, especially if you held back in class.
Do we continue with the patchwork of free days, free evenings, programs at some museums for very low income people, Discover and Go cards, etc., or do we do raise taxes on the wealthy and fund museums for all?
Next Thursday, November 21, we will meet at the Downtown Campus in Room 325, which is a computer lab. We will walk over at 3:45 p.m. to begin a tour at 4:00 p.m. at The Contemporary Jewish Museum.
– Blog: Field trip reflection.
– Research & Development – on-going work on final project.
Informative and multi-faceted visit to MOMA, hosted by Jaimeson Daley, Program Associate in Higher & Continuing Education, that included staff presentations and dialogue with staffers Sriba Kwadjovie Quintana and Ian Gill; a close-looking exercise; museum explorations on our own with prompts; and a class debrief and discussion back in the Koret Education Center.
Part I: Staff Presentations & Dialogue in Koret Education Center
Decolonization – Sriba Kwadjovie Quintana, Intellectual Property Manager and Ian Gill Documentation Associate discussed their work through the museums cultural equity and inclusion lens.
Sriba, who has worked at the museum for 7 years comes from a background in dance and law school, was surprised when she first arrived at SFMOMA to find the predominant focus on white male art and artists. After the 2016 elections, conversation about cultural equity deepened at the museum and a Cultural Equity & Inclusion Committee was established, addressing all internal and external aspects of the museum. She is glad to serve on this committee and be part of the conversation, even though this is not her area of expertise. The committee is composed of representatives from an array of program areas including curatorial, education, administration and HR. The committee is contracting with training with diversity professionals who provide guidance in tackling issues of inclusion, race, gender, etc. She enjoys sharing her knowledge of artists of color within the group.
Ian works on the collections database, verifying and providing access to information within the museum and online, as well as helping the staff utilize information. He showed us a power point with graphs and dashboard metrics breaking out data by demographics for FY 17-FY 19. These metrics help the staff get a handle on the data to target needs and examine if and where they are making progress over time. Demographic categories include: living artists, gender, first acquisition, nationality, artists of color, etc. The figures we were shown (that did not include the Fisher Collection) reveal a white male, North American artists emphasis in the collection and aquisition patterns. In keeping with MOMAs most recent strategic plan, the chief curator is working to build a more diverse collection with a vested interest in including under-represented artists. One way they are doing this is by selling off major works, like a recent Rothko, to finance new acquisitions.
Museum Overview – Jaimeson gave a quick presentation. Using power point slides, he began by touching on the museum’s mission and vision that includes fostering creativity and engaging new ways of seeing the world. He went on to highlight the museum’s history, organizational structure and five collecting departments. A few highlights:
Moves and changes from the SF War Memorial Building (1935-95); (1995-2013) to the Mario Botta designed museum on Third Street) and its current (2016) Snøhetta redesigned expansion, tripling the amount of gallery space available and adding a second entrance.
Some fun facts revealed: Over 50,000 school and university students visit the museum each year; Annual operating budget of $60 million; 170,000 square feet of gallery space (3x the size of a football field).
Part II: Observations in the Galleries
Close Looking Exercise. Jaimeson led us to the 4th floor galleries to view the exhibit On a Clear Day: Agnes Martin and Mark BradfordHe gave us a few observation prompts, i.e. what mood, techniques, materials are being used; what title would we give the show. We then took one minute to look at Martin’s series of drawings and one minute to look at Bradford’s piece. To debrief, we gathered together for a discussion of our observations facilitated by Jaimeson. You compared and contrasted the artworks reflecting your observations–MARTIN: orderly lines, repetition that created a calm feeling, human touch–looks like she used a ruler but probably didn’t because of the line quality, simple, boring… BRADFORD: use of color–blue/white–create depth, serene/calm, layered materials (glossy vs matte) interspersed horizontal and vertical forms, chaotic, complex, collage, exciting, urban. You suggested a few titles: “I Really Want To Get This Right” , “Similarity / Dissimilarity” , “We Can See Forever”.
Jaimeson discussed his appreciation of this exercise for extracting value, noting that research studies state the average looking time for any given artwork is between 5-27 seconds. He gave us a few details on the artists reflecting on how their works can be interpreted through knowing a bit about the artist’s background and life experiences. Martin, Canadian-born, taught at Columbia Teachers College. Her pieces are conceptual and based on feelings of inadequacy and are driven by obsessive compulsive tendencies. She suffered from mental illness–paranoid schizophrenia. Bradford grew up in South Central Los Angeles. He uses found objects in his work that he often layers, builds up and sands down. His mother was a hairdresser and in this work he uses a common beauty salon material – hair heating pads.
Before leaving us, as a prelude to exploring the galleries further, Jaimeson encouraged us to look at the Soft Power exhibition on the 4th and 7th floors. He told us a little about the show that considers the ways in which artists deploy art to explore their roles as citizens and social actors. Appropriated from the Reagan-era term used to describe how a country’s “soft” assets such as culture, political values, and foreign policies can be more influential than coercive or violent expressions of power, the exhibition’s title articulates a contemplation about the potential of art and a provocation to the public to exert their own influence on the world.
Museum Explorations – We toured the museum on our own or in pairs, selecting one of the following prompts to guide observations.
Intimate Observation – Can art shift your thinking or perceptions? Find a work of art or exhibition area that you find challenging, difficult or NOT of particular interest to you. Something you wouldn’t normally be drawn to. Spend some time with it (10-15 minutes at least)- experiment with immersive and/or discursive approaches. Is there something you can find that shifts your first impression after closer observation? Was this experience meaningful to you? Was it worth your effort? Why/why not? Jot down notes on your experience.
Global Observation – Ponder the role of art and art museums as you wander. SFMOMA’s mission is dedicated to making the art for our time a vital a meaningful part of public life. Also mentioned is the museum’s commitment to fostering creativity and embracing new ways of seeing the world. As you roam the museum according to your own compass, what strategies do you see in play. Is your creativity sparked? Where and how? What inspired, challenged and/or extended your thinking in new ways?
Free Areas – Spend time in MOMA’s free spaces–where no admission fee is required. (for example: the area with the steps where the JR mural is; the Koret Education Center). Do these areas feel welcoming and engaging? Re Nina Simon video on relevance–reflect on who would feel welcome here–who might not? What strategies, if any, for engagement are in play? Observe who is in these spaces and how they are spending their time there. Can you identify any contrasts between these areas and the paid areas of the museum?
Open Inquiry – Give yourself a question of personal interest to investigate. Think about this as you explore the museum. What did you discover in response to your question?
Part III: Class Discussion Session – We gathered for class business, dialogue and debrief in the Koret Education Center classroom.
Blog Discussion – I pointed to the different perspectives on engagement and decolonizing that are popping up on the blog and expressed appreciation for honest and thoughtful posts, as well as staying attuned to a respectful dialogue across varied perspectives. We discussed different forms, styles and stages of development at museums for engagement and decolonization efforts. At the OMCA they are decolonizing exhibits at the co-creative curatorial level and at the Asian Art Museum they are focusing on evolving these strategies through education and community programming and partnerships attached to exhibits and not within curation. This led into a conversation about the differences in staff behind-the-scenes talks at the Asian Art Museum and SFMOMA. Some were disappointed with or took offense at the Asian Art Museum talk, while others found inspiration and value. Some preferred the MOMA presentation–felt the staff was well prepared with power point slides; others preferred the Asian Art Museum experience with a less formal and frank, critical conversation that included a discussion of internal value differences and challenges within the museum that arose from our discussion of the #White People Doing Yoga article in Mother Jones. Looking forward to our on-going, deepening enriching conversation as we continue to learn, open up and challenge ourselves and each other. I am grateful for this opportunity to navigate and find meaning across difference, collectively with classmates.
Exploration Debrief – We focused discussion on two prompts that you selected–#1 Intimate Observations and #3 Free Areas. A few highlights below.
Soft Power – Many of you spent time in the Soft Power exhibition, persisting in looking more deeply at one or more artworks you didn’t like or appeared confusing and challenging. With limited interpretive signage, a few found something meaningful after sticking with the works for awhile. Bernice extracted meaning from one of the works via a personal experience she had with hippo dung used as fertilizer in a rose garden while working in Africa, seeing the contrast between the large fecal like object on the lawn chair with umbrella sculpture realizing that it was a critique on colonialism and luxury vacationing. Nat made a connection with Andean symbology and found a nook for a narrative digital work that included a timeline of immigration but she felt it included a bias for Obama policies despite extensive deportations carried out during his administration. Constance spent time with a work called Three Graces made of fiberglass forms that she found disgusting at first, then saw them as angel wings conveying a meaning of sickness and disease in the world. Pete spent time with a large transparent glass rectangle sculpture with a mysterious ghostly body with what he thought of as a circulatory system inside–and was pleased to find an actual representative form. Signage in another part of the gallery revealed that this was part of the Encyclopedia of Invisibility series–bringing to light stories like that of Henrietta Lacks an African-American woman whose cancer cells became the source of the HeLa cell line, the first immortalized human cell line and one of the most important cell lines in medical research that was obtained without her knowledge or permission.
Free Areas – Vilde explored some of the free spaces and commented that the downstairs lobby was welcoming and felt comfortable with the inclusion of pleasant seating areas; in the stair-step area, with the JR mural, she observed a diverse group of visitors; the gift store was colorful and inviting; the restaurant on the first floor was not welcoming, very expensive and included a $99 entre. Even though anyone could enter, she felt most people would not.
Final Project – I distributed and reviewed the final project guidelines and documents that includes a 5-7 minute presentation and requires submission of the Cover Sheet and Research Worksheet. Apologies again for forgetting to bring, the alternative final project for Pass/No Pass students–Reflection Paper 3–a two-page, double spaced reflection paper. You can find final assignment documents with full instructions available for download on the website, Class Documents menu, here. Please review and let instructors know if you have any questions. Everything is due on December 19th.
REMINDERS FOR NEXT WEEK – Nov 14th
Meeting with Leslie at the Ocean Campus.Here’s the map. We’re going to be moving around a bit, so be sure you know where we will convene and where we will be at each new session. As you can see, Frida Kahlo Way still appears as Phelan Avenue on the map.
Focus: Free Exhibitions on a College Campus
Science Hall at the Dinosaur Exhibition
(ground floor aka basement, south side–closest to Ocean)
This is the start of “The Story of Time and Life” in Science Hall.
The elevator is located in the center of the building. You will see a link on the map in the lower right hand corner to the ADA Access Guide.
FYI Science Hall is on the hill in the middle of the campus.
We will make our way over to the Diego Rivera Theater on the north side of campus–closest to Judson.
Pan American Unity Mural, aka, CCSF’s Diego Rivera Mural
Guided tour with docent and former Museum Studies student Helen Pinto
as we move over to the Creative Arts Building
Creative Arts Room 218
Dialogue, slide show, and discussion
Bonus Tour after class
If you can stay until 5:20, please plan on doing so, and I’ll take you on a tour of two Groundswell projects: Cloud Hall Reading Garden and Cloud Hall Gallery.
Enlightening class visit to the Asian Art Museum. Thanks for your preparation and participation that enabled a lively conversation with the museum Public & Community Programs team.
Located in the civic center neighborhood, the museum’s stated mission is to connect art to life and “inspire new ways of thinking by connecting diverse communities to historical and contemporary Asian art and culture through our world-class collection, exhibitions and programs.”
We found out more about how this mission plays out on the ground through our talks with Alison Wyckoff, Associate Director of Public & Community Programs; Triana Patel, Educator / Youth & Family Programs; Indra Mungal, Senior Educator/Public Programs; Margaret Yee, Manager of School/Teacher Programs; Natasha Reichle, Curator of South East Asian Art, and Andrew Lau, Head of Digital. We learned a bit about the museum’s history, programming, and inner-workings, along with decolonizing and engagement issues and strategies.
Part I: Staff Presentation & Discussion Highlights
First established to house the donated Avery Brundage collection (about 1/3 of the current overall collection of 1,800 objects), the museum was originally part of the de Young in Golden Gate Park. In 2003 it moved to its current location. Located in the old SFPL library, the building was renovated to house the museum. The museum is currently growing its footprint, Architect Kulapat Yantrasast designed the new additions and renovated galleries to widen appeal, engagement and exhibition capacity. The new wing, housing more contemporary and Asian American art, will open April 24th with free weekend activities.
What is Asia? The museum has a broad definition of Asia with artifacts from Southeast Asia, the Persian World and West Asia, the Himalayas, Mongolia, China, Korea, Japan, and the Diaspora.
Staffing – The museum has grown considerably over the years and has about 180 staff members. Each staff member described their position and pathway into museum work. Hope you all have good notes on this as I do not!
Governance – The museum is operated as a public/private partnership–with a city commission and a foundation board. At the time the museum was formed, the City and County of SF Asian Art Commission was responsible for the determination of policy and for the administration and the Asian Art Museum Foundation was established as the fundraising arm of the museum. Over the year’s the City’s share of the operational support declined, and the Foundation has taken on more of the costs.
Decolonization and Engagement Issues & Approaches
Brundage, a Nazi sympathizer, racist and advocate of America First policies in the 1930s, donated his collection of Asian art to the city of SF because of its location on the Pacific Rim as a bridge to Asia. The Asian, along with many other US museums, has to grapple with its problematic legacy and is struggling to redefine its identity in the 21st century. This involves difficult, emotional conversations and dialogues on how to decolonize museum spaces.
We discussed the Mother Jones article The Whitewashing of “#WhitePeopleDoingYoga” by Chiraag Bhakta critiquing the Asian Art Museum and revealing disturbing racists and imperialist practices. The public and community programs team we spoke with welcomed the article as “a gift” bolstering advocacy efforts for museum transparency and open dialogue about the issues raised and are hoping that upper level museum decision-makers will also take it as a serious call to action and opportunity for reflection, discussion and change.
Andrew spoke about the museum’s Access & Inclusion Task Force and its efforts–a work in progress. In the past the museum has worked on disability access issues primarily and is now growing beyond ADA to consider intersectional approaches that also address diversity and broader issues connected to LGBT, race and ethnicity. This led to a conversation about the hierarchical and top-down management structure of the museum, where people of color are employed at the lower rung and are doing more of the menial work. There is a need to democratize the museum, shift hiring practices and provide opportunities for people of color to break into upper levels of the field. He recommended the book Emergent Strategies
Provenance – The museum observes the UN 1970 convention designed to curb the export of stolen artifacts and enable countries to issue repatriation claims. The museum has interpreted the convention to mean that if they can prove an object left its country of origin before 1970, they are in the clear. Given the history of colonialism, plunder and the practice of art being taken during conflict, it is difficult to know the origin of many of the objects in their collection that came through wealthy people’s estates. Since most of the museum’s collection was received prior to 1970, the issue of repatriation is not mush at issue for them. Currently, the museum adheres to the convention and spends time determining the provenance before accepting objects into its collection.
Engagement – Indra discussed her job shift from community engagement in the marketing department where she developed the museum’s strategic plan with an access component. She discussed the tension over the museum’s focus on four ethnic specific groups and her desire take a broader and more comprehensive intersectional approach. She now works as senior educator in public programs where she is able to put these ideas into play.
She emphasized the importance of community partnerships and discussed her efforts that move away from a marketing-driven approaches on a show-by-show basis to developing meaningful long-term relationships connected to on-going programming. This practice aligns with the ideas Nina Simon presented in her video talk about relevance.
Discussion followed about thematic ideas as a strategy to engage people across difference. We discussed tea ceremony as a generative topic. Thinking about the 3C’s levels of engagement, Indra (who previously worked at the Oakland Museum) responded that the museum doesn’t do much at the co-creative curatorial level and explained that most of their engagement work comes through programs that are connected to exhibitions. Natasha, reiterated this point, saying that curatorial has not done much in the area of community engagement and relies on the education department for this. They did one show at the contributory level of engagement, where they had the community write labels for objects on exhibit. There is a fair amount of resistance to these ideas from curators who value deep knowledge about obscure artifacts and often find a meaningful level of depth missing from most community responses.
Education Programs – Triana and Margaret spoke about the work they are doing.
Triana runs an internship program, where a diverse group of 10 teen interns are selected for participation each year. Interns learn about Asian arts and culture through a curricular approach that engages a social justice lens. Triana brings in a wide range of artists and people to work with the teens, to provide a broad array of expertise and perspectives. Interns are paid $15.75 an hour. Internship criteria is developed in collaboration with the teens and the current interns select new interns from the applicant pool. Internship opportunities are widely advertised through social media, libraries, school, youth and community groups, as well as peer networks.
Margaret develops programs for schools–both going out to school and having schools come to the museum. She discussed the difficulty in getting students to the museum due to the costs of transportation. Exhibits of student work from these programs are being displayed in the windows of the Koret Education Center where we met. Margaret said her aim is for “students to see themselves here.”
Technology – Andrew spoke about his work that he sees as “amplifying the voices of the education and curatorial teams.” Currently his focus is to bring more screens into the museum–putting ipads everywhere AND to providing disability access tools like screen readers that he feels need improving. We asked about the website and putting the collection online. No efforts in this direction are currently underway. His long-term goal is to unify disparate pieces…provide training and engage digital citizenship.
Part II: Museum Exploration
Highlights given for exploration included the current exhibition on view Changing and Unchanging Things: Naguchi and Hasegawa in Postwar Japan and the recently renovated and reopened third floor. The following prompts were provided to guide your observations:
Preparation for Reflection Paper: Multi-cultural Voices/Visions. Explore a specific part of the gallery that focuses on a culture that is not one you identify with personally. What can you learn about from your observations and support materials (cultural traditions, philosophies, aesthetic strategies, etc.)? Take notes on what you can find out in the time allotted.
Creative Play: Using Museum Hack strategies develop a tour for a specific audience (i.e. millennials, children or other demographic of your choice). Develop an idea for an inventive tour (i.e. favorite objects with fun backstory), a game (i.e. an animal scavenger hunt). Take notes on your plan: artifacts you’d want to engage with; audience, etc.
Intimate Observation: Find a part of the museum or an artwork that particularly engages you. Take notes on what attracts you to it and what you discover/learn by spending at least 15 minutes with it.
Global Observation / Relevance. Explore the museum as a whole and jot down notes. What makes it unique? Does it feel welcoming and engaging to you? Why or why not? Thinking of Nina Simon talk on relevance: Who do you think the museum is welcoming in and who might feel left out? Can you find OR invent strategies that would draw outsiders in and help them feel welcome and find meaning? If you were a staffer at the museum, what ideas would you like to try out or suggest.
Part III: Class Discussion
Blog from the Mission Field Trip. We briefly considered commentary from the blog, highlighting the following:
Inspiration and Overwhelm. So much to see and think about…hopefully motivating a deeper dive on your own. The strategy of focusing discussion on a few works helped to deepen experience and amplified issues of gentrification, immigration and socio/political/economic issues. Recommend Precita Eyes or City Guide mural tours to learn more.
Appreciation of free, inclusive, open-to-all public art murals.
Thoughtful critique and reflection about engagement in context of museums (quiet reflection vs. active participation) and the class (lecture style vs. inquiry approach). We considered the issue of good design in eliciting thoughtful responses, as well as the responsibility placed on participants to actively construct knowledge and contribute meaningfully to class or museum prompts.
2. Asian Art Museum Website – Some felt the site was not engaging, had a dull and outdated look and found it difficult to understand and find information. Others noted that the site was designed for searching and that it had a good filter for selecting content. Also to the positive side, the wealth of educational resources with curricular resources and videos was lauded.
3. Class Exploration Debrief Highlight
Many discoveries, appreciations, curiosities, critiques and questions arose from explorations. We discussed Hinduism, modernism, accessibility of text (readability), etc. Ideas for engagement emerged and included intriguing stories connected to objects, audio versions of ipads in gallery and wood rubbings for tactile experiences.
4. Discussion of Nina Simon’s Art of Relevance and Museum Hack video.
We began by considering the whys of engagement. Sustainability–the financial benefits and increased audiences–were mentioned, noting how the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History tripled its membership and took its budget from a deficit to 1.6 million in five years. Also, Museum Hack founder Nick Gray mentioned the power of art to communicate across time–noting how being exposed to creative work across 5,000 years of human history can inspire us to become better creators.
We discussed overarching engagement strategies.
Simon’s beyond marketing idea–not selling the museum, but talking to and developing partnerships with outsiders (community members who are not museum goers), learning about their interests and adding exhibits, programs and activities to welcome, engage and motivate them to come to the museum.
Museum Hack’s guides, games and gossip that focus on engaging and brining millennials into museums.
Nat who has worked as a contractor with Museum Hack and Cynthia who had been on a Museum Hack tour provided their personal perspectives. We discussed the upsides of fun, light-hearted and playful, irreverent style and downsides of a more corporate approach with tours that cost up to $35 a person on top of the museum entry fee and the company’s poor compensation to tour guides that develop the content but have to give up their intellectual property ownership rights.
5. Last but not least…a great set of recommendations from classmates…
Alley Cat Books / 3036 24th St., SF – Back to Back: The Art of Juan R. Fuentes & Leon Sun, Nov 2-30.
NEXT CLASS REMINDERS: November 7th
WHERE WILL WE MEET: SF MOMA, 151 Third Street, SF
Check large bags and coats as you like near the front entrance.
We will meet one flight up the stairs in the ticket lobby at 2:10 and I will have free tickets for you. If you arrive a little late– come into the Koret Education Center to find us (no ticket is required for this space)–it’s a room between the ticket desk and elevator.
HOMEWORK: Due November 7th
Blog: Asian Art Museum — Highlights/Reflections.
Reflection Paper # 2 / Multicultural Voices / Visions
Review SF MOMA website and write notes on your discoveries in your journal.
Long Term Notes
MISSING CLASS/LATE ASSIGNMENTS NOTE: Don’t forget you can earn back points for up to three missed classes, by completing a field trip make up form.
MISSING ASSIGNMENTS: If this applies, please see me about turning in ASAP
Sunny skies, sweltering heat, for our Mission excursion! But first we gathered in the classroom on the Mission campus, welcoming our honored co-instructor for the day–Beatriz Escobar, (museum studies alum) a wonderful artist and educator who works with community organizations and museums–including the Oakland Museum where she organized the Dia de los Muertos celebration last weekend. Beatriz described her career trajectory underlining the important role of artists in museums.
Before setting out for our Mission explorations, we jumped into a series of discussions about the homework blog, videos and reading. A few highlights are summarized below.
Oakland Museum blog and debrief. Our discussion touched on co-creative engagement/decolonizing strategies employed by the museum, including: advisory councils; reframing narratives from Native American perspectives; tactile experiences; videos that emphasized living communities juxtaposed with artifacts –bridging past and present; low lighting in history gallery–considering values (calm/reflective atmosphere and protective of artifacts) and challenges (difficulty in reading the text); intriguing Black Panther exhibit with music, video testimonies, take-away postcards, etc. We thought about the need for on-going discussion of genocidal and historical atrocities in the US and to connect them to current day practices and on-going struggles.
Mural tour video review & Precita Eyes. We discussed regulations for public mural and the anti-tagging StreetSmarts abatement program that is a partnership between the SF Arts Commission and the Department of Public Works and provides financial incentives, guidelines and resources for private property owners to commission murals on their buildings. We thought about artists how artists earn “street creds” by considering community aesthetics and building relationships with those in the neighborhood, to prevent tagging on their murals. Constance mentioned that often muralists are also teachers and engage youth as a strategy for empowerment and community building. Also we considered that adults need to be involved if spray paint is needed, because it is not legal for youth to purchase. Here’s a handy link for what to do if you want to create a mural in SF.
We thought about: the commercial and aesthetic approaches of artists and range of graphic, grafitti and fine art styles; wide-ranging content from cultural celebration and tributes to religious iconography, social and political narratives; and notable mural sites featured in the video–the Women’s Building, Clarion and Balmy Allies.
Finally we considered Precita Eyes and the role it plays in supporting, producing and protecting murals in the city, as well as providing community workshops, youth education programs and tours. We discussed their website — some found it confusing and hard to sort out its mission and programming, noting the need to dig around for content, as the landing page emphasis seemed to be fundraising. Others noted its rich content, videos, archives, workshops, tours and volunteer opportunities. At the very end of class, we walked by their storefront, where by luck we found and had a chance to chat with Susan Cervantes, Precita Eyes founder and celebrated muralist.
Eco-museums and Calle 24. Beatriz facilitated this discussion, as we thought about the components that make up traditional museums–building, collections, exhibits and audience–in contrast with the concept of an eco-museum, stretching our thinking of what a museum is and can be.
This idea of eco-museums was represented in our homework reading Redefining Value: Projecto Eco-museum, describing a project in Campos de Sao Jose, Brazil. Beatriz introduced this reading as a jumping off place for talking about the concept of eco-museums: focused on the identity of a place, largely based on local participation and aiming to enhance the welfare and development of local communities.She also helped us better understand the context of the community described in the article as she talked with a friend who lives nearby. There is a wealthy, tech hub, community about an hour’s bus ride away, where many of the people in Campus de Sao Jose, immigrants in precarious situations and struggling with survival jobs, work and spend several hours a day commuting. Seniors and children, who spend their days in the Campos de Sao Jose neighborhood, are take the lead in the eco-museum project — shaping, enriching, creating activities and highlighting the value of their community, where neighbors enjoy getting to know and connect with each other. Similar place-making initiatives were mentioned–a hillside garden at the end of a street in SF, Watts Towers, etc. This led to a conversation about art as an cultural and economic boost to a community that often times, down-the-line, leads to gentrification, as we have witnessed in the Mission.
This led into our conversation of Calle 24 (from your research of its website), its history and designation as a Latino Cultural District–could this district be likened to an eco-museum? Calle 24: Latino Cultural District, recently incorporated as a nonprofit dedicated to advancing “an economically vibrant community that is inclusive of diverse income households and businesses that together compassionately embrace the unique Latino heritage and cultures of 24th Street and that celebrate Latino cultural events, foods, business, activities, art and music.”
Eager to explore lingering questions, we set out to holistically observe, at micro and macro levels, the neighborhood streets, businesses, gathering places, cultural and community organizations, murals, people, sights, sounds, aromas, textures, colors, etc.
Mission Murals & Explorations Walk
Beatriz led off the walk, observation/discussion at our first stop–the Aztec Calendar tile mural on the front of the CCSF Mission campus. Using the see-think-wonder protocol, we named materials, shapes, colors, images we saw and speculated as to symbolic meanings and uses. Drawing on individual and group knowledge and perception, we deciphered the Aztec notion of circular time. A few added their knowledge of its two interdependent calendars–the solar and the sacred. Many wonders were shared, sparking our collective curiosity–opening opportunities for further research. According to Wikipedia, The Aztec or Mexica calendar is the calendar system that was used by the Aztecs as well as other Pre-Columbian peoples of central Mexico. It is one of the Mesoamerican calendars, sharing the basic structure of calendars from throughout ancient Mesoamerica. The calendar consisted of a 365-day calendar cycle called xiuhpōhualli (year count) and a 260-day ritual cycle called tōnalpōhualli (day count). These two cycles together formed a 52-year “century”, sometimes called the “calendar round“. The xiuhpōhualli is considered to be the agricultural calendar, since it is based on the sun, and the tōnalpōhualli is considered to be the sacred calendar.
From here we headed out on our tour, stopping at a few places along the way to observe and discuss specific murals, including La Lucha Continual, El Immigrante, The Silent Languages of the Soul (on Ceasar Chavez School).
Eventually, we arrived at Balmy Alley where we talked about the early and evolving history of the murals here–going back to the 70’s to contemporary murals. (See handout packet for details.) Beatriz led a focused observation and discussion of two of the more recent murals–Mission Makeover, address gentrification in the Mission and Women of Resistance. Here’s are a few handy links Beatriz provided for Women of Resistance mural, Name Key and Poster Portfolio. We spent time responding to the themes, identifying symbols and people we recognized in the murals, as well as thinking about the colorful street life we oberved in relation to the eco-museum concept.
Our collective encounters, shared discoveries, individual stories and knowledge here and along our route made for an extraordinary journey and learning experience. A few of us stayed a bit after five to continue a bit further down 24th to see Discolandia sign and visit Precita Eyes. We were rewarded by our after-hour foray, by running into founder/director/master muralists, Susan Cervantes at Precita Eyes where we enjoyed the opportunity to talk with her informally and get a quick peek into the store as they were closing up.
Closing now with much gratitude to Beatriz for her guidance, contributions and insight!! Thank you all for a generative class. Enjoy the rich reflections that will be popping up in this week’s blog posts and don’t forget to add your own.
NEXT CLASS REMINDERS: October 31st
WHERE WILL WE MEET: ASIAN ART MUSEUM in the lobby. Free Tickets (do not purchase any tickets) – 200 Larkin Street in the lobby at 2:10. Please be on time! However, if you arrive late, will leave a ticket for you at the ticket desk. Transportation: The museum is near the Civic Center and walkable from BART & MUNI Civic Center Stops.
HOMEWORK: Due on October 31st; unless otherwise noted.
Blog Post: Mission Field Trip highlights & reflections
Review Asian Museum Website – Take notes on: What is unique about it? Mission, exhibits, programming. Questions.
Thanks all for an engaging class at the Oakland Museum (OMCA) that included a talk and tour with Experience Developer, Christine Lashaw in the history gallery, as well as a class meeting and exploratory quest.
PART 1 – WALK & TALK WITH CHRISTINE LASHAW
History and Development
We learned a bit about the mission and origin story of the museum — formed from three separate museums with their own collections that merged to become the California focused Oakland Museum in 1969 with the intention of being a community-centered “people’s museum” with three galleries under one roof–art, history and science. In recent years the museum upgraded and redesigned its facilities with the founders’ original multidisciplinary and civic-minded aims in mind, improving the integration of its collections and programming, strengthening its role as a public forum, and creating new opportunities for visitor engagement and participation. As their website describes and we discovered in our explorations: “The collections are animated by innovative interpretive tools and interactive features; and new gathering spaces and program areas engage visitors and encourage them to share their own perspectives, questions, and stories.
The museum celebrated its 50th Anniversary this year and Christine discussed how its structure and relationship with the city of Oakland has evolved over time. When the museum began, it was funded by the city and then shifted to a relationship where 60% was city funded and 40% came from the private sector. In 2011 the museum made a full separation from the city with its own foundation. The city no longer funds the museum, but a public-private partnership still stands, as the city owns the building and the museum collection.
Exhibition Curation and Teams
Christine explained that the museum has restructured departments and job titles as it separated from city administration to the museum foundation administration. The new structure and renovation in 2010 led to greater interdisciplinary team work and evolved a new way of working. Formerly in the Education Department, Christine’s new title is Experience Developer in the Curatorial Department. She usually works in a team with a curator, exhibit designer and project manager to plan an exhibition. Team members are equal in their power and authority. Different from most museums where the curator is at the top of a hierarchy. The team also often includes or works with community partners or advisory group members. Christine’s role is in spearheading the collaboration with community partners and in being a communication liaison and coordinator. She explained the “Three C’s of Community Engagement”: Contribution, Collaboration and Co-Creation that provide a useful framework for thinking about the spectrum of community involvement.
You can learn more about this framework from Museums as Sites for Social Action, Chapter 6 – Sharing Authority: Creating Content and Experiences by Christine Lashaw and Evelyn Orantes. An excerpt from this article below provides a useful summary:
CONTRIBUTION: VISITORS AND COMMUNITY MEMBERS “CONTRIBUTE” BY ADVISING, LOANING SOMETHING, WRITING A RESPONSE, ATTENDING A SINGLE MEETING/CONVENING OR ANSWERING INTERVIEW QUESTIONS. THE INTERNAL TEAM CONCEIVES OF AND DRIVES THE VISION AND GOALS FOR THE PROJECT. COMMUNITY VOICE MAY OR MAY NOT BE INCORPORATED.
COLLABORATION: COMMUNITY MEMBERS AND MUSEUM STAFF WORK TOGETHER AS A TEAM TO DEVELOP IDEAS AND SHARE SOME DECISION-MAKING. COMMUNITY VOICE IS VISIBLE IN KEY MOMENTS OF THE PROJECT/EXHIBITION.
CO-CREATION: COMMUNITY MEMBERS OR ARTISTS ARE PART OF THE KEY DECISION MAKING. THIS COULD BE CREATIVE DIRECTION, DESIGNING ELEMENTS FOR THE EXHIBITION, CREATING AN ARTWORK, ADDING INTERPRETATION, PRODUCING A MEDIA EXPERIENCE, OR DESIGNING A WHOLE SECTION–DETERMINING THE “HOW” AN EXHIBIT EXPERIENCE IS IMPLEMENTED. CO-CREATORS PAY A ROLE THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE PROJECT/EXHIBITION. COMMUNITY VOICE IS A KEY PIECE OF THE NARRATIVE AND VISIBLE THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EXHIBITION.
We discussed how there is no one formula for partnering with community, but there is a spectrum of low to high engagement choices, depending on the purpose, context and resources available. Co-creation is at the high end of engagement and is the most time consuming and expensive to implement.
Exhibit Walk & Talk – Before leaving the space where we were meeting, the entryway to the history gallery, Christine mentioned that this space is organized around the theme of Coming to California and includes participatory activities that exemplify the contributory level of the engagement. A large map on the wall, enables visitors pin their origins. A colorful post-it table is also provided, where visitors can post their story of coming to California. Visitor stories are later archived, typed and projected in scrolling fashion on the wall by staff. Christine then guided us through three exhibitions in the History Gallery and described a bit about their development.
Before the Other People Came – Showing seven different geographic regions of California with contemporary native people, as the curatorial voice, describing the history of their ancestors, their relationships to the land and each other, and the innovative practices they crafted to live in each dynamic natural environment. The exhibit team included members of the Native Advisory Council working at the deepest co-creative level, an equal partnership with shared decision making. Council members chose objects and their organization in the space. Amplifying contemporary, living culture, native people were present throughout the exhibit, accomplished through videos placed in and among the objects on display.
When Cultures Meet – Installed in a small room within the larger exhibition space, with dramatic lighting and audio and only two objects facing each other on display – a commissioned feathered Native headdress and a Spanish colonizer’s helmet. Christine explained that this is a way of using objects to theatricalize and tell a powerful story. This is an example of the collaborative level of community engagement.
Taking Native Lands and Lives – This redesigned and installed exhibit represents a small slice of time after the gold rush from 1848-1870 and examines the motivations and oppressive actions of the people who flooded into California seeking land, riches and resources. The redesign demonstrates the co-creative level of engagement where the team worked with the Native Advisory Group to reframe the Manifest Destiny narrative to a Genocide narrative, using objects from the collection to tell this history in the context of contemporary scholarship and in agreement with the Native advisors perspective. The exhibit is organized into three parts: Broken Promises; Exterminate Them; and Revitalization and Activism. Centered in the space is a large rectangular glass case with suspended rifles pointing at a map on the back wall depicting sites of massacres and flanked by first person accounts. Etched on the glass case is a quote from a first-hand account by Jerry James, who describes how white men attacked his village and killed his mother when he was a baby. The surrounding walls include text with artifacts describing massacres, forced labor and removal of Native People. The exhibition team’s intent was to create an emotionally-charged impactful visitor experience. Christine also noted that their Native advisers wanted to make sure the exhibit emphasized that the genocide failed and to document their resilience and on-going work for justice. The exhibit ends with photos, voices and quotes of contemporary, activist Native People.
History Hang Out
We convened in the interactive space at the back of the history gallery called “History Hangout.” Breaking from the chronologically ordered exhibits in the history gallery, this area includes a gathering space with hands-on, playful and interactive lab-like activities. We settled in on comfy couches and step-like padded wooden seating area to talk further with Christine.
Building on our tour experience, Christine emphasize the intentional shift the OMCA is making to represent non-dominant historical narratives. She feels that museums are uniquely positioned and have a responsibility to take action in this way, especially given the limits of mainstream education curricula.
A question/answer period followed with a focus on Advisory Groups. Advisory Groups collaborate with staff exhibition teams. A time commitment is involved for advisors and they are they are paid for their work. Christine emphasized the importance of developing trust and building relationships as being key to the success of the team’s collaboration with the Advisory Group.
A question surfaced about how members are chosen and we learned that there is currently no official, written-down policy. Often members come in through staff or current advisory member referrals. There is an effort underway with staff and advisory group members to develop more specific guidelines, as they look at gaps and they aim for balanced representation. She noted there is interest in greater Ohlone representation and more age diversity on the Native Advisory Group.
Other advisory groups include the LatinX Advisory Group that works with the team on the annual Dia de los Muertos Exhibit and Celebration. The current celebration is set for this weekend and the exhibition is now up in the back of the art gallery. This year’s theme is grounded in Chicano roots.
PART II: CLASS MEETING, CULMINATING IN MUSEUM EXPLORATIONS
We discussed homework readings and video.
Museum Engagement Frameworks handout. We reviewed and discussed this document as a common language tool and handy outline that can help us better identify and understand the growing spectrum of engagement practices in museums we study and visit during the rest of the semester. This tool will support your preparation for the class’s final project–where you are asked to either analyze a museum’s engagement practice related to a specific exhibit (for P/NP student) or create an engagement plan drawing in a specific new audience to a museum exhibition (for graded students).
We discussed how museums are striving to be more democratic, relevant and sustainable in the 21st century, extending out from our discussion of evolving practices in our analysis of the Exhibitions Chapter from our textbook. In general, the museum field is continually creating and experimenting with evolving strategies. Some museum’s like the Oakland Museum (OMCA) and the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH) are leading practitioners, building on experiential practices first developed science and children’s museums. The Participatory Museum (available online for download online) by Nina Simon is an excellent resource for those wanting to learn more. Simon is transitioning from her role as director at the MAH to lead a new global nonprofit initiative Of, By & For All working with public-serving organizations to amplify, develop and spread engagement practices.
We examined the idea of participatory culture, its meaning and practices, reflecting on a few examples, like inviting viewers to hang a work of their own art in a museum or create a bottle of memories to go on display. Participatory activities welcome visitors as contributors and creative agents. Recognizing that not all participatory opportunities are successful and often elicit banal responses, we considered issues of good design. Simon documents how using quality tools and materials demonstrates respect for the participants and results in more relevant, specific and powerful responses.
We also talked about the idea of social bridging and engaging museum objects as a loci for conversation and connection. Moving from Simon’s example of dogs as a way to connect with strangers at parks to her story about teenagers and adults with a baby interacting in a museum and eventually the adults handing over their baby to the teens to play as the adults continued with their meeting. The big idea here begs the question: How can museums create powerful experiences where strangers can build relationships of trust and connect with each other across difference? This led to thinking about MAH’s collaboration with a Homeless Service Center inviting people to come together to restore the Evergreen Cemetery in Santa Cruz as an important historic site for the city. This project foregrounds generative partnerships with community members and organizations that extend beyond museum walls.
OMCA Engagement Explorations
Using the following set of prompts, we set to explore the museum individually, in pairs or small groups:
How are a wide diversity of viewers made to feel included, welcome, comfortable, and actively engaged? What strategies do you see at play (from signage, furnishings, opportunities for participation)?
Observe other viewers in the museum– Who are they? How are they engaging with the museum? Are they taking advantage of opportunities for participation?
What are you most drawn to and why? Spend time there to enjoy while considering this question.
I look forward hearing your thoughts and learning about your discoveries this week via the blog.
REMINDERS FOR NEXT WEEK – October 24
WHERE WE ARE MEETING: CCSF Mission Campus in Room 106 / 1125 Valencia Street (between 22nd/23rd) Beatriz Escobar joining as guest co-instructor. (Former MS student; artist who recently graduated with MFA from CCA; and who works with local arts organizations and museums–including Oakland Museum Day of the Dead Celebration this weekend (Oct 19/20).
Wear comfortable walking attire and dress for the weather.
Bring journals and something to write with
HOMEWORK – due next week unless otherwise stated
1. Blog Reflection OMCA museum exploration – comment on the highlights of your discoveries via the exploratory exercise and Christine’s tour.
2. Video, Websites & Article. View and read at links below. (will email/post live links) . Be sure to jot down notes in your journal: Clarifying questions? What do you value? How was your thinking challenged or extended?
Enjoyed our deep dive into the Exhibition chapter from our text this week. Grateful to everyone for teaming up in groups, synthesizing, sharing and thoughtfully addressing how museum exhibitions purposes and methods have evolved from the late 19th century to the present day and thinking together about what forces were at play in shaping these shifts. Considering American colonial, modern and contemporary perspectives, we examined exhibition strategies and thought about the changing purposes from displays aimed at showcasing wealth, culture and power to educational, entertainment and social change aims. We identified and discussed exhibitions, presentation styles that responded to new technologies, trends, events and sociopolitical issues of the times. We surfaced blind spots and recognized layered influences that are still at play today in the mix of classical, modern, innovative, critical and experimental museum approaches today.
I look forward to building on this conversation with you in our upcoming museum visits. Apologies for my sloppy white board note writing above, attempting to chart the dialogue and get down some of the important points you brought forward. You can find my neatly typed instructor summary analysis on the chapter for further reference here: Exhibitions Chapter – Instructor Summary Outline
Thanks for sharing information on Bay Area events. A few with links listed here:
San Francisco’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day– Sunday, October 14th, 12-3:30 at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival with Native American art, music and vendors. Jonathan Cordero (Ramaytush Ohlone) begins the celebration with an opening and land acknowledgement. The program highlights the vastly diverse and talented community of Indigenous artists.
We reviewed the guidelines (handed out last week but that you can also find at the link above) for this reflection paper (1-2 double spaced pages) writing assignment, not due until Nov 7th. Simply put, you will take yourself on a field trip to experience an exhibition of your choice that focuses on a culture that is not one you you identify with personally. You will use the exhibition as a way to increase your knowledge and awareness of another culture and write about what you learn. You are encouraged to write about discoveries that include specific cultural traditions, philosophies, and/or aesthetic principles that are embedded in the exhibition. Use both immersive and discursive observation strategies. Beyond the objects, wall text and labels, remember that exhibition brochures and web resources (if available) are can help add to and deepen your understanding.
We will use this framework to help to guide our thinking and observations as we explore museum’s more recent, multi-faceted forays into visitor and community engagement–that go from making the museum more welcoming and comfortable and activating multiple perspectives to de-centering the voice of authority and forming a more collegial relationship with the broad and diverse range of museum-goers that they are seeking to attract. Please read and we will discuss this next week.
HOMEWORK (due next class unless otherwise stated)
Explore Oakland Museum of CA website and write notes on mission and related programs/resources in journal.
View Nina Simon video: TED talk – Opening Up the Museum take notes on key ideas and questions in your journal.
NEXT WEEK – October 17 / Oakland Museum, 1000 Oak Street.
We are meeting at the Oakland Museum of California – ticket desk in the mezzanine; 1000 Oak Street, Oakland. (A short walk for the Lake Merritt BART station.) Find directions and transportation info here
I will purchase tickets with my credit card and you can reimburse me. Those with memberships don’t need to worry about this. I anticipate the cost will be $4 -$6 depending on how many free tickets we can leverage from member guest passes.
Great to be back in the mix with the class. Thanks everyone for the welcoming, rich class session and generative dialogue this week! Wonderful to learn from your research about beloved and unknown museums from the Bay Area, across the continent and seas with your unique posters, presentations and valuable personal perspectives. Leslie and I are inspired by the high level of engagement and generous knowledge exchange.
Museums highlighted in your visual displays and oral presentations covered a wide swath of territory, from the well-trod traditional to alternative realms. You traveled us from local to national and international sites; from parks to urban hubs, neighborhoods and out of the way places; from small and quirky to grand palaces with classical, modern/contemporary and outsider sensibilities; from museums with art, history, cultural and science missions, often including social justice, education and community focused agendas.
I enjoyed the variety of themes and areas of interest from taxidermy to the hula. Much gratitude for your collective contributions, spanning 19 museums–expanding and deepening our learning as a class about museums, their histories, architecture, collections, programs, exhibition, cafes, gift shops and practices while identifying critical issues of access, diversity, power, provenance, funding, sustainability, community engagement, etc.
San Francisco Botanical Garden
California Historical Society
Asian Art Museum
Haas-Lilienthal House Museum
Pink Palace Museum (Memphis, TN)
Oakland Museum of California
Museum of Craft and Design
Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum (Honolulu, Hawaii)
Ethnic Heritage Museum (Rockford, Illinois)
National Museum of African American History and Culture (Washington DC)
Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose
The Dali Museum (St. Petersburg, Florida)
Froggyland (Split, Croatia)
Villa San Francisco
California Academy of Sciences
Mumok – Museum of Modern Art (Vienna, Austria)
Very much looking forward to continuing discursive and immersive discussions on topics that surfaced in our poster session conversations, and in the first part of the semester, in the weeks ahead.
Enjoy the weekend. Don’t forget about the Continuous Thread: Celebrating our Interwoven Histories, Identities and Contributions at SFAC Gallery at 401 Van Ness Avenue, opening Oct 4th with ten nights of projections of powerful and dignified portraits of members of the Bay Area American Indian community onto the walls of the Asian Art Museum and Main Library. See details here.
NEXT WEEK (October 10) Meet in our CCSF Downtown Classroom.
We have an ambitious agenda. We will dig into The Exhibition chapter together and examine the engagement frameworks that we will use as an analytical tool to better understand evolving museum practices over the second half of the semester.
Read The Exhibition chapter from our text, Riches, Rivals & Radicals, page 121-170. Take notes in your journal and come prepared to workshop and discuss.
Blog – no blog entry is required this week. However, if you are behind on blogs this is a good time to catch up.
Review Guidelines for Reflection Paper 2 (due Nov 7th), we will discuss any questions you have in class next week.
Why the Immigrants Come: Contemporary Maya Paintings and Textiles from Guatemala
We spent the afternoon on the Ocean Campus in the Rosenberg Library with our first meet up at the exhibition of contemporary Maya artists from Guatemala: Why the Immigrants Come. CCSF ESL instructor Rita Moran, who is the collector, co-curated the exhibition with museum professional Maureen Bourbin and CCSF librarian Katrina Rahn.
Here is the introduction to the exhibition with my emphases emboldened below:
We began with my introducing the concepts of discursive and immersive museum practices (see class hand-outs) with discursive referring to the “mind/knowledge” aka “storytelling” and immersive to “feeling/emotion” aka “storyliving.” I asked half of you to use the immersive approach and the other half to apply the discursive approach to an object in the exhibition that called to you.
You liked the cohesiveness of the collection and how it addressed specific themes. As several of you took us on a tour of your selected objects, it was clear that sometimes after you conducted a quick immersive study, the discursive info on the signage later surprised you. Sometimes you were disappointed in the signage because you felt it didn’t answer certain questions you had. Other times you were relieved to learn more. It was also clear how each of us brings our prior knowledge to an object, which points to the pleasure of visiting an exhibition with one or two friends so that you can pool your resources.
The concept of syncretism came up as we looked at some of the clothing and studied how the religious symbols were employed in some of the paintings. Generally, syncretism refers to a blending of different religious practices, cultural traditions, and philosophies. It gets a lot of use in discussing new forms of Christianity when European colonials conquered indigenous people in the Americas and elsewhere. Sometimes it’s seen as a disparagement of the blended traditions, but other times it can be an example of “resistance to cultural dominance.” See Syncretism/Anti-Syncretism: The Politics of Religious Synthesis by Charles Stewart and Rosalind Shaw (New York: Routledge, 2005 ).
Librarian Katrina Rahn suggests these sites for further research:
You can read a full page article (not yet posted online) with color photos about the all day Maya Cultural Festival, at the Mission Campus on Saturday, September 21, in the current issue of the College’s newspaper The Guardsman (September 26-October 9).
Please learn more through these videos about Maya artist Paula Nicho Cúmez. You can see more of the paintings here. You can see more of the textiles here.
Please think about the living tradition of Maya art exhibited at the Rosenberg as you contemplate an example of ancient Maya art you saw at the de Young last week.
At the conclusion of our visit to the “Why the Immigrants Come” exhibition, we moved up to the fourth floor in Rosenberg to The Collaboratory, a multi-disciplinary makersphere space in the Library.
Bouquets to Art at the de Young (speaking of “People and Money”…)
Jeanine gave a comprehensive and inspirational introduction to the people (mostly middle class white women who are members of the Auxiliary) behind the “Bouquets to Art” yearly exhibitions at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF–Palace of Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum).
Jeanine is a member of the Auxiliary and explained the inner workings of that popular exhibition. Florists create stunning floral arrangements in response to chosen objects in the permanent collection at each of the museums. The annual week-long spring exhibition is the largest fundraiser for the FAMSF. Kudos to Jeanine for her intention to work toward diversifying the membership of the Auxiliary.
Decolonizing/Indigenizing Museums: Goals for the 21st Century
I gave a brief overview of the hand-out on Decolonizing/Indigenizing Musuems with some references to your assigned readings. This cutting edge movement, which had its origins 50 years ago in protests about the exclusivity of most museums, seeks a wider access to museums and the dismantling of elite, dominant culture power within museums.
I shared this excerpt from one of our readings: “…museums were part of the colonial ideology of conquest, domination, and attempts to hijack or re-write the narratives of so-called subject peoples to serve, political, economic, and intellectual agendas.” “Better Safe than Sorry: American Museums Take Measures Mindful of Repatriation of African Art” Robin Sher (ArtNews 6-11-19)
Soldiers, explorers, missionaries and traders stole sacred objects and human remains from places they conquered and colonized. When exhibited in the colonial empire’s museums, interpretations of the objects came from the perspective of the dominant culture and did not take into consideration that many of the objects they stole had spiritual significance and that none of them fell into the 19th century European concept of “art for art’s sake.” All of them had some kind of utilitarian purpose.
I mentioned how the Cantor Arts Center “In Dialogue: African Arts” takes a “pathways through time” approach by exhibiting contemporary works of African art with older objects and by connecting arts from the African diaspora. It “juxtaposes African arts created across different times, places, and cultures in order to provoke discussion and dialogue and disrupt long-standing binaries such as ‘tradition’ versus ‘modernity’, Africa versus the West, and local versus global.” (exhibition signage) I am very excited that you are putting together your own field trip to the Cantor, and I promise to do what I can to find a docent to guide you.
Speaking of “pathways through time,” it’s good to note that the de Young includes examples of contemporary native artists in its Americas gallery.
“Bear in Shamanic Transformation” by David Ruben Piqtoukun (Inuit) 1991
Interventions and Disruptions
We moved to the video screen in The Collaboratory where I reviewed examples of art “interventions.” Interventions break into established works for critique and conversation. They interact with previously existing objects, spaces, or venues.
One interpretation of Al Farrow’s piece (currently displayed as part of the de Young’s “Specters of Disruption” exhibition) is that he seeks to critique the colonial view of Mimbres pottery by portraying a Native American with a gun.
Fred Wilson’s “Mining the Museum” at the Baltimore Museum pulled out sculptures of Napoleon, Henry Clay, and Andrew Jackson and set them near empty pedestals that he named Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Benjamin Banneker (See 166-167 “The Exhibition” in RRR).
Lisa Reihana’s “In Pursuit of Venus (infected),” currently on exhibit at the de Young, offers a native perspective to the wallpaper mural published in 1804 based on explorer Capt. James Cook’s three voyages between 1768 and 1779: “Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique”—“Native Peoples of the Pacific Ocean.” You can read about Reihana’s work here.
Black Panther and Afro Futurism
We watched a short clip from the recent Black Panther film. African American Killmonger challenges a museum curator at the “British Museum” about their stolen goods. The film is an example of Afrofuturism—imagined future possibilities through black cultural perspectives. Some examples of Afrofuturism are Sun Ra’s music, Octavia Butler’s science fiction, and Oxossi Ayofemi’s “Black Matter” exhibition at The Contemporary Jewish Museum.
How to repatriate? reconcile? repair? reconstitute? reclaim?
We concluded class by gathering in small groups where you addressed what the de Young is doing right, what it is doing wrong, and how it could do better. I asked you to consider how the assigned readings could enrich your evaluations.
You offered praise for the de Young’s innovative programming, such as the Contemporary Muslim Fashions exhibition from last year and the Ed Hardy exhibiton there now (through October 6).
Though you appreciated the knowledge of the docent, you saw room for improvement of docent training. Perhaps docents should be paid.
Provenance continues to be an issue despite some good work and respectful collaborations. Donations from wealthy benefactors might be suspect despite provenance papers from dealers.
Board diversification might help move this process along, but you acknowledged the limits that museums in the United States are up against because of their dependencies on wealthy donors, unlike European museums, which receive government support. You objected to the Museum catering to the Jolika Collection donors.
The Africa/Oceania/Americas galleries would be improved with interpretations from representatives from the cultures that created the works displayed there. There was a less than completely respectful attitude toward sacred objects (Mimbres pottery).
There is an accessibility issue due to prohibitively expensive parking for people who need to drive .
The statement “they’re trying, but not hard enough” from one of the groups pretty much summed up your evaluation of the de Young.
Lastly, I promised you more information about Harald Wagner, the person who donated the Teotihuacan mural fragments to the de Young.
Some of you questioned the importance of Land Acknowledgment. Please know that it is a vital part of contemporary museum studies. Here’s the Land Acknowledgment statement from the Art Institute of Chicago. I very much recommend that you read through the FAQs because it can give you a fuller understanding of the commitment many museums are making to this practice. The stoppage of the Mimbres pottery exhibition, which you read about in one of your assigned readings, demonstrates the Art Institute’s commitment to community accountability.
See the draft resolution for the proposed Land Acknowledgment statement at City College posted as a class hand-out on the Resources page.
The Continuous Thread
Here’s the information about “The Continuous Thread.” Please scroll down for more information about what’s being called the “American Indian Initiative.”
The exhibition, which opens on October 4, officially kicks off the Arts Commission’s American Indian Initiative that includes exhibitions, a temporary projection project, public celebrations, concerts, a film festival, a fashion show, and over 14 community partners. The Initiative, orchestrated by Barbara Mumby, director of the Arts Commission’s Community Investments Program, coincides with the 50th Anniversary of the Occupation of Alcatraz, the one-year anniversary of the City’s first Indigenous People’s Day and the anniversary of the removal of the Early Days sculpture.
SEPTEMBER 26 MEET UP IN ROSENBERG LIBRARY ON THE OCEAN CAMPUS SECOND FLOOR ATRIUM
Ruth Asawa Installation
We spent the afternoon at the de Young starting out at the Ruth Asawa wire sculpture installations—one of the de Young’s free spaces at the foot of The Hamon Observation Tower (please visit this free space if you’ve never been to see it).
Your see/think/wonders included references to under water and plant life, and even a dialogue between the two. Proximity to ocean and parkland entered the discussion. You took notice of the shadow play enhanced by focused lighting and even considered references to our “shadow” selves (what we often hide from others). Motherhood emerged as another reference along with women’s bodies, lava lamps, children’s balls. Loops and bundles grabbed your attention. Hanging and fixed focused your eyes. You liked how the concrete wall with its holes and unfinished feel heightened your experience. You noticed the varieties of subtle color: gray, copper, red. That the copper oxidized into a green much like the outside of the Museum itself deserved some thought. You observed how Asawa’s deceptively simple twists of iron, steel, copper, and brass turned into complex art forms, how funky hardware store wires produced delicate and intricate objects. The industrial city, influences of gender, the use of symmetries, negative space, and implied motion all added to an incredibly rich multi-layered collective immersion.
You might consider also the contrast between these ethereal forms and her, literally, grounded work—public sculptures at Ghiardelli Square and Union Square, where she collaborated with SF school children.
I mentioned how Asawa’s gender and ethnicity influenced her work, though her art should not be reduced to either one of those identities. Nonetheless, we know she was inspired by Mexican basketry, a female art form. Other female needlework is also apparent: weaving, knitting, crocheting. Critics have talked about the influence of the figure-ground drama of Japanese calligraphy being played out in these sculptures. We also know that Asawa was influenced by teachers at Black Mountain College, including John Cage and Merce Cunningham who themselves drew from Asian philosophies that honored nature and contemplative practices. Read and see more about Asawa here.
One of you wondered if the casual visitor up to the Hamon Tower appreciates all that you uncovered. Something to consider the next time you hurry through spaces on the way to your planned destination.
Other Free Spaces at the de Young
Then we walked over to the former Artist’s Studio, another one of the de Young free or public spaces. It has recently been repurposed from a venue that invited emerging and mid-level artists to exhibit interactive, multi-media work to an environmentally immersive space for children’s activities. Some are sad to see this venue closed, and the change was not without controversy among museum staff. Let’s hope the new vision for the space—children’s art making activities–ignites imaginations the way the original space did.
As we paused in the main large space, called the Wilsey Court, I pointed out the wall installation by Matt Mullican. This large open and free space is the area that wakes up with multiple activities for adults and often also for children during Friday nights at the de Young. We did not enter the Piazzoni Murals Room, another free space recommendation for a return trip. Hovering nearby were the de Young’s two entrepreneurial spaces—the Gift Shop and the Café.
We then moved up to the second level and passed through the American Gallery (not to be confused with the Gallery of the Americas on the first floor), which should more accurately be called the Euro-American Gallery. And then we congregated at the overhang looking out at the outdoor Sculpture Garden, one of the more notable de Young free/public spaces, which includes James Turrell’s skyspace (known as “Three Gems”), especially intriguing at night. We thought we might take it in, but time ran out. No worries because it’s another free space, always open, always available.
People and Money
Using our Reading Reflection protocol, I introduced the “People and Money” chapter by sharing three big ideas.
The first was that “who shows” in museums (along with how exhibitions are mounted and where the museums are located) influences “who goes” to museums.
The second was an examination of the tension between elitism (wealthy donors and trustees) and populism (the working and middle classes). I asked “pop-up” volunteer lecturers from among you to talk about various people: Laura Bragg, Anna Billings Gallup, Jane Addams, and John Cotton Dana.
The last big idea examined the three main sources of museum funding: government, charitable foundations, and corporations.
You talked about how FDR provided a boon to the arts and artists through his Works Public Administration and other programs. (JFK)/LBJ gave another boost with the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in 1965. As government contributions plummeted in the 1980s thanks to Reaganomics, museums, which had been free, started charging entrance fees that have steadily climbed over the years, now making entrance prohibitive to working class people and even some middle class families. Museums became more dependent on corporate and foundation donations and on gift shops and cafes. They promoted membership as a way to cultivate future donors, reaching out to young singles.
We also looked at how public protests from the left (the rise of ethnic museums and less racist exhibitions in major museums) and the right (reduction of funding to the NEA and the NEH in response to exhibitions like Robert Mapplethorpe’s “The Perfect Moment” and restriction of criticism of the Enola Gay affected museum shows.
Though I didn’t have time to address the history of Michael de Young, you might want to read about this “person with money” here.
George Washington High School Mural Controversy
We moved into a discussion of the George Washington High School mural controversy, where you expressed the major points of view that have been raised in the larger community: need to account for brutal historical legacies; the principle of intention vs. effects (“though my intention might have been positive, I ended up hurting you, which I need to acknowledge”); triggering of trauma; consent to view; censorship of art. Here’s one of the most comprehensive and thoughtful analyses I’ve read about this issue. You’ll also see some photos of the mural as well as a mural painted in response to it by African American artist Dewey Crumpler (see below), who along with writer Alice Walker, actor Danny Glover, philosopher Cornell West, and historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (author of An Indigenous People’s History of the United States) did not want the murals covered over, though all of them would acknowledge the problem of the trauma many people of color experience in viewing the murals. There are, of course, other prominent people of color, including museum director Nikki Myers-Lim, who wanted the murals painted over.
Americas, Africa, and Oceania Gallery Highlights
The Americas, Africa, and Oceania galleries offer collections of art and objects, many originally stolen directly and indirectly by European and American collectors. Though the de Young has abided by the 1970 UNESCO “Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property,” these galleries may need some contemporary interventions in order not only to attract more visitors, but also to give a more honest portrayal of their contents, which we can talk about next week. The de Young has not repatriated work obtained before 1970; however, it has entered into agreements with countries of origin to ensure that they have permission to keep the work permanently or on loan.
Docent Carmen Mahood started out by talking about the book Steal like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You about Being Creative (New York: Workman Publishing, 2012) by Austin Kleon, which brings up the topic of cultural appropriation. He explains how artists have always drawn from and inspired each other. Consider the practice of sampling, the remix, in Hip Hop music. The problem with cultural appropriation occurs when you “steal” ideas, rituals, customs, traditions from another culture, a culture whose material resources your people actually stole, whose people your people have financially exploited and may have mass murdered or enslaved. It is no longer an innocent cultural borrowing. An older book that takes this point of view and claims that, yes, Picasso did “steal” from African sculpture is Hal Foster’s Recodings: Art, Spectacle, and Cultural Politics (New York: The New Press, 1998). Later we will consider the difference between cultural appropriation and interventions and disruptions where motive is key.
Carmen highlighted several works from the Americas gallery. She introduced us to the fragments from the richly detailed fresco murals of Teotihuacan, from 7th century C.E. (aka A.D.) near Mexico City (See the fragment from “The Feathered Serpent” shown above). She explained how Harold Wagner, a San Francisco architect, obtained these fragments during the 1960s. The fragments had been looted around the time of the 1960 Mexican Olympics, prior to the UNESCO convention (see page 97 in Riches, Rivals, and Radicals). Wagner eventually willed them to the de Young in 1976. The de Young now exhibits them with the permission of the Mexican government. The collaborative and trusted relationship that the de Young maintains with Mexico allowed the Museum to install “Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire” in 2017,
Then we stopped at a Mayan stela (large limestone monument), which is a fragment of a larger (761 C.E.) complex of buildings. The hieroglyphic text (see Breaking the Maya Code by Michael D Coe [London: Thames and Hudson, 1992]) identifies this figure as Queen lx Mutal Ahaw. Her skirt, belt, and headdress, associated with corn (maize) deities, signal her political power and ability to communicate with the gods, in this case the rain god. The Mayans depended on maize for their survival. A highly skilled and trained artisan would have carved this image of the queen. It was found on the border of Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico and after a number of years in negotiations which each of those three countries, the de Young has been given permission to retain it.
Next we looked at the Native American gallery and the Thomas Weisel donated collection of Mimbres pottery dating from the 11th century and known for its painted geometric designs and animal figures. They were most likely created by women and derived from hallucinatory datura plant dreams. Once again this pottery would have been looted from where it was found in southwest New Mexico near Arizona, then sold. The old rule in the United States was that if you owned the property, objects found on it were yours. As the repatriation movement among indigenous peoples builds in the United States, we should watch what might happen with some of these objects. It is thought that contemporary Pueblo people are related to Mimbres culture. Since the Mimbres pottery is associated with funereal rites, they are considered sacred objects, a subject which is addressed in one of your readings for next week. We will also be discussing Al Farrow’s Man with a Gun, which you also had the opportunity to examine in the Specters of Disruption exhibition, which I recommend to you.
The de Young is currently hanging El Anatsui’s “Hovor II” in the “Specters of Disruption” exhibition. El Anatsui is a Ghanaian artist who came from a family of weavers. Though this piece reflects on the importance of gold in Ghanaian culture, the artist uses aluminum strips from liquor bottles that he found on the ground. Imitating woven cloth, they are bound together with fine wire.
Next week we will examine how the Cantor Arts Center makes a decolonizing move by bringing together work by contemporary African artists with traditional objects.
When we moved briefly into the Africa gallery, Carmen focused on a sculpture from West Africa of a priestess of Oshun, a Yoruba orisha (deity), the goddess of sacred waters. The priestess carries a fan and is adorned with a blue head covering. Blue is the color associated with Oshun.. Two figures (twin children?devotees?) are present at either side of her, and a child is strapped to her back. The Yoruba would have employed this object in a ceremonial ritual. “Art for art’s sake”—taken to mean that art has an intrinsic value–is a 19th century European concept.
I asked Carmen to end the tour in the New Guinea Gallery, built around the collection of John Freide. The Freide collection, is adjacent to the original Oceanic art collection that contains objects Michael de Young purchased from the California International Midwinter Exposition in 1894. You can read about the controversy related to the Freide Collection, aka The Jolika Collection (from the first names of his three children), here (Scroll down to “Origins of the de Young” and “The Jolika Collection of New Guinea Art”). This Shaping San Francisco article takes a sharply critical though honest view of the Jolika Collection. You can read a review of the gallery in 2007 (Jolika Collection of New Guinea Art), two years after it opened, by California College of the Arts professor Margaret Mackenzie, which is somewhat kinder toward the de Young.
The “ethics of acquisition” remain key to our studies. Let’s think about how artists and others might “talk back” to the colonial energy still lurking at the de Young.
Please don’t forget to return to the de Young to explore other free/public spaces, some of which I have mentioned here. Visit “Architecture and Grounds” on the de Young website.
Hand-out (See Resources: “Decolonizing/Indigenizing Museums” September 19, 2019)
I presented an overview of the main points of “The Collection” chapter, which looked at a century of collecting practices in American museums. See the PowerPoint presentation posted in class handouts in the Resources section of the website, which you can download and view at your leisure. It includes the establishment of the California Historical Society located in San Francisco’s Museum District across the street from the Museum of the African Diaspora.
Dream Museum Case Studies
I invite you to re-visit the Blog Archives for more details about the three museums in the Case Study as well as all of the other inventive, diverse, thoughtful approaches to this early prompt.
Group One addressed Constance’s textile museum with a global focus, involving the arts and practices of basketry, weaving, spinning, knitting, embroidery, batik. They located it in an urban center, maybe near an art school. The building would need a rigid climate control system. The museum would be funded mostly by corporate sponsorships, which might also contribute to the permanent collection. Temporary exhibitions could lean on loans from places like the de Young Museum. The role of conservators would be extremely important to preserve the organic fibers of many of the objects. Registrars would also occupy a central place because the collected and exhibited objects could very well “not have a nice history.” There would be a well-developed policy for authentication, ethical acquisition, and respectful presentation.
Group Two explored Enrique’s museum of dreams and talents of children with disabilities, orphans, foster kids, cancer patients, and others less fortunate. They decided to situate the museum in pop up locations. When placed in a larger city like San Francisco, the site could “pop up” in an established museum. In smaller towns, the city halls could serve as venues. Objects and art would be collected from local children. Charities, fundraisers, and grants would fund the museum. Conservators would need to take great care of the children’s loaned work and return (if requested) to them in the same condition as they were received. All admissions would be accepted. There would be no guidelines.
Group Three focused on Beverly’s museum of depth of understanding that would extend explanations, signage, and other discursive practices to include historic context, creator personal experience/education, creative process, as well as significance and impact of the object over time. The museum, with an ongoing website, would either pop-up or become part of an exhibition in existing museums. Community and artist engagement would drive the collecting practices. College art history and other departments could offer historical records and documentations. Registrars would find the source of the creations for input. Creators and visitors could contribute to hands-on demonstrations. A heightened awareness to the ethics of acquisition could include double-blind studies so that not just one person’s point of view would inform controversial and/or contradictory issues.
Prompt: Compare and contrast the GLBT Historical Society with the California Historical Society. Consider, for example, founders and funders.
The GLBT Historical Society (GLBT HS) was founded in 1985 and grew from two sources: personal collections of individuals and belongings/personal effects of AIDS epidemic victims, some of which were “salvaged” by friends and community members before estranged family members could destroy and dispose of them. The mission of the GLBT HS, in addition to collecting and preserving materials is to educate the public about LGBTQ history, culture, and arts.
We began the tour of the Archives, located in a Mid-Market office building, in the reading room where our three guides introduced themselves to us: Kelsi Evans, director; Ramón Silvestre, registrar; Isaac Fellman, reference archivist. We learned that the two major spaces of the archives are the research center, which includes the reading room where we initially convened, and the archives, aka, “the vault,” which is temperature controlled for consistency. Our guides explained the difference between an archives and a library. Library clientele are free to roam and browse contents as they like. Archives users make requests in advance of their visits. Staff pull the requested information from the archives and set it up for the visitor in a reading room area.
The GLBT Museum, founded in 2011 and located in a storefront (a former laundromat) in the Castro, proudly promotes itself as “the first stand-alone museum of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender history and culture in the United States.” There is some overlapping staff between the Museum and the Archives, but most workers are volunteers. The Museum’s permanent exhibition examines queer history and draws heavily from the Archives. It also offers two temporary exhibitions. Currently on display are “The Mayor of Folsom Street: The Life and Legacy of Alan Selby” in the community gallery and “Chosen Familias: LGBTQ Latinx Stories” in the front gallery.
The GLBT HS Archives offers a broader collection of objects than a traditional history archives. Beyond the usual paper and page-based materials, the GLBT HS Archives houses art collections, costumes, hats, furniture, hair, even make-up. The Archives has a large collection of ephemera: flyers, posters, book marks, matchbook covers, etc.. They were the major lender to the recent Queer California exhibition at the Oakland Museum and will loan objects to the upcoming Levis exhibition at The Contemporary Jewish Museum. In the last five to ten years, the Archives has been receiving more loan requests from non-queer focused institutions. They also work with the James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center at the San Francisco Public Library. The Hormel’s collection includes Harvey Milk’s papers.
Isaac talked about how sometimes researchers experience strong emotions, and part of his job is to help them through that challenge. He and Kelsi also explained their cataloging system. Ramón answered questions about insurance practices when the Archives make loans. He and Kelsi talked about their post-graduate academic training and how their situation of an archivist and a registrar working so closely together is a unique one. It’s clear that the three of them are passionate about their work and committed to the mission of the GLBT HS. Kelsi’s mentor’s wise assessment of objects in archives–“a thing is just a long event”–helps us to frame their work as both heroic and humbling.
– Readings: “People and Money” (pages 171-217)
– Blog: Field trip reflection—wows and wonders.
– Research: Explore de Young museum website and write notes on mission and related programs/resources in your journal.
Docent Protocol; Reflection Paper #1 Free Write; Decolonizing Museums
We opened with a review of the “Protocol for Interacting with Docents” and then moved to the Reflection Paper #1 assignment. As Laura shared the contents of her free write, I started to map her story, and we began to see which parts of her childhood museum memory could most readily entice a first time visitor to a museum.
We also took a brief look at the Decolonizing/Indigenizing Museums section on the Resources (LINK) page. You will be receiving a more detailed hand-out on this “critical perspective” at our de Young Museum visit, and we will explore some of the articles on the topic posted on the Resources page the following week.
Class Dialogue on “The Building”
Again, you organized into groups with each one this time assigned a section of “The Building” chapter. Collectively, you chronicled the evolution of museum architecture in the United States, moving from “humble beginnings to the Beaux Arts style” popular in museum architecture in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Around 1920, John Cotton Dana, director of the Newark Museum, and others supported modernist design principles and downtown locations instead of park palaces. Though modernist buildings (clean lines rendered in metal, concrete, and glass) began marking city skylines after World War I, palace-like styles borrowed from Europe persisted in museum architecture through the first third of the century, while at the same time colonial villages were becoming “museumfied.”
Interactive science and children’s museums were part of the mid-century movement to attract working and middle-class families. Less accessible park locations in wealthy neighborhoods gave way to commercial district sites. Museums also established themselves as tourist attractions, with “museum districts” anchoring “urban renewal/revitalization” developments, which as we’ve discussed had its downside. Other museums sprung up in repurposed sites: storefronts, railway depots, abandoned factories and warehouses. Though at one time the populists wanted to move museums out of parks in elite neighborhoods to working class downtown districts, the irony is that, with gentrification, downtown museums are catering to cultural tourists in high-end hotels.
In the 1980s, entrepreneurial museum spots (with cafeterias turning into higher end cafes and gift stores seeking to entice customers with large glass windows) were ubiquitous. The 90s marked the start of the era of celebrity architects, “starchitects,” such as Frank Gehry, Mario Botto, and Santiago Calatrava. Shopping malls with their atriums and escalators influenced museum architecture as did postmodernism, an era marked by, some say, the end of World War II and, others say, by the Vietnam War. Truth became multiple and postmodern architecture often melded old and new traditions, with an ongoing and unending dialogue between them.
We reviewed the establishment of tribal museums, funded in part by The 1988 National Gaming Act, which allowed for casinos on reservations. “The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990 mandated that museums return certain sacred objects to their tribes of origin” (Schwarzer, 63). Tribal museums inspired a green architecture movement that paid attention to natural surroundings and sustainability.
I loved that there were different opinions about the de Young’s “new” building. That kind of lively debate will always invigorate class discussions. Often there is no right answer but instead multiple perspectives.
Back to “The Building”: The Contemporary Jewish Museum, our field trip destination, is a good example of postmodern architecture. Consider how the old Classical Revival style brick power station is melded to an angular light filled addition through the vision of now “starchitect” Daniel Libeskind.
The Contemporary Jewish Museum is most precisely an example of deconstructivist architecture. There are those who do see deconstruction as a post-modernist tendency in architecture as well as literature, but there is a clear distinction between the angular, fragmented, and distorted buildings called deconstructivist and the whimsical designs of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. What links “postmodern” architecture and thought is the notion that there is no unitary whole, no one “new” truth, a major tenet of modernist thought.
Tour at The Contemporary Jewish Museum with Ron Glait
And that’s what Ron Glait laid out for us, how the design of The Contemporary Jewish Museum reflects the mission of the museum. Grounded in Jewish tradition, it offers a contemporary “inflection.” The old Classical Revival style brick power station, designed by City Beautiful architect Willis Polk, melded to an angular light filled addition, designed by postmodern architect Daniel Libeskind. At once stable and dynamic. A grand idea reflected in a grand building. The highly stylized Hebrew letters that refer to the expression “L’chaim.” “To life.” The Jewish “salud” or “cheers.” Symbolism in the number of stairs (18 for good luck; also representing “life”) and the number of windows in the YUD (36 for double good luck; also sometimes read as “two lives”).
In the lobby we looked up at the Dave Lane installation “Lamp of the Covenant,” where you kept seeing, thinking, and wondering. The more you look, the more you see, uncovering one after another layer of meaning. “The longer you look, the more you learn.” The Lamp asks us to consider multiple universes, which could not be a better message for our class vision.
Bonus for you, not part of the tour: The PaRDeS wall (leaning toward us), an architectural installation incorporating an abstract representation of the Hebrew acronym PRDS. The word PaRDes means “orchard,” but is also an acronym referring to four distinct levels for interpreting traditional Jewish texts: literal, allegorical, moral, and mystical. Each of the four letters of the acronym is embedded into the wall and illuminated, creating a visually dynamic atmosphere that evokes The Museum’s philosophy of embracing multiple interpretations and layers of meaning. Additionally, the word Pardes comes from the same root as “Paradise.”
Next week we will meet at home base and then walk over for our tour of the GLBT Historical Society Archives (LINK) on Market Street after the break.
Please bring your Reflection Paper #1 to class this week. See you then.
– Readings: “The Collection” (pages 69-119)
– Blog: Field Trip Reflection
– Write Reflection Paper # 1.
– Explore link GLBT and related programs/resources in your journal
We opened class with thanks for your intriguing and inspiring dream museum blog entries, which ranged from the ephemeral to the traditional. You received the “Protocol with Docents” which we will review next week. Then we briefly looked over the prompt for the “Museums and Me” Reflection paper. I reminded you to stay in “Creative Mind” this week as you play with your ideas through a free write. There is plenty of time for you to enter your “Critical Mind” space before Reflection Paper #1 is due on September 12. As you begin to contemplate the experience you will write about, I encouraged you to think about museums in broad terms:
A museum is a public place/space that “collects, preserves, displays and interprets”
paintings, prints, sculptures, photographs, installations, video art, performance art (art museums)
installations + interactive exhibitions about the natural and physical worlds (science and natural history museums)
So please have fun freewriting this week about a personally transformative experience in a museum and telling the story in a way that would entice someone who hasn’t been to a museum to venture in one day.
Small Group Discussions about Introductory Chapter of Riches, Rivals, and Radicals
Next you split into four small groups to examine sections of the “Introduction” to Riches, Rivals, and Rebels. By digging into Schwarzer’s overview, you moved through the evolving purposes of museums over the last 100 years while documenting tensions and struggles during that period. You described how museums evolved from small private collections to large, imposing institutions, emerging into a multiplicity of methods, means, personnel, and audiences. You documented the battles between the traditionalists and progressives, such as John Dewey, between conservation and innovation, between classical art and popular culture. You appropriately framed the tensions as a form of class struggle. Should money be spent on lavish acquisitions or education programs? Generally, museums reflected their times–not immune from social oppressions, including racial segregation. Sometimes museums lagged behind the times and the needs of an empowered populace. Other times, they responded to social demands. And during times of collective trauma, museums offer solace and healing.
Exploration, Observation, Analysis at Yerba Buena Gardens and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
After the break we headed out for our first museum exploration, where each of you was assigned to one of several inquiries: Yerba Buena Gardens; the architecture surrounding and in the Gardens; the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts lobby and bookshop. You met up later with the folks who shared your assignment to report back to the rest of the class what you saw, thought, and wondered about the subjects of your exploration. Your reports were sophisticated, playful, critical, and informative.
You liked the green space, the feeling of oasis and sanctuary with auditory attractions: birds, small animals, and water flowing. Some of you some the noise of the waterfall as a distraction that ironically prompted a kind of focusing, forcing the viewer to engage, while others saw the sounds as unsettling which reflected the issues of the civil rights movement. You noticed the diversity of flowers, plants, colors, portable furniture, activities. Some of you liked the bright colors; others preferred muted tones. Most people liked the juxtaposition of old and new architecture surrounding the Gardens, including the traditional St. Patrick’s church and the glass asymmetrical addition to the old power station, which now houses the Contemporary Jewish Museum (sneak preview for next week’s tour), and how brick melded with “other” in the new SFMOMA. Inside the YBCA lobby you noted that though it might appear pretentious, it clearly welcomed all including a woman struggling with homelessness. Who is this place for after all? How does the Bookshop operate (it is “curated” by the California College of Arts, aka CCA)? Are the books for sale (they are)? Can I pick the books up, or are they art objects that can’t be touched? You noted the lending library on a remarkable honor system created by YBCA Fellows.
FYI Yerba Buena Gardens (YBG) is owned by the successor agency to the Redevelopment Agency of the City and County of San Francisco, known as the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure. MJMMG, a private property management firm, manages YBG.
Though many of us are admittedly fans of Yerba Buena Gardens, as I mentioned and some of you already knew, Yerba Buena Gardens, which sits in the heart of what some call the Museum District of San Francisco, grew out of the displacement of thousands of blue collar workers South of Market. Here are links to some of that history: This article is less critical of the Redevelopment Agency, which was responsible for that displacement. This article is more critical of the displacement process. This article features the struggle of the Tenants and Owners in Opposition to Redevelopment (TOOR), which succeeded in the building of 2,000 units of low-rent housing—Woolf House and Mendelsohn House, named after two of the working class leaders of that struggle. I mentioned photographer Janet Delaney’s work documenting the South of Market neighborhood before “Redevelopment” radically changed the neighborhood. Here are some of Delaney’s photographs.
Please bring your book next week if you have one. It will help as we split into small groups again to talk about “The Building” chapter. Please also review the “Protocol with Docents” hand-out, which we will review before we head out to our first docent tour at The Contemporary Jewish Museum.
We will meet in our regular classroom (625) and move over to the Contemporary Jewish Museum after the break. Heads up: The CJM needs to inspect purses and backpacks for security purposes.
Ann and I were thrilled to meet all of you and to get to know a little bit about you and your reasons for enrolling in Museum Studies. As we move through dialogue and debate this semester, taking on the serious topic of the meaning of museums in our lives, we will keep in mind that one of the John Cage favorites was “be happy…it’s lighter than you think.” The goal, of course, is that we develop a coherent learning community where everyone feels welcome and each person’s voice finds its way into the room. We made a good start on that goal during our first class together.
Marjorie Schwarzer Interview
As I listened while Ann facilitated your engaging discussion about the Marjorie Schwarzer interview, I enjoyed hearing how you wrestled with Schwarzer’s main ideas and how the conversation moved in new ways from those ideas, which we could categorize into three areas:
–Though museums are often repositories of history, museum professionals often don’t know the history of museums.
–The hope is that the future of museums will include a thoughtful stewardship of the planet.
–The role of digital technologies in museums will continue to evolve.
–Museums respond to economic booms and busts, changing over time.
–How should resources be distributed? When people are hungry, should millions be spent on the restoration of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris?
–Ideas are built on each other. History is filled with examples of cultural appropriation and exploitation where some people do not give credit to ideas that they “borrowed” from other cultures. Consider the differences between cultural competence, cultural humility, and cultural sustainability.
–Paying attention to provenance–the origins of a museum object (art, artifact, etc.)– remains essential in ethical acquisitions.
–Women, mostly white, are finally being acknowledged for their contributions to museums. People of color are still underrepresented on museum staffs and boards, rendering museums less equitable and less accessible.
–Often indigenous voices and stories have been excluded from museum interpretations.
–Museums operate as sites for critical thinking and self-reflection.
–All of us have a role to play in what we think the purpose of museums should be and how we can push those purposes forward.
–What if museums did not collect examples of cultural production? Would they be lost, or would they find other ways to survive?
…all of which leads us to the question “What exactly are museums?” A great segue to next week’s class.
Website and Blog
Next Ann introduced you to the class website and the blog, where we look forward to reading about the museums of your dreams. It’s another way of getting to know each other.
We ended with a short introduction to Groundswell (link to website), our dream museum, which you will hear more about as the semester progresses,
Looking forward to a great semester together!
Please bring your book next week if you have one. It will help as we split into small groups to talk about the Introduction. We will meet in our regular classroom and walk over to Yerba Buena Gardens after the break.
– Readings: “Introduction” (pages 1-27) Use reflection protocol
– Blog: Technical issues–if you need help, we are here