Saturday, September 11, 2010

White Kids on Bicycles: Museums' Most Important Target Audience?


Here, in Florida, I almost feel like it's a four letter word.  Nobody wants to talk about it out loud, but lots of people ask me about the details of the city in private, with a kind of morbid curiosity.  "Are there really bears in downtown?"  "Do people really shoot raccoons and sell the meat to survive?"

When I first got back to Gainesville, I met with my advisior and he had just as many questions about the city-- albeit much more relevant and realistic ones.  I'm happy to answer them.  I don't want people to think of Detroit as some kind of scary, forbidden place full of mystery and lore.  In that meeting, we talked a lot about the arts of Detroit.  Of course, there is the DIA, the Detroit Symphony Opera, etc.  But there is also the electronic music festival, The Scarab Club, the Heidelberg Project, and other more grassroots art movements.

When I was finishing up my internship at the DIA, Larry (programming director) asked me about my likes and dislikes, in an effort to find out more about the DIA's newest target audience: 20-somethings.

My birthday last week might even push me out of the most sought-after group: early 20-somethings.

I urge my countless readers to watch ALL of the videos presented here.  Palladium Boots (for some reason...) teamed up with Johnny Knoxville, of MTV's "Jackass" fame, to create a series of three videos that spotlight the "other" side of Detroit-- you know, the side that's not eating raccoons.

Don't let Johnny Knoxville's association with "Jackass" fool you (Dad!)-- he takes a very respectful, curious, compassionate, and intelligent approach to the city. 

One segment features restaurant owner, Larry Mongo, who speaks about owning a business in Detroit.  He told a story about how he closed up his restaurant after a string of murders in the neighborhood, leaving it closed for a long period (I don't believe he specified... but it sounded like more than a month).  After being closed for so long, he said one day, a group of "200 white kids on bicycles" were outside the restaurant, asking when he would open again.

Yes, hipsters are moving into Detroit.  As Larry states, they're not taking over-- they're just filling in the gaps in much the same way that African Americans filled in the gaps when the white community left Detroit.  Now that everyone has left, the hipsters are filling in.

There is a movement brewing in Detroit.  These kids, in their late teens and early twenties, are active in the community and are passionate about bringing art and life back to Detroit.  These are the people that the museums want to target, and with good reason!

It's no wonder that Inside|Out has been such a hit!  The community is thirsty for that kind of outreach and "beautification".  I realize that projects like this are like a band-aid on a gunshot wound.  Certainly, 40 fake paintings aren't going to revitalize the city.  But, I think it will do a lot to inspire and motivate the people who see them to continue in that direction of change and regrowth.

I've touched on this before but, it has been hotly debated among museum professionals so it's worth discussing again: What is the purpose of a museum?

A lot of museum professionals believe that museums exist to collect, preserve, and display works of art.  Others argue that civic engagement is a necessary function, in addition to those listed.

I think it depends greatly on what the community needs.  In Detroit's Cultural Center, students and recent graduates of Wayne State University and the College for Creative Studies are the biggest catalyst of the revitalization of that area (it's one of the fastest growing and trendiest areas of the city).  As the Palladium videos show, the young people of Detroit are motivated and willing to work on facilitating change in the city.  I think they can find a partner in the DIA. 

Detroit does not need a stoic, static building full of paintings.  It needs an active organization that can fill some of the gaps in the failing school system, provide a partner to CCS and WSU students, as they take on public art projects in the city, be a  place where Detroit residents can gather to discuss art, politics, community projects, or anything at all.  Civic engagement needs to be a major component of the DIA's purpose, as it sits in the center of a city that is desperately attempting to become re-engaged!

I'm not sure if Detroiters realize what an ally they could have in the DIA.  But if they do, I urge them to vote about it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

New Semester, New Internship

Some time has passed from my last entry and a lot of things have happened.

Most notably, I am back in Florida and three weeks into the semester.

Also, I have yet another internship (now called a "practicum" for reasons I don't quite understand). This time around, I'm at the Florida Museum of Natural History (or, FLMNH), working in the education department, developing programs for seniors and adults. I am completely thrilled with this assignment. I have had programming experience in the past, so this project seems totally accessible to me-- yet I've never programmed for adults, so it's new and challenging. In short, I'm stoked.

In other happenings, one of my intern projects from the Detroit Institute of Arts is now in full swing. DIA: Inside|Out has been featured in the Detroit Free Press, Canadian Press, CBC, Detroit News, Metro Times, USA Today, Crain's Detroit Business, and!

That Canadian Press article was also featured in a dorky professional newsletter that I get, called Dispatches from the Future of Museums.  It's actually one of my favorite museum news sources, so I was really excited to see the project featured there.

Inside|Out seems to be getting a great reaction from the public, but really, how could it not? I've had several friends back in the Detroit area tell me about various paintings that they have seen around town.

It's been so rewarding to see (even if it's from a distance) this project come to fruition and be so successful. I'm really happy with the way the paintings and labels turned out. For a while, it looked as if the labels would be cluttered with corporate sponsors' logos, or be made of low-quality materials... but they look fantastic! I'm really glad that our committee held their ground with that issue.

All 40 reproductions should be installed by the middle of September, but a bunch of them are already in place-- including one on everyone's favorite Italian restaurant.  Here are a few shots of our little piece of the DIA (click on any one of them to enlarge):

The Fruit Vendor

The painting is located right next to our kitchen door

Though this photo is reminiscent of a "Where's Waldo" book, the painting is still visible.  Can you find it?

A map of all the locations and artworks can be found here.  And the DIA website, of course, has a little feature on it as well.

More photos of the various paintings can also be found at the Inside|Out flickr site.

I can only hope that my current internship will pan out to be as rewarding and educational as my time at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Already, I think this practicum was a good choice for me. I was wavering back and forth about what classes to take this fall, and when I had one schedule slot left to fill, I didn't want to settle for a course that wasn't of great interest to me. So, I decided to go a different route and spend 9 hours / week at the Florida Museum of Natural History. From the few meetings I've had, and the bit of initial research that I've done, I can tell that this will be 3 credits well spent.

Certainly, the FLMNH differs from the DIA in many ways, including content, size, location, and budget. Yet, I can already see many similarities in the general operations and some of the challenges that have been discussed-- many of which I think are universal among museums of all kinds.

So this just leaves me wondering... when will we be installing these in surprising locations around Gainesville?