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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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Photos: MOCA Cleveland
This museum is experimenting with new ways to be more inclusive, including free admission.

I’m impressed by the museum in this story because it has free admission every day in order to be more inclusive. Very unusual. The big museum where I live, Boston’s MFA, has one free day. It does have decent student hours, but it’s prohibitively priced for families on most days. Cleveland is going to have to raise a lot of money from grants.

Sarah Douglas writes at ArtNews, “If there is one word that has been on the agendas of almost every American art museum in the past few years, it is inclusion: How do institutions make diverse audiences feel welcome? The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland [has] announced a comprehensive plan to infuse inclusiveness into the museum on a structural and programmatic level.

“The five components of the initiative, which is called ‘Open House,’ are free admission for all, the creation of a diversity-focused curatorial fellowship (the first recipient is LaTanya Autry, who has held curatorial positions at the Yale University Art Gallery and the Mississippi Museum of Art), an engagement-guide apprenticeship program, enhanced onsite programming for families and teens, and the addition of an education specialist. …

“Jill Snyder, who has led the institution as its Kohl Executive Director since 1996, [says,] ‘We are taking what we hope is a noble approach that has a high quotient of humility, which is that we are really listening to what is going on in our community.’ …

“The museum’s lead investment in ‘Open House’ is the result of being the first recipient of a brand new grant from the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation called ‘Bold Initiatives,’ which gives $500,000 over three years to small and mid-sized institutions to enact comprehensive plans that affect outreach, diversity, and inclusion. …

“One of the components of Open House, the engagement-guide apprenticeship program, which the Thoma Foundation grant is supporting, gets to what Snyder refers to as the integration of ‘welcoming, collaborative practices into every aspect of our business.’ The museum is creating a cohort of 10 to 12 part-time positions, with hiring based on the diversity ratio of Cuyahoga County, and will mentor these hires in visitor services, guarding art, and how to talk about art. It will be designed like a fellowship program, and the hires will be given board mentors and guided as to how they can apply their new skills elsewhere. Snyder describes it as workforce training in the cultural sector. …

“ ‘We set about defining initiatives moving toward our 50th anniversary in claiming that this idea of a Kunsthalle in the Midwest had a specific meaning,’ Snyder said. … ‘We saw that with artists, that what they were doing was not mediated through an art-world ecosystem, because we don’t have that here. There is no proliferation of galleries, collectors, and art criticism — those filters. So there is a more direct engagement between artist, museum, and community.’ …

“Open House [is] meant ‘to lower barriers to entry and to work on inclusion and accessibility. Even if we get people in the door, how do we make the encounter with new art rewarding?’ ” asks Snyder. That will be the ongoing challenge, but Cleveland is up for it.

Read more at ArtNews, here. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, museums offer free admission this summer to people on public assistance. And then, there’s this about a gift to the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art that will allow for free admission.

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Photos: Shannon Young/The Republican
A model of the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum, which will have 2,000 precision scale model trains that move throughout the exhibit.

I know a model train aficionado who is going to love the newest Frank Gehry museum — at least as much as my grandchildren will. Imagine having such a high-profile architect for model trains! No more making do with rented mall space for a couple weeks at Christmas.

Shira Schoenberg writes at MassLive (by way of the Republican), “Picture the World Trade Center near the Empire State Building near Fenway Park near London’s Tate Modern. Now picture trains zipping past the architectural icons.

“That is the vision world-famous architect Frank Gehry and museum developer Thomas Krens are trying to bring to North Adams, in the form of the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum. …

“The museum will feature 164 buildings, by 71 international architects, that showcase contemporary architecture. These will include iconic structures like the Seagram Building in Manhattan or the Brooklyn Bridge. These buildings will be surrounded by more than 1,000 commonplace buildings such as houses. They will all be built at a scale of 1:48. The tallest building, One World Trade Center, will be 40 feet tall.

“The buildings will be surrounded by video-projected landscaping, featuring mountains or a city, which can change with the season.

“The buildings also will be surrounded by model trains: 107 operating steam and diesel locomotives, with more than 2,000 passenger and freight cars. There will be 12 rail lines, including two high-speed lines. The trains and buildings will be located in a single 670-foot-long gallery – the size of 2.5 football fields. …

“The for-profit museum is expected to cost around $65 million and open by 2021.”

More here.

The ambitious museum is part of an ongoing effort to make North Adams a tourist destination after its loss of manufacturing. That effort got its first big boost in 1999 when the modern art museum MassMoCA opened in an old factory. My husband and I spent a Thanksgiving holiday in the town with Suzanne and Erik some years ago — before grandchildren. Might be time to go back soon.

Below, a handsome model train sits on a map in the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture developers’ office.

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Photo: Richard Vogel/AP
A statue of Gene Autry and Champion at the entrance to the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles. The museum opened in 1988
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My family had one of the early televisions because my father was writing a story about Dumont for Fortune. It was a clunky little thing, showing black and white only, of course, but we loved it, and all the kids in the neighborhood came to watch.

My hero was Gene Autry, the singing cowboy. (Want me to sing the opening number for you, the one Autry sang when he rode Champion up close to the camera and reined him in with a little bounce?)

Recently I learned that in 1988, Autry founded a museum in Los Angeles about the American West. Here’s an Associated Press report by John Rogers at US News on the museum’s 2016 expansion.

“The Autry Museum of the American West [is expanding] to include a garden of native Western flora, as well as new galleries showcasing hundreds of Native American works, some from present day, others centuries old, many never seen publicly.

“The expansion, named California Continued, adds 20,000 square feet of gallery and garden space to the museum that, with its red-tiled courtyard and distinctive beige bell tower, evokes images of an 18th century, Spanish-styled California mission . …

“Museum officials say visitors will now see one of the largest collections of Native American artifacts found anywhere. Also included will be more than 70 plants native to California — many medicinal and some endangered — as well as new displays that include Western mixed-media paintings and interactive works showing such sights as California from the highest point in the continental United States (Mount Whitney in the state’s midsection) to its lowest (Death Valley on the Nevada border).

“Because it’s the Autry Museum, visitors also will still see such venerable Hollywood artifacts as the Singin’ Cowboy’s Martin guitar, TV Lone Ranger Clayton Moore’s mask and a wealth of silent cowboy star Tom Mix memorabilia. …

“[Autry] died at age 91 in 1998, just a few years before … its 2003 merger with Los Angeles’ Southwest Museum of the American Indian. …

” ‘This collection that is now in the Autry Museum is a native collection of the very same rank, and in some quarters even better, than the Smithsonian’s,’ said [the museum’s president, W. Richard West Jr.,] who was founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

“Some of the best of the collection on display is contained in the exhibition ‘The Life and Work of Mabel McKay,’ a Pomo Indian basket weaver, healer, civil rights activist and person believed to be the last speaker of her tribal language when she died in 1993. Her intricately woven, often colorful baskets are accompanied by a recreation of her workroom, narration by her son and other works. …

“The garden contains native plants that caretaker Nicholas Hummingbird hopes will make people realize there is more to Western flora than cactus and sagebrush.”

More at US News, here.

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I went to the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln Friday to see what New England women had been doing with abstract art since 1950.

I was drawn to the painting above, and no wonder. It turned out to be Cynthia Bloom’s way of seeing New Shoreham, Rhode Island, my favorite place in the smallest state. The explanatory text says the artist “incorporated the natural materials and textures she found there into her work, including dried petals and butterfly wings.”

The gigantic heart sculpture looks sweet enough from a safe distance, but when you get close to Jim Dine’s “Two Big Black Hearts” (1985) and see all the broken tools, horseshoes, ladies shoes, etc., smashed roughly into the surface, you may feel a chill.

What’s nice is that on a summer’s day, you can walk in the shady woods on the deCordova grounds and see art along the paths. The serene head is “Humming,” by Jaume Plensa (2011), and the more abstract piece is “Maiden’s Dream,” by Isaac Witkin (1996). That one makes me ask, “Is it a good dream?”

After spending time on the grounds and in the galleries, I took the elevator to the roof deck and photographed the romantic turrets of what was once the home of art collector Julian de Cordova (1851-1945). I don’t think I had ever been on the roof before. The view over Flint’s Pond is amazing.

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Photo: Ruairi Gray/Twitter
Students tricked a museum into exhibiting an ordinary pineapple as a piece of art.

They used to say of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis that the janitorial staff had to be careful not to leave a mop and bucket in a gallery even for a moment or they could come back to find a cluster of museum-goers studying it.

Actually, that can happen.

Recently, Roisin O’Connor wrote at the Independent that students left a pineapple in a gallery of a Scottish museum and someone on the staff thought it was the real thing.

“Students claim they managed to pass off a pineapple they bought for £1 at a supermarket as a work of art, after leaving it in the middle of an exhibition at their university,

“Ruairi Gray, a business information technology student at Robert Gordon University in Scotland, and his friend Lloyd Jack, reportedly left the fruit at the Look Again exhibition at RGU’s Sir Ian Wood building, hoping that it might be mistaken for art.

“When they returned four days later he found that the pineapple had been put inside its own glass display case at the event. …

“Natalie Kerr, a cultural assistant for the festival who organised the display, said she wasn’t the one who included the fruit as an artwork because she is allergic to pineapple.

” ‘We were moving the exhibition, and came back after 10 minutes and it was in this glass case,’ she told the Press & Journal. …

“The incident recalls a similar prank last year when a 17-year-old placed a pair of glasses on the floor at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

“Apparently unimpressed with some of the work on display and wanting to test the theory that people will try to interpret any object provided it is in a gallery setting, TJ Khayatan placed the glasses on the floor and walked away.

“Soon after, visitors to the gallery surrounded them and began taking pictures.”

More at the Independent, here, and at the NY Times, here.

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Hard to believe, I know, but some things have gotten better. Take accessibility. When my father was disabled by a stroke in the 1950s, there were few supports for families. There were no ramps, no specialized bathrooms at highway rest stops, no programs to teach the afflicted new ways to be independent. People with disabilities were mostly on their own.

Today, there are interpreters for the deaf who are as dramatic and interesting as anything being interpreted, there are kneeling buses and building regulations that incorporate universal design precepts (ramps, wide doors for wheelchairs, high toilet seats, grab bars), and more.

The other day when my husband and I watched a Disney film on Netflix, we even discovered that someone with vision impairment could get all the images narrated.

And here’s another new angle: a contemporary museum is using virtual reality to enable folks in wheelchairs to see an otherwise inaccessible exhibit. Steven Overly at the Washington Post has the story.

“The magic of the ‘Infinity Mirrors’ exhibit begins as soon as the door is closed behind you. Surrounded by mirrors on all sides, visitors find themselves at the center of a seemingly endless plain filled with brightly colored lights and geometric sculptures.

“But curators at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, where the exhibit is on display until May 14, faced an early challenge: how to re-create that magic for visitors in wheelchairs. …

“Drew Doucette, who oversees multimedia and technology initiatives at the Hirshhorn, thought immediately of virtual reality. …

“The Renwick Gallery, National Museum of Natural History and other Smithsonian Institution sites have created virtual experiences in the past, often with the goal of extending the exhibit to people or students who may not be able to visit in person. The ‘Infinity Mirrors’ exhibit marks the first time any have used virtual reality to make an exhibit accessible to those with disabilities, [Beth Ziebarth, director of the Smithsonian’s Accessibility Program] said.

“The wildly popular art exhibit is spread across six portable rooms, each filled with objects created by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. …

“But in three of the rooms, visitors must walk through 30-inch doorways and onto platforms less than four feet wide to achieve the full experience. …

“It took roughly four months to plan and design the Infinity Mirrors virtual reality experience on Unity, a program typically used to build video games, Doucette said. …

“ ‘We essentially had to take a step back from trying to recreate the rooms and get into the head of Kusama and say, “What was she trying to do? How did she end up using mirrors?” ‘ Doucette said.” Read more.

Photo: Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post
Volunteer Megan Walline experiences the installation “Infinity Mirrored Room — All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins” at the Hirshhorn in Washington, DC.

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When I was a child, the great blue whale was the attraction I most looked forward to seeing at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Now my grandchildren look forward to it.

But in an article on the website called Seeker about how the whale gets cleaned every year, I learned that the model I saw was not anatomically correct.

“The original model was based on measurements taken by American Museum of Natural History scientists in the 1920s. The measurements were of a dead female blue whale captured by a whaling station in the southern Atlantic, and although the artists who crafted the whale followed the original records, there were anatomical inaccuracies, likely because the whale that the scientists examined was already decaying. …

” ‘It was the wrong color. It had bulging eyes, probably due to decomposition,’ [Melanie Stiassny, curator for the Department of Ichthyology] said. In 2001, artists adjusted the body color and flattened the whale’s eyes, also adding a navel that had originally been omitted.

“Today, the [whale] resembles living blue whales more closely than before. However, while scientists’ knowledge of blue whales has certainly improved, there is still much about these giants that remains elusive.

” ‘We still don’t know how many blue whales are out there,’ Stiassny said. ‘We don’t know exactly where they go to breed. They still remain one of the great mysteries of the ocean.’ ”

More at Seeker.

Art: Richard Ellis

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