Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Tiny museums in Somerville, Massachusetts

The Mµseum is installed in a case on a retail storefront wall, next to a Subway sandwich shop on Union Square in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Comparable to the "Little Free Library" where people set up a kiosk in their front yard (some institutions also participate) for books and other printed matter, where people are free to take or leave items, two kiosk-type exhibits, "museums," have been created in Somerville, Massachusetts, with the support of the Somerville Arts Coalition

The "Mµseum" created by Judith Klausner, aims to show art produced by New England artists who are under-represented in Greater Boston's fine arts museums ("Mµseum- The Tiny Museum," Atlas Obscura). From the article:
In 2010, Klausner noticed an alarming irregularity in the New England art community. Despite Boston’s having the second highest number of artists per capita of any city in the United States, art institutions in the greater Boston area were not showing exhibits from New England artists. The Mµseum’s first exhibit, “Invisible Cities,” contains pieces from local artists that speak to life in the urban environment and will run from August 15th, 2013 to October 11th, 2013.

While The Mµseum may seem like an art gimmick, to Klausner, it is something far more important. By placing this gallery in an unused alley in a public square, she hopes to take fine art out of the basketball-court-sized institutions that can be so intimidating and give it back to the cities and the people who often find art inaccessible.
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe. Martha Friend spoke with passerby Joseph Sullivan about the tiny museum in front of her home on Highland Avenue in Somerville.

With the support of the Somerville Arts Council, Martha Friend has created the city's second tiny museum, "The Friend Smithsonian Museum," also to showcase local artists ("'Tiny Museum' adds to Somerville’s list of small attractions," Boston Globe).

But tiny museums could take different forms and exhibit other things, such as along the lines of the kind of scientific exhibits created by artist Mark Dion ("Mark Dion Reimagines a Pioneering Botanist's Lab," Hyperallergic; "Hidden Treasures: Exploring the work of artist-in-residence Mark Dion," UVA), community exhibits, etc.

Comparable to DC's reordering of police and fire call boxes into public art installations, called Art on Call, Somerville has done something similar with deaccessioned pay phone boxes.

Twitter photo by Daniel A. Gross.

Still, there are some problems in terms of exhibiting ephemera and other materials--weather and the potential of damage to original artifacts.

So I can see a focus on creating displays, but not necessarily exhibiting original items.

Left: Mark DION Scala Naturae 1994. Stepped plinth, artefacts, specimens, taxidermic animals, bust 238 x 100 x 297 cm. Tanya Bonakdar Gallery.

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At 11:46 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

For better or worse, I think the P st barbies have beat "art on call" 10 to 1.

Which suggests the value of ephemera.

(again, like my argument on high income vs. wealth, DC is just not an artistic area. Any mid sized metro area (Pittsburgh, Nashville, Portland) probably has a art community about 3x more active.

But in terms of "history" and other verbalized skills we are a world leader. More "tours" than any other city? I saw one doing the Manhattan Laundry the other day.

Hell, I can do one. Go to the former Stesons's, this is where Monica Lewinsky went on a date with Jake Tapper. The Mayflower...where Spitzer....well, you get the idea.

Have you seen the "What works" series from Politico? Very good.

Happy new year.

At 2:53 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

thanks for the cite.

where are the p st. barbies? Didn't know about it.

WRT ephemera and display, my only problem with displaying stuff of "value" is vandalism, theft and weather. But looking at the display of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs at Newseum, I was thinking a display board or digital screen is fine. (E.g., my idea about displaying transit history dioramas at Metro stations.)

There is a cool storefront museum of ephemera stuff in Brooklyn. I've written about it I think, can't remember the name.

Mark Dion's stuff (and the Mildred's Lane complex in Pennsylvania which he co-founded) is probably a lot like the P St. "installation."

Happy New Year to you too! Thank you for reading and comment. I really value and appreciate what you have to say and how it forces me to think and hone my ideas.


At 2:05 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

My bad, it is the Q st barbies.

And no, not just a popville thing. I saw a MPD officer on patrol stop, look at it, walk by, the come back to take a picture.

Well the problem is you are usually around 2-4 years ahead of me. I've been talking to the ANC about retail on U st making your point that retail itself in changing, we have to think we are "one over" from 14th st, and that the goal isn't so much retail (which leads to too may dry cleaning shops) but daytime traffic.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

this sounds hubristic but it is so f*ing frustrating that my "conclusions" are systematically ignored wrt commercial district revitalization planning in DC.

I was really hoping to do a signature, pilot project on Upper Georgia Avenue, and it might still happen, but appropo of my point that you/your community organization is only as strong as your weakest link, unfortunately the group's leader has real issues, and it's made it very difficult for me to move forward. Not to mention other community dynamics.

But what I propose, I would argue, isn't amazing, just an amalgamation of all that I've learned.

At 4:15 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... I can't remember what year, but 10-13 years ago, I tried to get a consultancy gig in Columbia Heights, suggesting not a Main Street program exactly, but definitely a positioning of 11th Street as the "local district of independent stores" with 14th St. being the big stores/chains.

Relatedly, I was part of a bid team for a market study for Columbia Heights, I think in 2008. When DC had a budget hiccup, Mayor Gray cut all funded projects to third party, so our proposal wasn't even evaluated.

I laid out that idea there too, especially vis a vis the commercial district up the street (around Spring Street), but also in terms of how the original plan for DC/USA never went beyond a first phase, and they need to do more, recruit more, build more, and maybe build above, in order to broaden the array of retail options beyond discount stores, especially for stores that appeal to women (think Ulta, apparel, Blue Mercury, etc.), as women comprise about 70% of retail purchasing, especially brick and mortar.

At 12:50 AM, Anonymous Tom Quinn said...

There is also an opportunity, I think, to do something similar with abandoned and unused storefront windows.

In Friendship Heights whenever Pepco wraps up the rebuild of the substation in about 2019 they are supposed to be restoring the windows in the station and creating a shallow (and apparently hot) space that can be used for displaying artwork.

It would be nice and fun if local art programs would be ready to program any of these spaces when they become available - it would be nice exposure for the artists and programs and would be preferable to empty spaces and papered over windows.

And not what you were writing about but we have this funky private museum in Ward 3:

At 10:14 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

When I first started doing Main St. in 2002, I learned about the Pittsfield Mass. Storefront Artist Project.

(in fact, because of the arts economy in that area (MassMOCA etc.) I used to get the e-letter for the Berkshire Eagle, til they discontinued it)

... I guess it got me thinking about "networking" across Main St. programs ever since, because it's easier for a project like that to scale "across the city" rather than for each program to slog through creating it's own thing.

... e.g. in 2003 I suggested a city wide retail business plan competition because of scale (they said no, try it on H St. and it was too hard) and also suggested a Downtown "house" tour, linking the new buildings and furniture stores, independent designers...

the one thing they did do at my instigation was the historic preservation awards. I could say it was my idea, but I saw a recounting of a similar event elsewhere and brought it up.

2. forgot about that archaeological endeavor, thanks.

At 10:28 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Tom, also the Storefront for Art and Architecture project in NYC would be a good model for the Pepco windows.

I'll have to think about these things more in terms of my writings on cultural master planning.

I intend to write a big paper on it, re the city's current master planning process, which I don't expect will be particularly wide ranging, but hopefully they have a good consultant team that will broaden the perspective and vision.


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