Thursday, 9 March 2017



Gardiner Museum Community Arts Space
Last week, the class Museums and Cultural Heritage, was lucky enough to have a talk by Douglas Worts on museum sustainability. In essence this refers to the museum’s ability to maintain relevance to communities by helping them adapt to changing realities. As he discussed, a museum’s cultural relevance requires an analysis of current trends of the surrounding community, identifying current issues and then considering what type of engagement the museum can employ to contribute to change.

I have been contemplating Worts’ talk and what strategies museums are currently pursuing to facilitate cultural dynamics and discussion on current events.

In other words, how are museums creating conditions for new possibilities?

I was recently struck by an article about an innovative method that the New York Historical Museum and Library was employing to not just represent an issue but allow a space for people to interact, discuss and imagine new possibilities. The museum recently held an exhibit called President- Elect, which preserved part of an art work – an installation called Subway Therapy by artist Matthew “Levee” Chavez, which he created following the 2016 presidential election. In Manhattan Square subway station he asked passerby’s to write their emotions about the recent election on sticky notes and post them on the wall. It grew to over 20 000. The exhibit not only preserves a section of these sticky notes but also encourages museum visitors to create notes of their own in the museum.
Subway Therapy by Matthew Levee Chavez
But how are museums in Toronto contributing to the city’s ability to adapt to changing realities?

I think a good example of this is the Gardiner Museum’s community art space. This space operates during the summer based on community proposals, allowing cultural organisations to suggest and facilitate different interactive programs that are focused on art as change. The Gardiner Museum prioritises propositions for the space from minority communities and requires that the suggestions involve community participation. Last year, they had a duo called Crazy Dames use the space with museum visitors to create pillow forts as part of a larger program meant to encourage discussion and reflection on how the city is organised and built. This space provides an opportunity for community engagement and intervention on current events and social issues, making the museum relevant to current and changing culture. I am excited to see what happens in the space during the upcoming summer!

We Built This City: Pillow Fort workshop at the Gardiner Museum by The Crazy Dames

The AGO similarly has a Community Art Gallery which seeks to draw upon voices that are usually repressed or marginalised by mainstream institutions. In doing so they hope to expand ideas of communities and encourage new interpretations and creative processes of art making. Currently in the exhibit is a work by Artful City called Mapping Toronto’s Public Art Landscape 1967–2015, which traces the evolution of Toronto’s public art through the last 50 years. This piece not only shows the changes and trends of Toronto public over time, but also gives the city a vantage point from which to discuss social issues such as access and disparity within and outside the gallery space. 

Artful City's Mapping Toronto Public Art Landscapes 1967-2015
With the upcoming 150th anniversary of Canada I can’t help but wonder if one of theses spaces will allow, like subway therapy, discussion and contemplation about it’s controversies. How would it look and how would it engage?

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