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Posts Tagged ‘museum’

053017-rockc-wall-Artipelag-bathroom
Photo: Suzanne and John’s Mom.
The ladies room at the Artipelag museum in Sweden.

My friend Penny always knew where to find the nicest public bathrooms in Philadelphia. It turned out to be an important bit of knowledge. Where I live now, the reliable church bathroom has been closed since Covid, but the national park bathroom is available most of the year. And Debra’s Natural Gourmet just added two gorgeous public bathrooms in the new branch, Debra’s Next Door. I always buy something when I go into a shop to take advantage of its facilities.

Meanwhile, have you noticed how glam the museum bathrooms have gotten in recent years? Hyperallergic shared a great list for your amusement (and hour of need).

Sarah Rose Sharp wrote, “A recent poll by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) asked museum professionals to submit their nominations for best museum bathrooms, and the results prove that Marcel Duchamp was only the first, but not the last, to find art in the commode. Joseph O’Neill, a content manager and editor for the AAM, dutifully compiled the results.

“ ‘Every month, we put out questions for museum people to connect around, and we were surprised as anyone to find out how much enthusiasm there is for this fun topic,’ O’Neil told Hyperallergic. …

“The most-mentioned nominee was Smith College, home to two famous artist-designed bathrooms: The men’s bathroom was designed by Sandy Skoglund while the women’s bathroom designed by Ellen Driscoll. [Patti: Do you know about these?] …

“Next up is the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (JMKAC) in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Obviously, bathrooms are going to be a point of pride for an institution founded by the manufacturer of bathroom implements, including sinks, toilets, and more. But JMKAC has gone above and beyond, with the ‘Sheboygan Men’s Room,’ furnished with hand-painted porcelain tile and bathroom fixtures by once-artist-in-residence Ann Agee; Cynthia Consentino’s ‘The Women’s Room’; and Matt Nolen’s ‘The Social History of Architecture (men’s washroom).’ …

“Coming in third, the Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Virginia, garnered praise for its bathroom series, A Head of Its Time: A Brief History of Going at Sea. …

“Of course, modern artists know that everything can be art, so it’s no surprise that SFMOMA is placed fourth on the list for its series of monochrome bathrooms in different colors on every floor, designed by the architecture firm Snøhetta. ‘This one makes me feel like I’m peeing in a Kubrick movie,’ commented Instagrammer Gabriel Toya-Meléndez.

“Fifth on the list is the Glore Psychiatric Museum, located on the site of a former psychiatric hospital in St. Joseph, Missouri. … The themed bathrooms are full of mind games, including hauntings, phobias, and worst of all, Sigmund Freud. …

“In sixth place, there was a collective mention of various 21c Museum Hotel locations. Never content to limit visitor experience to the galleries, all 21c locations feature art that extends into elevators, on the hotel art TV channel, through lobbies, and yes — even into the bathrooms.

“The Charleston Museum snagged seventh place with its cheeky chamber pot installation in the restroom. … The Baltimore Museum of Art celebrated hometown hero John Waters, granting his request that the museum’s bathrooms be renamed in his honor in exchange for his donation of his private art collection to the museum. The result is four new all-gender washrooms. …

“The Denver Art Museum closed came in ninth with its set of Singing Sinks, designed by Denver artist Jim Green. … The sinks are installed in the second-floor bathroom at the Martin Building Welcome Center, and sing ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ while they run.

‘You can get the sinks to sing in canon if you time it right,’ nominator Melody Lowe told the AAM.

“Finally, the Carle Museum rounds out the top 10. [Asakiyume and I have been to that one!] The picture book museum was founded by Eric Carle, author of the iconic children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar. … All the urinals feature a tiny fly.”

More at Hyperallergic, here. No firewall.

I also want to draw your attention to the bathroom at Artipelag, a beautiful museum in Sweden. My photo, above, doesn’t do justice to what Trip Advisor calls “The World’s Most Beautiful Bathroom“!

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Photo: Emli Bendixen/Arts Fund/PA.
The venue in London’s Forest Hill, says the
Guardian,”is the capital’s only museum where environment, ecology and human cultures can be seen side by side.”

What special features are people looking for in museums these days? The traditional recorders of art and history keep changing. A look at a museum award in the UK may provide an insight into what is currently valued.

Nadia Khomami writes at the Guardian, “The Horniman museum in London has been crowned the Art Fund museum of the year 2022 for its work to inspire the next generation. …

“Its director, Nick Merriman, was presented with the £100,000 [about $117,000] prize – the world’s largest museum prize – by the DJ and broadcaster Huw Stephens at a ceremony at the Design Museum. … The Horniman was commended for completely reconfiguring its program in 2021 after the pandemic, Black Lives Matter and the increasing urgency of the climate crisis.

“It set up its ‘Reset Agenda,’ which focused on reorienting activity to reach diverse audiences more representative of London. This included embedding a Climate and Ecology Manifesto – from an online club of Environment Champions to the creation of a microforest to combat local air pollution.

“ ‘From a takeover of the galleries by children to its youth panel of 14-19-year-olds, work experience opportunities and Kickstart apprenticeships, the museum is inspiring the next generation,’ Art Fund, the UK’s national art charity, said.

“A further focus of the Reset Agenda was the 696 Program, an interrogation of the power and responsibility that public organizations have in supporting local music.

“The museum was said to showcase Black British creativity through a sold-out festival that reached 8,000 visitors, while nearly 20,000 experienced the related exhibition.

“Jenny Waldman, Art Fund director and chair of the judges, said: ‘The Horniman museum and gardens has now blossomed into a truly holistic museum bringing together art, nature and its myriad collections.’ …

“Dame Diane Lees, director-general of the Imperial War Museums and fellow judge, said the museum was championing the natural environment and commissioning artists and music festivals ‘to bring the eclectic collections of Frederick Horniman new relevance with diverse communities.’ …

“The 2022 edition of the annual award championed organizations whose achievements told the story of museums’ creativity and resilience, and particularly focused on those engaging the next generation of audiences in innovative ways.

“The other four shortlisted museums – the Story Museum in Oxford, the People’s History Museum in Manchester, Ty Pawb in Wrexham [Wales], and the Museum of Making in Derby – each received a £15,000 [about $18,000] prize in recognition of their achievements.”

I’m looking at an example form the Horniman website. An upcoming show, “We Breathe, Together: A Day of Community Air Action and Exploration” invites all who “dream of a clean air future – and want the tools to take action.

“From building (and racing!) your own hydrogen car, learning the skills to create a 2D stop motion clean air animation, to co-designing immersive climate adventures and ink breath painting. Meet incredible local campaigners in our Clean Air Village and listen to expert talks.

” ‘We Breathe, Together’ extends the conversation around ‘Breathe:2022‘ by artist Dryden Goodwin, the ambitious multi-site artwork exploring air pollution produced by Invisible Dust. ‘Breathe:2022’ combines over 1,000 new drawings, appearing as large-scale still and moving images on sites close to the heavily polluted South Circular Road and beyond, from May to December 2022.

“As part of the day, you can also immerse yourself in ‘Airborne,’ artist Sarah Stirk’s audio-visual installation that seeks to make the invisible threat of pollution visible.”

More at the Guardian, here. I know I have friends in the UK. If you go, will you share your reactions?

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Photo: Blanton Museum of Art.
Pie by Christine Williams of Cookies del Mundo, inspired by Honoré Daumier’s “Naiads of the Seine” (1847).

Remember how, at the beginning of the pandemic, shut-in families took funny pictures of themselves imitating famous art? The Getty Museum in California was the first I knew to promote the meme, but people all over the world were soon doing it. I wrote about it here.

Well, something similar is going on at a museum in Texas. This time it’s about art turned into pastry.

Sarah Rose Sharp wrote at Hyperallergic about the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, and the third annual Great Blanton Bake-Off.

“The contest, conceived in 2020 by Lizabel Stella, the Blanton’s social media and digital content manager, asks art lovers and amateur and professional bakers to recreate a work from the Blanton’s collection in edible treat form. In addition to a regular collection and a host of contemporary exhibitions, the museum is famous for Ellsworth Kelly’s ‘Austin,’ built into the museum’s architecture. …

“Stella told University of Texas student newspaper The Daily Texan, ‘I feel like baking is something that appeals to all ages because it’s so multisensory. You can’t eat or smell art … so this is a completely new way for people to engage with art from our collection.’

“Competition was fierce among the Adult Amateur category, with riffs on everything from Ray Johnson to a red-figure Apulian plate dating back to around 340 BCE. Ultimately, a competitive and humorous field was eclipsed by some expert joconde Imprime work by Blythe Johnson. The technique involves baking a design directly into a sponge cake (rather than simply using the decorative layer of the cake to figure the artwork), and perfectly suited the gentle geometrics of Mac Wells’s ‘Untitled, Meander Paintings, River‘ (1968), in whose likeness it was created. Shout-out to Lois Rodriquez for an iteration of the sculpture ‘The Barefoot Clown‘ (1999) by Tré Arenz (aka Tre Arenz) that offers the disgusting opportunity to eat a foot. …

“The Adult Professional category was a tighter competition, with a series of works on postcards from the Blanton’s collection, converted to cookie form by Hannah Erwin, taking top prize. This beat out a pie by Christine Williams of the Austin bake shop Cookies del Mundo in what is perhaps a miscarriage of justice, as cookie art is a medium with many icing possibilities, but pie offers limited means and requires a sculptural touch. Regardless, the results look all-around delicious, which is hard to say about a pie that has been tinted blue (you made the right choice with blueberry filling there, Christine).

“Finally, the junior bakers came through, a small field that nonetheless proves there is hope for the future. The top prize was taken by Georgia Gross, who meticulously reconstructed a colorful tapestry by Luis Montiel in friendly-looking fondant, but one must frankly tip the hat to the raw ambition of runner-up Jules Beesley, who attempted a functional rendition of the 1987 work of installation art by Cildo Meireles ‘Missão/Missões [Mission/Missions] (How to Build Cathedrals).’ Beesley built a net-covered scaffolding over his cake, the top of which was adorned with golden chips to imitate the 600,000 coins that filled the well of Meireles’s piece. If we haven’t got a baker on our hands, we’ve at least got an arteest.

“But really, everyone is a winner when it comes to competitive baking, because even if you have to eat humble pie, at least you also get to eat regular pie. As Stella emphasized in an interview with Smithsonian Magazine, the point of the event is to feel good.

“ ‘We’re going through a lot of hard things and political stuff right now,’ Stella said. ‘It’s important to remember that it’s okay to take a break — not to ignore the things that are happening, but to make time for the things that move you,’ said Stella.”

I liked this baker cameo at the Smithsonian: “The first time Blythe Johnson, winner of this year’s amateur category, baked a loaf of bread was in elementary school. She eventually started making cookies, cupcakes and pies … but the 40-year-old Austin resident, whose day job consists of medical billing, decided to cut gluten and dairy from her diet a few years ago in order to combat chronic illness. She took a step back from baking, until watching baking competitions, like the Great British Baking Show, rekindled her interest. … Yet, it wasn’t until she heard about the Blanton Bake-Off that she decided to give baking a cake a try. …

“For each Bake-Off, Johnson sets a goal or picks a skill she wants to learn to avoid being overly focused on winning or losing. This year, after seeing that the Great British Baking Show featured the ‘Joconde Imprime,’ a decorative design baked into a light sponge cake, she knew what her next Bake-Off entry would be.

“ ‘I was immediately interested in an Untitled piece by New York artist Mac Wells when I was looking through the museum’s catalog,’ Johnson said. ‘The colors of the painting made me think of blueberry and almond, and the rest just fell into place after that.’

“The cake, which had layers of blueberry almond sponge, lemon curd and whipped cream, was a challenge for Johnson. She made the joconde five or six times to achieve the perfect colors to match the artwork, and worked endless hours, broken up over a two-week period, to finish the cake.”

More at the Smithsonian, here, and at Hyperallergic, here. Wonderful pictures. No firewalls.

There’s a young baker in my neighborhood who could ace this competition. Maybe she’ll try.

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Photo: Bihar Museum.
Tens of thousands of schoolchildren have visited the Bihar Museum in Patna, India, thanks to a government initiative.

I like being exposed to parts of the world I know nothing about. That’s why most of the mystery books I read are set in froreign countries.

Today I’m learning about a region just south of Nepal in India’s northeast, Bihar. In the town of Patna, the government-owned Bihar Museum is working to expand the horizons of its large population of children.

Kabir Jhala writes at the Art Newspaper, “At India’s last census, Bihar was the nation’s youngest state, with 58% of its more than 104 million citizens under 25 years old. The museum hopes, through a unique scheme, [to] create a generation of future art lovers.

“Since 2019 Bihar’s Ministry of Education has pledged to provide 20,000 rupees ($260) to every primary school in the state for museum visits, with the money going towards transport, entry tickets and lunches. While the sum might not seem great, multiplied by the state’s 67,000 eligible schools, it amounts to more than $17.4 million, a considerable sum in a country where most public museums have virtually no engagement programs.

“At the museum, children can explore dedicated sections for young visitors, including works that can be touched, labels at child-friendly heights and workstations in which they can mint their own coins and simulate parts of an archaeological excavation.

“So far the scheme has only been rolled out in the nearest districts to Patna, the state’s capital, and Covid-19 has limited its reach. But from April 2019 to March 2020, the only full year in which the scheme was untouched by the pandemic, 33,000 students from 1,000 schools visited the museum. …

“ ‘I want the children to go back to their communities and rave about their time at the museum,’ says the institution’s director, Anjani Kumar Singh. ‘Through word of mouth, I think we can transform not just this generation into museum-goers, but the whole state, too.’ …

“ ‘Many of these children live in rural areas with parents who can’t read or write [Bihar’s literacy rate is one of the lowest in India] and the concept of museums and art are totally alien,’ Singh says. ‘But despite Bihar being one of the country’s poorest states, I am proud that we have pioneered a scheme that is totally unprecedented in terms of scale in India — no other museum comes close to this level of youth engagement.’ …

“Singh says his next plan is to fill a vehicle with photographs, films and replicas from the collection to create a traveling museum to tour the state.”

More at the Art Newspaper, here.

I went to Wikipedia to learn more. Of the Children’s Gallery, it says, “Its collection of artifacts and exhibit items is divided into six domains: the Orientation Room, the Wildlife Sanctuary, the history sections on Chandragupta Maurya and Sher Shah Suri, the Arts and Culture section and the Discovery Room. Among the exhibits are a simulated the Asian paradise flycatcher, the Indian giant flying squirrel, animals, birds, trees and plants native to the state of Bihar. The gallery’s focus is family learning; most exhibits are designed to be interactive, allowing children and families to actively participate.’

A history gallery boasts “artifacts from the Harappan Civilization, also known as Indus Valley Civilization, the second urbanization and Haryanka. The whole collection of this gallery represents the advanced technology and sophisticated lifestyle of the Harappan people. The gallery has objects from the fourth century BCE to the first century BCE. It has objects spanning three major dynasties of India: the Mauryas, the Nandas and the Shishunagas. The gallery also houses fragments of railings from various ancient Stupas that are carved on with episodes from Buddha‘s and Mahavira’s life.”

And I’ll just add a bit about the Diaspora Gallery, which “provides the historic context of how Biharis were relocated to countries like Mauritius, Bangladesh and beyond. Some were recruited as laborers in the early days of the East India Company, and others explored foreign lands on their own initiative. Activate an interactive map to learn about the origins of Bihari culture, trade routes and how the population has relocated in foreign lands. Aside of the past movements, also discover recent stories of the people of Bihar, their accomplishments and their involvements, to understand the influence Bihar has had around the world.”

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Art: Jacobo Bassano.
Museum security officer Joan Smith chose a painting called “The Animals Entering Noah’s Ark” for a special staff-curated exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Last fall, my husband and I took Minnesota visitors to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The museum’s amazing landscaping and art were not the only treats. One gallery’s security guard was deeply enthusiastic about the art, especially the pieces in his room that had been stolen, and the background he provided really enriched our experience.

That’s why today’s post about giving museum security guards a chance to curate an exhibit makes so much sense to me.

Cathy Free writes at the Washington Post, “Security officer Ricardo Castro spends most days on his feet at the Baltimore Museum of Art, where he answers a lot of questions. …

“ ‘If you’re a guard, you hear it all,’ said Castro, who has worked for the museum’s security team for three years. ‘I enjoy the interaction — especially when you can tell that people are really moved by something hanging on the wall,’ he said.

“Now Castro is prepared for questions of a different kind when an exhibit he curated with 16 other guards opens at the museum March 27. … Castro’s selections, three objects by unidentified artists from Indigenous cultures, reflect his desire to see more works in the museum that spotlight early cultures, including his own Puerto Rican ancestry, he said. …

“The idea to have security guards take a turn at selecting pieces for an exhibition came about in February 2020 when Baltimore Museum of Art trustee Amy Elias went to dinner with the museum’s chief curator, Asma Naeem.

“ ‘We were talking about ways to engage with the security guards, who spend more time with the art than anyone. … ‘I thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear from the guards about which pieces of art were the most meaningful to them?” ‘ [Elias] said. …

“She and Naeem said they thought about the possibilities for a while, then put out a memo last year to the museum’s 45 security guards: Would any of them be interested in developing an exhibition based on their personal selections from the museum’s vast collection? They would be paid for their time as guest curators in addition to their regular hourly wage.

“ ‘For the past few years, the Baltimore Museum of Art has tried to bring in new voices that haven’t been heard before,’ Naeem said.

“ ‘Our guards are always looking at the art and listening to people as they talk about the art,’ she said. ‘People enjoy talking to them, and their education is really a “hands on” gallery experience. We wanted to see things from their perspective.’ …

“The 17 guards who signed up attended Zoom meetings for a year to learn how to put on an exhibition, from framing artworks and writing description labels for the public to making sure that each piece has correct lighting, Naaem said.

“ ‘We asked them each to select up to three objects, and they then did a deep dive with our librarian to research each one,’ she said. …

“Several guards chose social justice and change as a theme for their selections, she added, while others chose pieces to match their experiences of rotating each day between the museum’s galleries.

“Alex Lei chose Winslow Homer’s ‘Waiting for an Answer'(1872), because ‘it’s strangely reflective of the experience of being a guard — a job mostly made up of waiting,’ he said.

“Ben Bjork said he selected Jeremy Alden’s ’50 Dozen’ (2005/2008) — a chair made entirely of pencils — because he sometimes fantasizes about sitting down when he is tired.

“Sara Ruark chose two works, including Karel Appel’s ‘A World in Darkness'(1962), because she wanted to convey the current uncertainty in the world, she said. …

“’These are disconcerting times’ … she added. ‘There are people pushing for positive change, but somehow we just keep winding back in time.’

“Alex Dicken, a security guard for two years who recently moved to the museum’s visitor services team, said he chose Max Ernst’s ‘Earthquake, Late Afternoon'(1948), because he was struck by how the painting appears serene and detached from the crisis it depicts. …

” ‘Working as a security officer involves so much more than just standing in a gallery,’ said Dicken, 24. “When you have repeated exposure to the artwork, you learn a lot about it. I hope I was able to pass that along to the people who visit.’

“Ricardo Castro said he feels the same way. ‘When I first came here as a guard, I thought it would just be something to do to pay my bills,’ he said. ‘But I really came to love it, especially when I’d see how joyful people were when they looked at the art.’ “

Don’t you wonder how the surprise opportunity to act as a curator will affect these people’s lives going forward? You have until July 10 to see the show.

More at the Post, here. The Denver Channel version of the story has no firewall.

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Photo: American Alliance of Museums.
A young visitor is captivated by Dakota, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s full-suit Triceratops puppet.

When Suzanne was a few months old, John was learning about dinosaurs, and we got into a kind of chanting routine reeling off all the fancy names we knew. Baby Suzanne seemed to think they were hilarious. If she was fussy, dinosaur names would distract her and make her laugh.

Dinosaurs and their names have always enchanted small children. To up the enchantment, a museum in Los Angeles has begun experimenting with bringing dinosaurs to life. Sort of.

Ilana Gustafson writes at the American Alliance of Museums blog, “The anticipation of an imminent transformative journey is palpable in the diorama hall at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC), where a Dinosaur Encounter is about to begin.

“During the show, the audience cheers as a young guest, decked out in a bedazzled dinosaur shirt, is called onstage to feed the juvenile Triceratops known as Dakota. … The audience falls into a quiet anticipation as Dakota’s feet shuffle impatiently, her beak opening and closing, indicating that she’s hungry. The child onstage gets closer to the dinosaur, leaf in hand, and reaches their arm out nervously toward her beak. Slowly Dakota approaches. …

“Dakota opens her mouth and suddenly clamps it closed with the leaf in its clutches and excitedly wiggles her tail. The audience cheers as the child onstage, grinning from ear to ear, watches a dinosaur playfully eat a leaf right at their feet. The host of the show thanks the young visitor. …

“The full-suit Triceratops puppet, created by the fabulous puppeteers at Erth, is made of aluminum and plastic boning, foam, and lycra painted with acrylic, and contains an internal speaker and other mechanisms. Inside is a puppeteer … holding the sixty-five pounds of the weight of the puppet on their back, using largely their shoulders and core strength to maneuver it. Many technical elements need to come together to bring the dinosaur to life, but when they all unify in a performance, the audience forgets to focus on the mechanisms at work. …

“This act of relating to the characters on stage is another thing that make theater so powerful. In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers discovered that watching theater can lead to increased empathy, the ability to understand the feelings of others. … I would make the argument that this empathy toward the dinosaur increases intellectual curiosity about these creatures, paleontology, and other related studies. …

“The father of a dedicated fan shared with us in an email the love his son had developed for our puppet, and in turn for the Natural History Museum.

‘Lev didn’t just watch T-Rex and Triceratops. Lev became T-Rex and Triceratops. After each show, Lev would show us his improvisational reproduction of the show we had just watched. He insisted upon silence while he delivered his performance, mirroring and perfectly mimicking the T-Rex right down to lifting his legs, bending over with retracted arms, and delivering his ferocious ‘roar’ while bobbing his head back and forth seeking his prey.’ …

“The designs of the full-suit Triceratops and T. rex puppets were informed by the museum’s paleontologists, including Dr. Luis Chiappe, Senior VP of Research and Collections, who advised the fabricators on how best to merge entertainment with science. The physical characteristics of our juvenile Triceratops and T. rex puppets were based on our paleontological collections and research. The museum’s scientists were keen to have some of the current research on dinosaurs reflected in these creatures. After a performance with our T. rex puppet, known as Hunter, we often get the question from a visitor (young and adult alike), ‘What’s that fluffy stuff all over his body?’ This opens up a conversation about proto-feathers, and how scientists have been able to make the connection between theropod dinosaurs and modern-day birds. …

“The experts at NHMLAC see the value these puppets have in garnering interest and support for their research. Dr. Nathan Smith, Curator at NHMLAC’s Dinosaur Institute, says … ‘The puppets are a truly unique way where we can envision these species as living animals, but also allow visitors to interact with them.’ “

More at the American Alliance of Museums blog, here. If you missed the giant puppet at the San Diego Zoo, you can read about it here. And here‘s a post from last fall on the one that strode across Europe.

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Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Boston Globe.
George, a chicken, and a sign to turn out the lights at the entrance to the Museum of Everyday Life in Glover, Vt.

I knew this Boston Globe article was for me as soon as I saw it was about celebrating the everyday. Most people have bucket lists of adventures they expect will be highlights of their lives. But after we check an item off our list, how do we feel when we get back home?

Maybe we should be enjoying what we do every day. A “museum” founder in Vermont thinks so.

Dana Gerber writes at the Boston Globe, ” ‘What would a museum look like if it was dedicated to ordinary objects of no monetary value, but immense everyday life consequences?’

“That’s the question Clare Dolan seeks to answer at the Museum of Everyday Life in Glover, Vt. Dolan, who founded the museum in 2011, has no interest in celebrating the precious, the rare, the famous. She’d rather honor the stuff of junk drawers — toothpaste tubes, safety pins, old to-do lists — and present them with reverence.

“So, she set out to create a museum that would redefine what is valuable, and whose lives are worth putting on display.

‘We need a museum that’s about us, too — the ordinary people,’ said Dolan, 54, who has dubbed herself the Chief Operating Philosopher of the museum. ‘We’re here, and there’s something lovely about our lives.’

“In a remote corner of the bucolic Northeast Kingdom, the Museum of Everyday Life beckons from the side of the road. There is no admission fee or lock on the door; patrons let themselves in and turn the lights off when they’re done. Dolan, who lives in a house next door, works as an ICU nurse at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in nearby St. Johnsbury, so she’s often not home to greet visitors. The only security is a feisty chicken named George.

“The museum grew out of her childhood love of the material world. ‘I was the kind of kid that would talk to chairs,’ said Dolan, who’s originally from the Chicago area. After she bought her Vermont home in 2004, ‘I found the means to start making the thing that I wish I could come across.’

“The museum, now in its 10th year, champions the small to illuminate the universal. The front of the museum boasts the ‘greatest hits’ of exhibits past, like a trove of tone balls — dust that accumulates inside of instruments — and a violin made of matchsticks. Matchboxes from around the world rest on a wooden table, some from Dolan’s travels, others from outside contributions.

“Each of the exhibits, which run from one summer to the next, are communally curated. Dolan puts out a call for submissions in February when she announces that year’s object of focus. Throughout the 1990s, she worked as a puppeteer at the nearby Bread and Puppet Theater, a political troupe that has tackled a litany of social justice issues throughout its decades-long history — but she also enlists her ‘philosophers at large,’ or board of advisers, to assist her in creating each exhibit.

“This year’s exhibit highlighting notes and lists received the most submissions of any in the museum’s history, Dolan said. The selection is organized by category: love notes, bucket lists, and unfinished lists, like one that reads, ‘Things that have never happened: 1. I’ve never been asked to dance.’ There is a number two, but it is left blank.

“ ‘My heart just broke for that person,’ said Corina Orias, a California elementary school teacher visiting the museum with a local friend on a recent rainy Sunday. ‘I just hope that she did get asked to dance, sometime, someplace.’

“Why lists and notes? Dolan loves their inherent intimacy: the content, but also the way they bear the signs of human use; a pencil smudge here, a crinkle in the paper there. ‘They’re so connected to a person and a person’s story,’ she said. ‘They’re snapshots into how we make our way through the world.’ …

“ ‘It’s a lot of work, and it’s sort of thankless work in a way,’ Dolan said, ‘but it brings a lot of joy to me.’ ”

She brings joy to herself every day. Good idea. Could be at least as satisfying as checking off a bucket list. More at the Boston Globe, here.

Do you know other cool museum concepts? I’m remembering, for example, one man’s Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in Minneapolis and the Museum of Bad Art in Dedham, Mass. The blog has also covered the Mermaid Museums, the Museum of Aromas, the Covid Art Museum, a Museum for Gerbils, and more. Search on the word “museum” at the blog when you have time for joy.

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Photo: International Mermaid Museum.
This mermaid museum is in Washington State. It opened about the same time as one in Maryland.

I have a granddaughter who is into mermaids big time. And my friend Asakiyume has done considerable research on people who give expression to their inner mermaid on a regular basis. (See Asakiyume’s interview with a “mer-tail maker,” here.)

So I’m not as surprised as some folks might be that the interest in mermaids is enough to support two museums in the US, at least for now.

Hakim Bishara reports at Hyperallergic, “A curious, almost mystical coincidence occurred earlier this year when two separate mermaid-themed museums debuted almost simultaneously on opposite ends of the United States. First, it was the Mermaid Museum in the town of Berlin, Maryland, which opened its doors on March 27. Days later, on March 29, the International Mermaid Museum started welcoming visitors outside the coastal town of Aberdeen in Washington state.

“So, how can we explain this coast-to-coast siren call in the span of one week last spring? According to the respective founders of the two museums, Alyssa Maloof and Kim Roberts, they were just as surprised as anyone at the concomitance of their mermaid-centric projects. …

“Variations of the myth of fish-tailed people, first appearing in Mesopotamian art from the Old Babylonian Period, exist in nearly every oceanic culture, from Europe and the Americas to the Near East and Asia. Their magic endures, as evidenced by the stories behind these two new American mermaid museums.

“Both museums are self-funded, women-led projects that hold personal importance to their founders. And both happen to be located about nine miles from the ocean.

“Maloof, a visual artist and photographer, lived between Philadelphia and Berlin, Maryland, since 2018, until she eventually permanently settled in the small seaside town with her 7-year-old. She rented a studio space and prepared for a new chapter of her life and career, but then COVID-19 happened, forcing her to conjure up a new plan.

“It’s around then that the second floor of a 1906 building — built by the secret society of the International Order of Odd Fellows, as a wall insignia testifies — became available. Maloof used her savings to purchase the 2,200-square-foot space and started conducting research and collecting items for the museum.

“ ‘I thought of it as re-feminizing the space,’ she told Hyperallergic in a phone conversation, explaining that the project was a long-held dream driven by her ‘love of the feminine and the water.’

“Accrued from thrift shops and internet sites like eBay, the museum’s collection spans dozens of mermaid-related artifacts, most prominently a Fiji Mermaid, a mythical half monkey-half fish said to have been caught off the coast of Fiji. …

“The museum also features a timeline of mermaid sightings by sailors and pirates from the first century CE to as recently as 2017. It also offers activities for children, including a scavenger hunt and an opportunity to dress up like a mermaid. The Mermaid Museum’s gift shop sells aquatic paraphernalia crafted by local artists. …

“Thousands of miles away, on the other side of the country, the International Mermaid Museum is a nonprofit created with an educational mission to teach ocean ecology ‘from seashore to seafloor’ through mermaid mythology. According to Roberts, the museum is currently developing a curriculum for school children and will soon launch a scholarship program for individuals who wish to work in the marine industry. The museum’s board of directors is comprised entirely of local women leaders with an interest in ocean preservation.

“Roberts is an architect, author, and local entrepreneur who runs several businesses in Aberdeen with her husband Blain, an underwater photographer. … Roberts, a pioneering boat captain, has also authored three mystery novels set on Maui, where she and her husband formerly owned the island’s largest scuba charter.

“Roberts is also a venerated member of the West Coast mermaid community. In July, she received the 2021 Mermazing Citizen Award from the Portlandia Mermaid Parade and Festival. …

“Portland, Oregon, is home to one of the biggest modern-day mermaid societies in the country. Other groups are active in Seattle, California, Florida, and New York. They are part of a global community of merpeople (or ‘mers’) of all genders, who commune to swim together in mermaid costumes and tails. … They have a vibrant online community and local pods and meetup groups that organize conventions, festivals, and competitions. …

“The idea of creating a mermaid museum occurred to Roberts when a friend sent her a shipment of special seashells, among them a single ‘mermaid comb,’ also known as the Venus Comb murex. ‘That’s when it’s all clicked,’ she said. The museum was set to open in March of 2020, but because of the COVID-19 lockdown, the official opening was postponed to March 29 this year, which marks the annual International Mermaid Day.”

More at Hyperallergic, here. And if you have a middle grade reader who likes mer people, there are a few in Eva Ibbotson’s wonderful children’s fantasy Island of the Aunts, which has a not exactly hidden theme about protecting the sea.

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Photo: Max Kleinen/Unsplash.
From snail jokes to antique presses, TikTok showcases museum nerds.

Either the anxiety over TikTok is overblown or I’m extremely gullible. Probably both. But so far, the only videos I’ve seen at TikTok are fun.

Suzanne is into the platform, too. At Easter she made a goofy video with the kids’ hands jiggling a rabbit charm from her company, Luna & Stella. For music, she used a strange version of “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” that TikTok had on offer. Even though the video wasn’t meant to be serious, she did get one query about price.

Today’s article by Kelsey Ables at the Washington Post is about how some museum employees are starting to have fun on TikTok.

“Not much has changed since Howard Hatch started working in the creaky, old printing shop at the Sacramento History Museum 22 years ago, writes Ables.

“He always arrives early in the morning so he can focus. In those quiet hours, … the only chatter comes from the machines: the gentle clinks and clatters of a 102-year-old jobbing press, his ‘one-legged StairMaster’ whirring to the beat of his pumping foot. To the tune of rattling ink rollers and clicking gears, he prints museum bags, holiday cards, and facsimile wanted signs and newspapers for visitors.

“Another press, the Washington hand press, works just as well as it did the day it was manufactured in 1852, Hatch says — with such certainty you’d think he used it back then. … Not much has changed these days, except that Hatch has an audience around the world watching.

“On TikTok, a popular app for sharing short videos, Hatch has gone from beloved local museum docent to — in the words of one online commenter — ‘a national treasure.’ Videos of him explaining the printing process or even simply using the equipment, which doubles as an exhibit, have racked up millions of views in a matter of months. With Howard at the helm, the Sacramento History Museum has become the most popular museum TikTok account in the world, boasting twice as many followers as the population of Sacramento.

“Most people associate TikTok with Gen Z, but Hatch is an octogenarian, and the star of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s widely followed account — snail expert Tim Pearce — is a baby boomer. The two men’s charm is not a result of keeping up with the latest memes and trends. Quite the opposite. Neither Hatch nor Pearce, who is known for his ‘Mollusk Monday’ jokes, own a smartphone or send text messages. Pearce calls himself ‘a technological klutz.’ …

“While TikTok has been the site of many online trends related to history — such as medieval TikTok and dark academia — the platform still lacks a significant presence from major U.S. museums. … Pittsburgh’s Carnegie museum paved the way.

“The museum began posting videos in early 2020, and it saw quick success with Pearce, the mollusk curator. …

Being on TikTok has allowed him to get closer to achieving one of his life’s goals: to make mollusks as popular as football. …

“There’s no doubt the success has to do with Pearce’s enthusiasm. Wearing a snail-patterned mask, Pearce begins each video the same way: ‘I’m Tim Pearce from Carnegie Museum of Natural History and I’ve got a snail joke for you!’ The way he emphasizes the word ‘snail’ captures an unbridled eagerness as pure as it must’ve been when he started collecting snails as a toddler. …

” ‘Natural history museums can become didactic really quickly,’ says Sloan MacRae, director of marketing at the Carnegie museum. TikTok, he says, allows them to show that scientists are approachable — even silly — and that natural history isn’t all dead animals and dioramas. …

“Still, when Jared Jones, a 28-year-old guest-services associate at the Sacramento History Museum, proposed starting a TikTok account, it didn’t go over well. … But the museum was desperate to stay relevant during the pandemic-induced closure, so the staff eventually gave in and opened an account. And Hatch hit his stride on the app not by dancing but by deadpanning.

“In one early video, Hatch is printing wanted posters on the hand press. ‘Can you explain a little bit more about it?’ Jones asks. ‘I would, but I’m really pressed for time,’ Hatch replies so matter-of-factly that the pun almost seems unintentional. …

“ ‘Some of [the Carnegie museum’s] popular personalities are gray-haired, very wholesome, grandparent-like personas,’ MacRae says, referring to Pearce and Bonnie Isaac, the botany collection manager. He has spotted online comments along the lines of ‘Adopt me, Bonnie!’ and ‘Tim, will you marry my mom?’ …

“Similarly, on the Sacramento videos’ pages, viewers liken Hatch to their grandparents. ‘Protect Howard at all costs’ has become a refrain among commenters, alluding to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Whenever the museum reaches a new milestone in followers, Hatch prints a newspaper announcement. As he moves around the print shop on those squeaky floorboards, he shakes his head and says, ‘I just don’t get it,’ which has become a catchphrase. And it’s true — Hatch isn’t keeping track of likes or followers. He’s just working in the print shop, as he has for decades — doing his thing in true 19th-century style and succeeding in the most 21st-century way.”

Great photos and video here.

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Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP.
National Museum of African American Music, Nashville, Tennessee.

I haven’t headed back to museums yet, but I’m pretty sure I will be allowing myself to go this year. I’ve been interested to read that many museums plan to keep some presentation techniques they’ve used during the pandemic. Meanwhile, other museums are actually just launching.

Kristin M. Hall reports at the Associated Press (AP), “A new museum two decades in the making is telling the interconnected story of Black musical genres through the lens of American history.

“The National Museum of African American Music, which opened with a virtual ribbon-cutting on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is seated in the heart of Nashville’s musical tourism district. …

“Even as Nashville has long celebrated its role in the history of music, the new museum fills a gap by telling an important and often overlooked story about the roots of American popular music, including gospel, blues, jazz, R&B and hip-hop.

” ‘When we think of the history of African American music and the important part it has played in our country, it was long overdue to honor it in this type of way,’ said gospel great CeCe Winans, who serves as a national chair for the museum.

“The idea for the museum came from two Nashville business and civic leaders, Francis Guess and T.B. Boyd, back in 1998, who wanted a museum dedicated to Black arts and culture. And while there are museums around the country that focus on certain aspects of Black music, this museum bills itself as the first of its kind to be all encompassing. …

“Said H. Beecher Hicks III, the museum’s president and CEO, ‘[It’s]it’s one thing to say that I’m a hip hop fan or I’m a blues fan, but why? What was going on in our country and our lived experience and our political environment that made that music so moving, so inspirational, such the soundtrack for that part of our lives?’

The museum tells a chronological story of Black music starting in the 1600s through present day and framed around major cultural movements including the music and instruments brought by African slaves, the emergence of blues through the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights movement.

“When Winans recently took a tour of the museum, she saw her own family of gospel singers, the Winans, represented in the museum’s exhibit on spiritual music alongside the artists that influenced her own musical career.

” ‘You never start out doing what you’re doing to be a part of history or even be a part of a museum,’ said the 12-time Grammy-winning singer. She noted that the museum put gospel music in context with how it inspired social change, especially during the civil rights era. …

“The museum has 1,600 artifacts in their collection, including clothes and a Grammy Award belonging to Ella Fitzgerald, a guitar owned by B.B. King and a trumpet played by Louis Armstrong. To make the best use out of the space, the exhibits are layered with interactive features, including 25 stations that allow visitors to virtually explore the music.

“Visitors can learn choreographed dance moves with a virtual instructor, sing ‘Oh Happy Day’ with a choir led by gospel legend Bobby Jones and make their own hip-hop beats. Visitors can take home their recordings to share via a personal RFID wristband.

“There will be a changing exhibit gallery, with the first topic to be the Fisk Jubilee Singers, an a cappella group originally formed in 1871 to raise money for Fisk University. The group sang slave spirituals at their concerts. The tradition continues today.

“After a year of racial reckoning through the movement of Black Lives Matter, Hicks said the timing couldn’t be more perfect to highlight the contributions of Black music to our shared American experience.

“ ‘[It] is not an accident that we are able to finish and get the museum open in this moment, in this moment where we need to be reminded, perhaps more than others or more than in the recent past that we are brothers and we share more together than we do our differences.’ “

More at AP, here

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Museum of Aromas

Photo: Matija Strlic
Professor Matija Strlic smells a historical book in the National Archives of the Netherlands as part of a quest to archive the scents of Old Europe. Ours not to reason why.

Don’t you love how many vocations and avocations there are in the world? Endless. People seem to keep thinking up new ones. They get interested in some obscure subject, and before you know it, they’re off to the races!

For example, as Nicola Davis writes at the Guardian, there are scientists trying to recreate the scents of Old Europe, from plague repellents to early tobacco.

“Smells can transport us to days gone by,” she notes. “Now researchers are hoping to harness the [smells] of the past to do just that.

“Scientists, historians and experts in artificial intelligence across the UK and Europe have announced they are teaming up for a €2.8m project labelled ‘Odeuropa’ to identify and even recreate the aromas that would have assailed noses between the 16th and early 20th centuries.

“ ‘Once you start looking at printed texts published in Europe since 1500 you will find loads of references to smell, from religious scents – like the smell of incense – through to things like tobacco,’ said Dr William Tullett of Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, a member of the Odeuropa team and the author of Smell in Eighteenth-Century England.

“The first step in the three-year project, which is due to begin in January, will be to develop artificial intelligence to screen historical texts in seven languages for descriptions of odours – and their context – as well as to spot aromatic items within images, such as paintings.

“That information will be used to develop an online encyclopaedia of European smells, including potted biographies of particular odours, together with insights into the emotions and places associated with certain scents.

“ ‘It will [also] include discussions of particular types of noses from the past – the kinds of people for whom smell was significant and what smell meant to them,’ said Tullett, adding that one example would be physicians.

“ ‘That could take us into all kinds of different scents, whether that is the use of herbs like rosemary to protect against plague, [or] the use of smelling salts in the 18th and 19th centuries as an antidote to fits and fainting,’ he said.

“Tullett added that a key part of the project is to highlight how the meanings and uses of different smells have changed over time, something that shows in the history of tobacco. …

“The team say they plan to use their findings to work with chemists and perfumers to recreate the smells of the past, and explore how the odours can be delivered – alongside insights into their significance – to enhance the experience of visitors to museums and other heritage sites.

“The team is not the first to engage the nostrils in the name of heritage – the Jorvik Viking Centre in York is famous for recreating the stench of the 10th century, a feature some have suggested makes a visit particularly memorable.

“ ‘One of the things that the Jorvik Viking Centre demonstrates is that smell can have a real impact on the way people engage with museums,’ said Tullett. But, he said, such engagement does not have to rely on unpleasant pongs.

“ ‘Where smell does get mentioned in museums, it is often the smells of toilets or wood burning,’ said Tullett. ‘We are trying to encourage people to consider both the foul and the fragrant elements of Europe’s olfactory past.’ ” More at the Guardian, here.

I guess there’ll always be an England.

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Photo: Cité Internationale des Arts
Emmanuel Sogbadji is one of the African artists whose work is shown at the new Togo museum, Palais de Lomé.        

Sometimes when I’ve been volunteering in ESL classes, I’ve caught the echo of African colonialism from languages that students try out on me because I don’t understand their native tongue. Somali and Eritrean students may know a little Italian, countries like Uganda and Zimbabwe speak English, people from such countries as Mali, Togo, and Congo know French.

Although multilingualism can be helpful in refugee language classes, I can’t help thinking the students wouldn’t have had to be refugees in the first place if the colonial powers hadn’t plundered Africa. I suppose that down the road, when the US starts welcoming refugees again, we’ll be getting people from Burkina Faso who know a little Chinese.

Anyway, because I had an English student from Togo who spoke French, I was not surprised to learn from today’s feature that Togo’s new national museum has French connections and a French name, Palais de Lomé.

Rebecca Anne Proctor writes at Frieze, “Festive scenes unfolded in Lomé’s botanical park in late November [2019], as drummers and colourfully clad moko jumbies, or stilt walkers, entertained guests – including President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé and artist Kehinde Wiley – at the inauguration of the Palais de Lomé, Togo’s first major contemporary art museum and the only entirely state-funded arts institution in Africa.

“This is a remarkable achievement for one of the world’s poorest countries, where almost 70 percent of the rural population lives below the global poverty line, according to a 2015 World Bank report. The new museum is also an unexpected signal of cultural openness by the historically repressive Togolese government. …

“The museum is housed in the colonial Governor’s Palace, constructed in 1905, which served as a base for the Togolese state after the country gained its independence from France in 1960. For the past 20 years, however, it sat empty, until an extensive restoration project – costing [$3.6 million] – was completed in November 2019.

“Occupying the palace’s stately banquet halls and residential quarters, the new institution is large enough to accommodate five simultaneous exhibitions and abuts an 11-hectare garden, displaying works by Togolese sculptors such as Amouzou Amouzou-Glikpa and Sadikou Oukpedjo – another first in West Africa.

” ‘Three Borders’, the most contemporary of these shows, delves openly into the turbulent history of the region. In Togolese artist Emmanuel Sogbadji’s painting ‘The Intercessor’ (2006), a tall, semi-abstract figure holds a long knife. Flanked by two men, he appears defiant in the face of an interrogation. …

“As Claude Grunitzky, a New York-based Togolese editor, told me: ‘Many creatives and artists have begun to return to Togo as “repats”, […] leading interesting projects and ventures in the creative industries.’

” ‘The Palais de Lomé is a newborn child, one we have been awaiting in Togo for so long,’ added Clay Apenouvon, one of the country’s most prominent artists, who protested against the junta in his youth before relocating to Paris in 1992. Apenouvon is setting up a second studio in Lomé, where he now spends several months of the year. Not all are so optimistic, however: a Togolese artist, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear for his safety, told me that the Palais ‘will just be for the state. It won’t help the people.’ …

“The museum’s current comprehensive public funding model distinguishes it from comparable institutions on the continent. … Half of the Palais de Lomé’s government funding is set to expire at the end of its first year, however, so [Sonia Lawson, the Palais de Lomé’s inaugural director, a former luxury goods executive for L’Oréal and LVMH,] intends to form a board of donors of African descent, who she hopes will acquire new works from the continent and its diaspora for the museum’s collection.

“As a state-backed initiative, the Palais de Lomé resembles public arts institutions in the Gulf region – such as the National Museum of Qatar, opened in 2019, and the soon-to-be-completed Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi – which aim to boost cultural capital and foster local arts communities while improving the public image of governments viewed as repressive.

“It remains to be seen whether Lomé’s newest museum will spur substantive change or merely serve a propagandistic function, but the signs thus far seem promising. With ‘Three Borders’, Togo is not only looking outwards – to its neighbours and the international art world – but reflecting inwards on its own difficult history. ”

More here.

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Photo: Nelson Atkins Museum of Art
Staff wondered what kinds of art these Humboldt penguins from the Kansas City Zoo would gravitate toward when given leave to wander in a museum.  

You’ve probably seen as many invitations as I have to tour closed art museums online, and maybe you’ve already accepted an offer. I myself needed the extra nudge of touring a museum in the company of penguins.

Sarah Rose Sharp writes at Hyperallergic, “As reported by Time, three art-savvy Humboldt penguins from the Kansas City Zoo were given leave to wander a couple of the galleries at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art earlier in May.

“A video produced by the museum shows the little fellas wandering the marble floors and pausing to look at Impressionist and Baroque master paintings in galleries that were carefully checked to ensure the safety of both the works of art and their avian visitors.

“ ‘We’re so happy to welcome our colleagues from the zoo,’ said Nelson Atkins Executive Director Julián Zugazagoitia, in the video, ‘and they’ve brought special friends, and actually, we’re seeing how they’re reacting to art.’ ” More.

Back at Time, Tara Law wrote that Zugazagoitia thought the penguins “would be most interested in the works by Claude Monet, because they are ‘soothing’ and resemble water. However, the waddling visitors seemed to be most engaged with the Baroque works, including those by Caravaggio. …

“ ‘They stop, and look and wonder. … It really brought us joy, and I think it brings the community together when the love of animals and the empathy we feel for them is also reinforced by the love that we feel for art.’ …

“Although the museum has not yet announced a reopening date, Zugazagoitia says it has been working to keep its community engaged, including by migrating its festival celebrations online.” More at Time.

I sure do like people who have ideas. Although the Duchess in Alice in Wonderland insisted, “‘Tis love, ’tis love that makes the world go ’round,” I can’t help thinking that inventiveness, playful and otherwise, is pretty important, too.

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Photo: Filippo and Marianna
Nine-month old gerbils Pandoro and Tiramisù survey London’s newest art institution, the Gerbil Museum.

This cute story from London about two imaginative shut-ins and their pets makes me think of Beatrix Potter books. But which one in particular? Maybe The Tale of Two Bad Mice? What do you think?

Hrag Vartanian reports for Hyperallergic, “Pandoro and Tiramisù are not your ordinary gerbils. The London-based pair got a special surprise when their owners, Filippo and Marianna, created a miniature museum  just for them during the current COVID-19 quarantine. …

“Both Filippo and Marianna are art lovers, with one working in a local museum and the other as an artist and writer. The gerbils declined to comment.

“Hyperallergic: Tell us about your gerbils!

“Filippo and Marianna: They are 9-month-old brothers and their names are Pandoro and Tiramisù. Pandoro is tawny while Tiramisù is the taupe one.

“H: Have they demonstrated a love of art before?

“F&M: Not really, this was their first time in a museum. They much enjoyed the display and paid close attention to the quality of the gallery’s props. They can’t read, so the sign to advise the visitors to not chew [on the furniture] went completely unnoticed. Overall, it seemed to be a satisfying and engaging experience.

“H: How did you choose the paintings?

“F: Initially we wanted to select less famous paintings but in the end we thought it would have been funnier and more engaging to choose some of the best known works in art history. … Marianna is very good at painting and I couldn’t help but wonder how ‘The Kiss’ and “’Girl with a Pearl Earring’ could have looked with a gerbil twist. …

“H:  Did Pandoro and Tiramisù enjoy the opening of their private museum?

“F&M: Initially they explored the gallery space looking for clues about the rather eclectic selection of artworks. After a while, boredom and a certain love for disruptive gestures grew to a point they managed to start a performance by chewing the empty gallery assistant’s stool — an act that we were lucky enough to film. …

“H: Is this a complicated ploy to write off your gerbils on your taxes?

“F&M: Maybe yes, although they are not very expensive. As long as we have seeds and mini gallery assistants’ stools we are good.”

The blogger Bereaved Single Dad, also in England, frequently mentions gerbils. This is from 2019: “A couple of days back we set off for the pet shop to get a gerbil. A couple of hours later we had fallen for the story of the three inseparable brothers who they didn’t want to split up. … Happy Son. Confused Dad.

“Meet our three new faces. Cupid, Jeff and Hendrix. Unbelievably the house is already covered in wood chippings. Suspect I will need a bigger Hoover.”

The video of the museum-going gerbils is at Hyperallergic, here.

As the New Yorker magazine used to say in a bottom-of-the-column feature: “There’ll always be an England.”

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Photo: MedLinx
Some doctors find that museum visits are good for patients’ health. And now museums have started to add art therapists to their staff.

I can relate to the former colleague who often dashed out of work to look at art when he was stressed. Even if I don’t especially like the art, I always find going to museums and galleries soothing. And in recent years, I’ve started to see an increasing number of articles about the potential of art to improve health and healthcare. Last year, for example, I posted about museum visits being incorporated into medical training. (Click here.)

Now at the Hypoallergic podcast, Hrag Vartanian reports on museums hiring art therapists — and doctors actually prescribing visits.

“In Canada, an incredible new program allows doctors to prescribe museum visits to their patients. Hyperallergic’s Zachary Small visited the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to talk with Stephen Legari, the first full-time art therapist on staff at a North American museum (he sees 1,200 patients a year), about his work in the city’s encyclopedic museum and what role art can plan in healing. …

“Zachary Small: After I saw the [Thierry Mugler] exhibition, I had the chance to meet with the museum’s art therapist on staff, Stephen Legari. … Canada is spearheading this movement. They are setting up systems where you can have a doctor prescribe you to the museum. …

“Hrag Vartanian: Weren’t they also doing that in the United Kingdom?

“ZS: Exactly. The UK actually started this movement and really innovated art as a therapy tool. That started in the mid-1990s with psychologists who found that art had some really positive effects on the brain. … A lot of other creative disciplines are doing this. Theater therapy is popular, especially with military veterans. I think the greater question we can ask is: Can art be used as a tool for therapy? When I sat down with Stephen a few weeks ago to discuss his work, I was thinking about that, and how art therapy actually functions in the room. …

Stephen Legari: The museum prescription was inspired by a movement in what’s called social prescribing. This has kind of taken off more in the UK. And in looking at the literature, we see that doctors were prescribing, in addition to things like eat better and get out there and walk more often, they were prescribing social activities within the patient’s community, with the belief that that was going to accelerate their healing and give them opportunity for more agency, that I am a participant in my healing. I’m not just waiting for something to be fixed for me. …

Art therapy is a therapeutic practice where we can explore your feelings, your memories, your desires, your thoughts about yourself and your life through making art — and then also through reflecting on it. In art therapy, we are focused on the process of making art, of being in the art-making and seeing what that feels like, and less on the product as something that we necessarily want to put a magnet on the fridge with, though many people do find that they feel good about the art that they make, and they want to keep it. …

“ZS: I’ve seen art therapy described as curative therapy. What does that mean?

“SL: That’s a charged word. I describe art therapy as a healing journey through the use of art and a therapeutic relationship. That’s maybe the shortest and best definition I’ve ever come up with. Art therapists believe in the containing power of art. So a participant like this can share something really traumatic, and the art helps to contain it. It’s not flowing out into the room and overwhelming everyone. … I don’t present art therapy as a replacement for any other kind of healthcare practice. It’s an ally. …

“HV: In the mid-1990s, Globe and Mail art critic John Bentley Mays wrote a fascinating article about how living with work by Toronto artist David Urban actually helped him with his depression. So I keep thinking about this. It’s unique that art serves all these different purposes in our lives.

“ZS: And it goes beyond illness. Stephen also works with immigrants who have just arrived in Canada, victims of violence — there’s a whole spectrum of people. That’s what makes his job really interesting and challenging; he has to figure out what artworks are going to help patients and edge them toward a deeper understanding of themselves.”

More here.

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