i’d like to begin by acknowledging the land in which the museum is located is the traditional territory of the narragansett peoples.
i'd also like to acknowledge that museums are colonialist institutions, and that under capitalism benefit from serving the interests of the upper/middle classes.
maybe it seems a little strong to frame what are essentially drabbles on my experiences encouraging people to draw like this. but we live in times of political upheaval and changing paradigms. when people walk into a museum, whether as a visitor or an employee, whatever they carry with them as a member of society does not cease to exist. conversations about the roles museums play in communities and conversations about navigating - and how to make right - the history of art museums as white supremacist institutions need to be happening and need to be ongoing
i do not speak for the RISD museum -- these observations are wholly my own.
the space was located on the 3rd floor of the chace gallery beside the special exhibition and ran from october 6th, 2017 to january 7th, 2018. it occupies the liminal space between the elevators and the bridge to the benefit st building, so that in order to visit both buildings every museum visitor must pass by us. the room itself is delineated from this path via a set of wood and acrylic cabinets which house a number of objects from the RISD nature lab. within the space there are eight tables and forty stools arranged on a carpeted area; another wood cabinet containing a number of art supplies (white, black, cream and kraft papers, pencils, colored pencils, acrylic risers, binder clips, chipboard, and so forth); a television display that plays a movie illustrating the drawing prompts; a series of plastic potted plants.
within the space, the other gallery host and i are given a fair amount of freedom to arrange and rearrange at will. this primarily involves moving the tables around as well as controlling what and how much of the visitor’s art is hung on our walls. we are also able to take out objects from the nature lab cabinets for guests and/or arrange our own displays on the tables for visitors.
during my time in the space i developed a set of behaviors for myself and how i interacted with the museum visitors. my primary focus was on ensuring that the space felt open & welcoming for anyone, regardless of whether or not they self-identified as artistic or not. the language we use around art making is particularly important and so i sought to find ways to invite visitors into the space without placing a burden of expectation on them.
for a lot of people, art making is itself a traumatic act. for a great many others, it is simply seen as something frivolous or unnecessary, or even “just for children”. even in the risd museum, where many of the visitors were self-identified artists or connected to the arts in some way already, that hesitation was something i ran into often. creating ways of engaging with these visitors so i could gently challenge or encourage their self perceptions became a focus of mine — through suggesting specific, low pressure drawing prompts, giving supportive feedback, or encouraging play through activities such as exquisite corpse. the best moments were those few times someone would tell me they’d just made their “first” drawing, or that they’d abandoned drawing when they were younger but wanted to pick it up again after playing in the space. for me the goal was not to try and educate visitors on how to draw but to make the case that drawing could be something they did at all, whether seriously or not.
i always thanked people for drawing as they left, whether they kept the drawing, hung it up, or just left it behind on a table. even if they’d just sat around and scribbled for a couple of minutes, i thanked them — because how often do you get thanked for engaging in something that produces no material benefit?
once a visitor told me, "your pencils look uninviting." i asked him to clarify, but he just shrugged and drew for a bit.
i wonder still what was uninviting about the pencils to him. i liked the pencils, and the intentional lack of erasers, because anyone can get ahold of a pencil and draw something.
my interventions: running the exquisite corpse mini "workshop", covering the tables with paper, returning to the rubbings after that open studio activity, returning to the wire, encouraging play in the space -- and my two workshops: jam comics & then zine making
the essay: keep it short and simple. like 500 words.
notes to myself: spread ur writing out more, make it less formal/stiff, work more images/comics in there. more personal touches?? hhhh