An Important Lesson
The October 6, 2000, edition of The Wall Street Journal chronicles how a museum, with all the resources any institution might wish for, has steadily lost its audience. “How the Getty Lost Its Buzz” describes the J. Paul Getty Art Museum as “scholarly and removed” and as “a theme park run by librarians.”
In spite of its massive endowment (ten times that of the Art Institute of Chicago, for instance) and its attempt to overpower art education with its “Discipline-Based Art Education” initiative, the Getty has failed to attract visitors after its initial opening hoopla.
In addition to logistical problems, which included parking fiascoes, battles with neighbors, and lines for the restrooms, the Getty seems to have neglected the dynamic role that education serves. The author of the article, Alexandra Peers, refers to the Getty’s attempts to enfranchise audiences as “accidental education.” Director Deborah Gribbon is quoted as saying that the Getty will attempt to increase its public draw by “acquisitions that will deepen the Getty’s art and its celebrated photography collection, plus much more community outreach.” But, she follows this statement by declaring that she is wary about trying to be all things to all people. “Museums are not for everybody,” she is quoted as saying.
This unfortunate state of affairs seems a rather scathing indictment of an institution that attempted to muscle its way into the museum education field with its money and prestige. Quite obviously, education is more than money and influence; it takes hard work and a real commitment to helping others gain access and develop interest.
Most inner-city kids have seen few vegetable gardens, but not so the third and fourth-graders who tend the Youth Garden at the National Arboretum in Washington, DC. Three decades ago, the arboretum got together with the city’s parks and recreation department to create a special children’s area in a corner of its 447-acre park. These days, a free garden program introduces some 300 youngsters a year to the wonders of growing their own food.
Students cultivate tomatoes and collards, basil and onions, and learn why grasshoppers sing and potatoes have eyes. They spend their mornings laying out and planting small plots, and, come August, they celebrate with costumes, skits, and contests at the annual Harvest Day festival. The vegetables they don’t take home they deliver to a community soup kitchen, where they help prepare them and serve them up.
The Youth Garden is open to the public. To learn more about the Youth Garden at the National Arboretum, call (202) 544-8733.
The Women’s Museum Opens
The Women’s Museum, An Institute for the Future, opened in Dallas, Texas, a few months ago with lots of hoopla. Patti LaBelle sang and Donna Capone played a round of golf with each foursome during a benefit golf tournament. The Dallas State Fair whirled on around the 1910 coliseum that houses the state-of-the-art museum in Fair Park. Now that the glitz is gone, the museum gets down to the serious business of fulfilling its promise to “chronicle the lives of American women in a way never seen before.”
Designed to be interactive, the museum has already become a place where visitors’ call to each other to “come see this” as they discover Jane Addams’ Nobel Peace Prize or one of Edith Head’s Oscars. They sing along, clap their hands, or even dance together in a room where music of performers as varied as Tracy Chapman, Ella Fitzgerald, Selena, and Mahalia Jackson is available at the touch of a finger on a computer screen. Their laughter echoes throughout the building from the “Funny Women” exhibit where Carol Burnett, Totie Fields, and Lucille Ball are among comediennes commenting humorously on “women’s condition.” Youngsters use a “Career Scoreboard” to explore careers where they are invited to add their own “story” or comment in other ways on the museum.
The Ronya Kozmetsky Institute for the Future is the educational center of The Women’s Museum. While the facility is impressive (2,773 square feet with a 30-station computer lab), the program offerings are even more so. The initial program offering, which opened 7 months before the museum did, was Girlstart, a ten-week program for seventh and eighth grade girls in Pearl C. Anderson Middle School in a low-income area of South Dallas. The program introduced and encouraged girls in computer technology and engineering, and they got to watch as the building renovation took place. Information about other offerings is available (where else?) on the Web at www. thewomensmuseum. org.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum won the right, and the financial backing of New York City, to build a new, curvilinear outpost on the East River in lower Manhattan. The new 40-story museum will be twice as large as the Guggenheim’s museum in Bilboa, Spain, and 10 times the size of the museum’s upper east side headquarters designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The new museum, like the Bilboa building, will be designed by Los Angeles architect Frank O. Gehry.
Already under construction is the two-story Guggenheim Museum at the Venetian on the Las Vegas strip, which features a retractable skylight adorned with a replica of Micheangelo’s “Last Judgment.”
The British Museum Enhances its Public Spaces
The fabled British Museum, which The Docent Educator is pleased to count among its European subscribers, is renowned as the home of spectacular antiquities, such as the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles. But it’s almost equally weU-known as an attraction that is overloaded with visitors.
Designed almost two centuries ago to accommodate an annual flow of perhaps 100,000 visitors, the imposing neoclassical structure now plays host to almost 6 million people each year! The corridors can be so crowded that getting from one end to another can resemble rush hour.
But, late last year, the museum formally opened the “Great Court,” a handsome redevelopment of the museum’s 2-acre central courtyard that promises to make the facility far more visitor friendly, and includes sculptures, shops, and restaurants.
The 2001 National Docent Symposium
The next National Docent Symposium is scheduled for October 2001, in San Antonio, TX. To learn more about the symposium and to obtain registration materials, contact the education department at: The McNay Art Museum RO. Box 6069 San Antonio, TX 78209. The museum’s phone number is: (210) 824-5368.
“For Your Consideration,” The Docent Educator 10.3 (Spring 2001): 8-9.