Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Their duties pull them in two directions every time they come on duty. Why?
First, the guards’ primary responsibility is to protect the artwork on view and provide a safe environment for visitors. Second, we ask that they offer helpful, courteous assistance to those who come to the Woodson.
You can see how these two tasks might conflict on occasion, causing the guards to develop a “good cop/bad cop” persona.
It takes equal measures of backbone and discretion to tactfully remind someone about the Museum’s no-touching policy or ask that a visitor take their cell phone conversation to the main lobby. Think it’s easy to prompt youngsters (and adults!) to use their inside voices in Art Park? Or to refrain from using a camera in the galleries? Or to dispose of a water bottle or cup of coffee before heading into an exhibition? Or ask a visitor not to climb on a sculpture (except the hippopotamus, who loves to have “riders”!)?
It isn’t. Yet the Woodson security team deals with these and other “sticky wickets” every day. At the same time, they are helping visitors with audio tour questions, helping them locate restrooms or exits or the elevator, tidying up Art Park, making sure the video equipment is running smoothly, reporting burned-out light bulbs, encouraging youngsters to use an Activity Guide, filling the literature racks, and the list goes on.
All this while trying to stay in the background and not interfere with visitors’ experiences with artworks…until they see a Museum rule being challenged.
Two times in the past I’ve touched an artwork or artifact and had a guard step in to do his job. The first time was in Spain and I didn’t have to speak the language to know I’d committed a no-no. The second time was at Heritage Hill in Green Bay when curiosity overcame me and I opened a door in a floor to get a look into the basement area. Oops. The tour guide gently reminded me about not touching things in the historic building. Even my husband reminded me!
OK. I know we’re all human and subject to the occasional slipup or lapse in judgment, so when guards at the Woodson or another museum do their job by implementing the rules and regs, please understand the “why” behind the reminder or request.
Then let it go, move on, and enjoy the rest of your visit.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Scene: An art museum lady enters stage left, dragging out a large box with the words “Soap Box” on the side. Coming center stage, she rests the box and stands on top of it.
Art Museum Lady: “You can imagine I’m a firm believer in the arts; I mean I work at an art museum. But I’m also a mom, wife, daughter, sister, and friend – all of the people I’m connected to know that my belief in what the arts provide goes deeper than my job. I incorporate art into family gatherings, exchanges with friends, and even my Facebook page. Art is central to my life – my first memories are of drawing (in the way back of our family’s dark blue station wagon, on computer paper with black ballpoint pens).
“I understand that some people think art isn’t for them or that they’re not artsy. I disagree because I think everyone can enjoy some form of art, whether it’s visual arts, music, dance, theatre, or movies. Just because you’re not involved in the production doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the product. Everyone can, and I’d argue that everyone does enjoy some form of art.
“The connection with art starts before we enter the world. Some expecting parents play music for their offspring in utero. Exploration continues as babies, toddlers, and children investigate their world through bright colors and shapes, through lullabies and songs, and through the all-important playing make believe. The journey continues at school, painting at easels with smocks on and stacking blocks until satisfied, only to knock them down and start over again.
“When children use art to express their creativity, they’re solving problems and thinking critically. These concepts are central to education, and the arts provide excellent opportunities to learn both.
“For me these are just some of the reasons we need art. I believe that creativity and engaging in the arts are essential to a high quality of life.”
Scene: The art museum lady steps off her “Soap Box.” Dragging the box behind her, she exits stage right.
If you agree with the Art Museum Lady’s Soliloquy, please comment or forward.
P.S. Stay tuned. I, the art museum lady, will drag out the “Soap Box” when the mood strikes.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Two questions inevitably follow new installations: how are the artworks chosen and what inspired the wall color.
Answers to the first question. Choosing a theme and identifying corresponding paintings, works on paper, and sculpture offer many options. If an initial goal is to present works not recently exhibited, those possibilities are easily determined by a database search, where each object in the collection has a corresponding record that includes images, exhibition and loan history, and location. The Woodson’s bird-and animal-themed collection numbers 2,000+, so while identifying theme-based artworks can be daunting, it can be accomplished with relative ease. Recent acquisitions are another consideration. In 2008, seventy-five works were added to the collection, and double that number were added in 2007. Keeping these criteria in mind inevitably sparks ideas that get honed into an exhibition theme.
The inspiration for Striking Poses: Birds with Attitude began with my selection of two abstract-styled works, Likeness of a Crow by Leonard Baskin, and Wounded Gull by Morris Graves. I expanded the theme to birds placed in atypical surroundings, such as the Canada geese in Dick McRill’s Cacklers, and then to avian friends in curious poses, such as Thomas Hill’s Running Bound-wire Bird. The exhibition comprises forty-five works, including recent acquisitions: Winter Finch by Suzanne Stryk; The Goldenrod Gang by Andrew Denman; and Young Rook by Adelaide Murphy Tyrol.
The south galleries dedicated to the permanent collection are the only large spaces where the wall color is routinely changed. The golden-yellow background of Steven Porwol’s Pheasants inspired my Anjou pear color choice. The color is both startling and stunning. Do I sometimes doubt my choice of color – oh yeah – but this is the first time I questioned it out loud. When first rolled on the walls, the paint did not translate from the color swatch, nor was it as I envisioned. But after a little drying time and reassurances from colleagues, my nervousness abated. I’m awed by the results and I hope visitors will be too.
The process may sound complicated in writing, but by simply beginning with a list of themes and adding specific artworks to support the concepts, an exhibition takes shape. Of course, having an intimate knowledge of the Woodson’s collection and thirty years of experience doesn’t hurt the process either.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
A chance conversation in the post office parking lot with Dr. Julie Luks, Aspirus Women’s Health Medical Director, led to the development of a multi-arts program just for women.
Program goals were multifold:
-- Create opportunities for women to explore their creative sides.
-- Share inspiring and empowering stories about women artists.
-- Introduce the Woodson Art Museum as a destination for a variety of experiences.
-- Consider art immersion as a non-traditional route to a healthy lifestyle.
Fifty women participated in “The Art of Being a Woman” on Saturday, April 4, the opening day of Wrapped in Tradition: Dale Chihuly’s Trade Blanket & Blanket Cylinder Collection.
Native American cuisine, including cranberry rice pudding, smoked salmon, and cornbread, and Joan Johannes' flute music set the tone. Participants enjoyed a first look at the trade blankets and glass cylinders as the group assembled. A relaxation exercise got everyone ready to open their minds to new ways to learn and to experience art.
Thanks to the ease of sharing images via Power Point, I led the group in exploring the unusual and inspiring stories of nine diverse women artists beginning in seventeenth-century Rome and concluding in the Woodson Art Museum’s sculpture garden. The artists considered were Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Leyster, Rosa Bonheur, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Lee Krasner, and Deborah Butterfield.
Tours of the Museum’s decorative arts collection, Student Art Exhibition, Wrapped in Tradition, and Art Park followed. The small group tour experience allowed interaction with Museum staff and time for asking questions and providing answers.
The morning concluded with a hand-on project: creating a custom-designed, seed-covered medallion to take home as a reminder of an inspiring and rewarding morning.
You just never know where a chance conversation will lead.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Every month as I prepare hands-on projects for Toddler Tuesday, I have a “discussion” with myself about process vs. product. I think art experiences for young children should be more about the process, which plays a critical role in their need for self-expression, and less about the end product.
Toddlers love to shake sand on sticky paper. Does the sticky paper need to be cut into a recognizable shape or does an odd-shaped scrap of paper offer the same experience? I don’t think toddlers have a preference. They enjoy and learn from the process of shaking sand.
Every Toddler Tuesday is theme based. In March, Toddler Tuesday landed on St. Patrick’s Day, which provided a ready-made theme. To honor St. Pat, 140 shamrocks were cut from sticky paper for the toddlers to shake green sand on . . . a happy combination of process and product.
By shaking green sand on a shamrock, children were engaged in making art using fine motor skills as they experimented with the motions used to shake the sand. The outcome was a craft product.
When developing projects, one of my goals is to ensure that toddlers are in control of their project. Toddlers can shake sand without the help of an adult so youngsters are in control.
I plan six projects for each Toddler Tuesday. Three will be process experiences and three will yield take-home products. This balance is best for young participants.
Children engage in art making for the experience, the exploration, and the experimentation. Art making is about self-expression. Most young children are not especially interested in the final product – they’re more into “doing” art.
There’s really not a right or wrong way to explore creativity. Finding a balance between process and product for youth art programs is an ongoing challenge at the Woodson Art Museum.