Museums in Michigan: Economic distress

The currently distressed state of our nation has now directly hit the museums of Michigan. The Detroit Institute of Arts on Monday announced that they are cutting 56 museum positions, which amounts to 20% of its current staff. (As if museum positions in Michigan weren’t already few and far between.) But to be honest with the state of Michigan in these economic times, I’m not surprised that they didn’t have to shut the whole museum down. As the whole country seems to now know, “The Big 3”, (Chrysler, GM, and Ford) of the Automotive Industry are struggling to keep their heads above water. “The Big 3” were a large contributor of donations to the DIA, and they had to pull out their funding in light of their current financial distress. Also, in recent news Michigan’s Gov. Jennifer Granholm apparently does not believe in the need for museums in michigan. Granholm relayed in her state address at the beginning of February that in order to balance Michigan’s budget, the elimination of the state department of History, Arts, and Libraries was necessary. Under this state department is a major Michigan museum funding council, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA). This council provides numerous money in funding to all the museums and cultural agencies of Michigan. Many museums of Michigan lean heavily on this granting agency, and with its destruction, what are museums of Michigan to do?  Cut more jobs and ultimately close their doors. As a struggling museum professional myself, it saddens me that our cultural institutions are always the first things to go, and that the state would rather sink millions of dollars into our correctional facilities instead of the museums who provide some beauty and diversity to our state of Michigan. Yes this post may be a bit of a rant, but I have to say I am utterly sick to my stomach when I hear of the collapse of the arts and culture in Michigan and ultimately within our nation.


The importance of proof reading

Well, let’s start off 2009 living up to the blog’s name and being a bit critical. Over Christmas I visited a major art museum with my mother to help her choose an artwork for a local art collaboration. I was snapping photos of labels to help her remember favorite pieces for later research and came across this gem:



Copy editing requires attention to detail. I’ve been involved in some aspect of labels in several institutions and it requires a certain talent, and mistakes happen. Happily, this mistake is merely sloppy sentence arrangement, not a factual or spelling error. Such errors can be especially harmful in museums, where the visitor often takes the information presented as absolute fact. Let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be the last person to approve copy to be printed, which is why I decided to forgo my childhood dream of a career as a copy editor.

Happy new year!


Note: Yes, there were a few typos. By no means am I saying my grammar and sentence structure are above reproach. And as I admit above, I wouldn’t want to be the last person to sign off on final copy. That said, it’s a blog! It’s supposed to be fun, not perfect.

Pet Obsessions

Anyone else simply struck by a certain niche of art, art history, or simply history that fascinates you above all others? As I mentioned in my last post, I look forward to Obama’s art policy and hope that it will reflect his campaign especially in the area of volunteerism. I mentioned FDR and Kennedy, but held myself back from waxing poetic about the WPA, my personal little historic, artistic and political obsession. The WPA and its influence on politics, society and art is the one reason I wish I had studied art history in grad school instead of museology, but it is still an ongoing side interest.

Regina Hackett’s Art To Go post on November 11 (found via MAN, I don’t know why I don’t read Hackett on a regular basis, Green often links to her) quite literally made me tingle. She suggests that Obama bring back the WPA, though with a 21st century twist. I heartily agree with her suggestion.

What’s your pet art obsession?

Any suggestions on how to restructure the WPA to function today?

Sounds of Fall

Amy and I must be in sync today- we’re both updating. 🙂

I’m veering off theme a little here, but music = art, right? Thought I’d share some of the music I’ve been listening to lately.

I keep my ipod speakers at work in the collections area where a bunch of us work, thus subjecting my co-workers (and yesterday, a tour group) to my music every day. I thought some of their responses to my tastes have been interesting. For example:

Him, in reference to my entire ipod library: “What is this, your shoegaze mix?”
Me: “Huh? This is Radiohead.”
Him: “I know. Haven’t you ever heard that term before? It’s, like, music that’s good for looking at your shoes. But it’s the kind of stuff I listen to, too.”

Yeah. Luckily, I don’t think ALL my music fits in that category. Plus, one probably doesn’t want to play hardcore gangsta rap in a work environment.

I think I do have a pretty eclectic taste in music, probably partially due to my upbringing. I grew up tripping over guitars and amps and mandolins and lots and lots of vinyl. Our cats even participated- they played with old guitar strings instead of catnip toys. I took piano, viola and choir (um, in addition to 3 kinds of dance, and several art classes. Yeah. I was one of those kids. I guess in a home that valued the arts, but shunned math and the hard sciences, you can see why I ended up in a museum studies program in Seattle?)

I got the Music 101 education at home- classical and classic rock/folk-rock- but listened to Top 40 pop and R&B with my friends. (Why yes, I DO know all the words to Coolio’s Fantastic Voyage.) By middle school and high school I was all about the alternative rock. (R.I.P, WMAD, Madison’s New Rock Alternative. Thanks for getting me through my high school years…) In college, thanks to Napster, I revisited classic rock, with my friends viewing me as some sort of novelty who appeared to have missed most of the 80s music but had somehow fully participated in the 60s and 70s. (Side note: I still think the 80s was worst and cheesiest decade for music. I don’t heart synthesizers. Well, OK, late ‘90s music was pretty bad, too.) I expanded my classical listening in college- my roommate was a music performance major, and I attended most of her concerts and we listened to her Shostakovich and Brahms CDs a lot in the apartment. After college and in grad school I got more into the indie rock stuff, especially living in Seattle- KEXP!

Anyway, that’s my brief musical history. So here’s what I’ve been listening to as of late. (I’m not sure how to post mp3s on this thing, so I’ll do YouTube/Hype Machine links.)

1. Nick Drake, River Man

How can you not have Nick Drake in an Autumnal mix? As my co-worker joked the other day, “Everyone has to have a Nick Drake song on their ipod.” This one is the most haunting to me- a masterpiece of melancholy. For some reason, this song also reminds me of the Peanuts movies, most notably, Snoopy Come Home. Is that weird? Most likely.

2. Bon Iver, For Emma

Justin Vernon of Bon Iver is a fellow Wisconsinite. He recorded his album, For Emma, Forever Ago, in a remote northwoods cabin, and I think the end product really reflects that sense of isolation.

3. Jeff Buckley, Grace

Dude sang like an angel. This might be the quintessential fall song. I feel chilled and like I’m standing under a streetlight in the rain watching leaves blow by when I hear this song. (I swear this isn’t supposed to be an emo mix.)

4. The National, Mr. November

Appropriate for election season. I love love this song. The National is one of my new favorite bands, even though the songs took a few listens for me to get into.

5. Joni Mitchell, River

Joni Mitchell is one of those singers I didn’t get until recently. My dad always liked her but I found her voice annoying as a kid. But yeah, she can sing and tell a story. And who doesn’t want a river to skate away on once in awhile…?

6. Band of Horses, No One’s Gonna Love You

Really pretty, mellow love song. I guess fits the “shoegaze” criteria.

7. Diefenbach, On The Move

This song has a lot of weird chords/dissonance. Makes your ears take notice and say WTF. It’s nice to be surprised instead of predicting every key change.

8. Devendra Banhart, Carmensita

I’ll close with a fun song. This video is awesome, but I’m sad he and Natalie broke up. Anyway, I like songs in sassy Spanish.

That’s it for now- but maybe more music posts in the future.

Obama and the Arts

This blog is not political, but with the recent US presidential election along with the economic downturn, I am interested in thinking about the ways the arts community may be affected. It will be particularly interesting to see Obama’s arts and culture policy take shape and be put into practice. Many of the ideas outlined in the campaign policy would directly benefit artists, from better health care to an “Artists Corps” that sounds like a mix of AmeriCorps and the New Deal WPA artists programs. Better conditions and support for artists will hopefully carry over into other areas of the art world, so it will be exciting to see how policy develops.

Obama Campaign Arts Culture Fact Sheet

Obama’s campaign truly championed volunteerism, something that is fundamental to museums and arts education. They also took advantage of the internet and social networking, and with the launch of it looks as if the focus on volunteerism and online connectivity will be carried into the new administration. Check out the site, I expect it to expand quickly. There are places for people’s suggestions for several issues including the economy and health care, and mention of volunteer programs for people of all ages. To me this mix of volunteerism, focus on arts and culture, and structured programs for work suggests a new hybrid of FDR’s (and Eleanor, can’t forget her influence) and Kennedy’s social projects. And as a total social networking geek anything that involves the internet and user involvement makes me giddy.

Okay, time for me to try to calm down. There are, shall we say, bigger fish to fry right now in the US, but it is good knowing that our next president has at least thought about artists and the arts community.

Collections management ideals have ruined me: A Trip to Taliesin!

Last week, J and I took a day trip to the rolling hills of Western Wisconsin. Specifically, we set out for Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s personal estate near Spring Green. Funnily enough, we had been to Taliesin West, Wright’s winter home, in Scottsdale, Arizona a few years ago, but not to his original home just an hour away from Madison. Both of us are Wright-ians. My interest goes back to high school, when I chose Wright as a final paper and presentation topic in my 11th grade “History of City and State” class. J took an entire course on Wright in college. We both knew a lot about Wright coming into the trip, but the Taliesin tour turned out to be a lot more informative than either of us had expected.

As it turned out, we didn’t actually get to the main part of Taliesin- his home, although we had a pretty nice view from the highway. The tours were expensive, about $80, so we decided on the cheaper “Hillside Tour”, which took us about a half-mile down the road from the visitor center via minibus. This tour included the co-ed architecture school, founded by Wright. The original portion dates from 1903, and also includes attached dorms from the 1930s, a dining hall, and theater, all of which are still in use by current BA and MA architecture students. This is a very prestigious school, difficult to gain admission, but almost guaranteed a great architectural position upon graduation.

The site is beautiful- hilly, green with tons of old trees. The surrounding farmland was originally part of Wright’s family’s property, and then became the school’s. Students (apprentices and fellows) were expected to contribute to the daily chores and farming as part of their education. Today, the architecture students are required to live onsite in the dorms during the warmer months. During the winter months, they continue their education while residing at Taliesin West in Arizona.

The architecture, of course, was completely visionary, considering that it had been conceived of over 100 years ago. Like all of Wright’s buildings, the school is integrated with the landscape in color and form, and contains flowing, open spaces rather than the box-like rooms typical at the time. Another element Wright added were huge, almost floor-to-ceiling windows- completely shocking when the school opened. According to our guide, some of the first parents of students at the school were so concerned about the perceived lack of structural support that they felt the building would be too unsafe to allow their children to attend the school.

One of my favorite parts of the tour was a room filled with Wright’s original models for some of his most famous projects, including the Guggenheim Museum. The day I was there, a photographer from the Guggenheim had been photographing the model in preparation for an upcoming exhibition on Wright at the museum. The Plexiglas that usually fits over the model was still set aside, so our group was able to have a much closer look at the model, which was pretty amazing.

Then we entered the large, main school room, where the students were working. My inner museum nerd was startled when, during the tour, a student walked past carrying a full glass of juice, and continued walking through to her drafting table. Yes, they can eat throughout the entire complex. No, it’s not a museum per-se, but it’s a historic site operating as a 501(c)3 (according to the brochure), so I was filled with conflict about the current use of this space, as intended by Wright, versus a space to be preserved and cared for like one would other historic buildings.

Another Museology collections-management buzzer went off for me when our guide explained that since no one uses the space during the winter, there is no need for (and no funds for) heating. Instead, when the nights are chilly, the students gather near a huge fireplace in the main work room. In the winter, our guide said, temperatures inside the school reach far below freezing. Okay. Let’s back up here. A fireplace? Still in use? Fire danger, smoke damage? No heat in Wisconsin winters? Expansion and contraction, people! The whole place is wood, for god’s sake.

Bottom line? I came away from Taliesin with a greater appreciation for our local legend, and respect the fact that the school is still in use and students are able to be educated in Wright’s original environs. But along with that opportunity also come a few cringe-inducing preservation issues. These are partially caused by financial problems, but mostly stem from the fact that the buildings are not merely a century-old historic site but also a current educational institution. By allowing students’ access to the offerings of the facility, they are compromising the structure. But by allowing the structure to be nothing more than a historic site, the students lose out on an amazing educational opportunity. What would Frank say? It’s hard to know. It’s no secret that he valued his buildings more than the wishes of the people who lived in them (not what I am advocating! I like people, maybe even more that I like stuff!), but he was also a strong promoter of education. So, I guess it’s the age old access vs. preservation argument again.

Free Rice, Art Style

From the Amon Carter Museum Blog (by way of Tyler Green, how did I miss that?) is the “Free Rice” art identification style. It’s just like being back in Art History since 1500.

The format is similar to the original Free Rice game, although instead of word definitions an image of a famous masterwork is shown and then four artist names are given as choices. Every time you choose correctly, the difficulty is ramped up a bit. 

Confession: I’m a little rusty. I was trying to go as fast as possible and ID’d a Monet as a Morisot. Ooops. I’m not telling which one, but it was a huge blow to my ego.

So, for anyone who wants to use their useless art IDing skills for good (or who just misses undergraduate art history classes, go test your memory.