The Unwelcoming Wagon

I was reading this interesting blog by Nina Simon, who specializes in museum experiences. In her post “Come On In and Make Yourself Feel Uncomfortable,” she writes about her experience attending a local gym for the first time. She admits that, “There was nothing threatening about the people at the boxing gym. And yet I felt threatened, uncertain of whether I was up to the challenge, ready to be the newbie, willing to be a novice woman among men.” The experience she describes is the same one that newbies feel when they attend art museums. This becomes an issue when cultural institutions are looking to expand the demographic of their audiences.

I didn’t grow up going to museums, so I’ll admit that I there are times when I enter into museums and feel completely overwhelmed.  The art is beautiful, but it feels like there’s a veil between the work and myself.  It feels unapproachable, and I can’t find my way into the art. Also There are certain ways to best navigate through museums in a fruitful way and if museums are foreign to you, or you don’t have the knowledge base, chances are you will walk away. Important questions need to be answered about how to bridge the learning gap. While I think that this has more to do with reinstating arts education program, and less about how art is curated– it is something that has to be constantly examined.

It’s also something that we as theatre artists need to reexamine. If I seriously want a different demographic to enter into our institutions, how can we develop an atmosphere where they feel welcomed? It seems like a rather obvious question to ask. After all we learn in the theatre that how the world of a play feels, smells, and looks is important—so why would a cultural institution be any different?


sbmeyers posted on February 16, 2012 at 3:04 pm

I think this is the responsibility of a curator. How do we invite our audiences into our galleries/ exhibits and open guided opportunities for experiencing? I believe that the most successful exhibits attend to these matters, especially through presentation. I had an interesting experience in the gallery downstairs relating to this subject. The curation of the exhibit just felt…disorganized. I was surprised that I could tell, but I definitely could. It reminds me of watching film, and how we only notice the cutting of shots when it’s poor. Otherwise, the process of seeing is seamless. I think this is exactly what a dramaturg can attend to. How do we curate performance to access our target audience?

Cloteal posted on February 16, 2012 at 5:04 pm

I agree it does have a lot to do with curators, but something that had never occurred to me is how important the exterior of an museum is. Take the MFA for example– it literally changed up its exterior because they realized that it placed many visitors at a distance, but with the new American Wing it architecturally feels more welcoming. Besides its distance, the ICA is an attractive place because its a glass building allowing audience to peek inside, and not be intimidated by the venue. First you have to get the audience there, which has more to deal with whether the building itself is welcoming — which is something I never considered.

You bring up an important points about the curation though. I more and more come to realize the importance of how information is presented, because it changes everything.