This post is part of a series I am writing this week to explore the role of artists and artistic practice in the experimental work occurring in art museums across this country, and beyond. In order to more effectively examine the ways in which art museums have become sites for socially-engaged practice and new forms of artist-driven public engagement, I’m interested in taking some time to showcase three telling cases that have been developed in museums at a parallel moment these past few years:
- Walker Art Center’s Open Field
- Machine Project’s residency at UCLA’s Hammer Museum
- Portland Art Museum’s Shine a Light
Selected from more than a dozen examples of this type of practice, these three projects each have stretched and pushed their institutions in new and productive ways, opening up unanticipated, thought-provoking, exciting, and even uncomfortable ways for visitors to experience an art museum. The teams and communities involved with each of these projects have certainly walked away with their own unique ‘lessons learned’ as well as several core questions that have already led to pushing this type of practice forward at these and other institutions. Given the co-produced and co-authored nature of this type of experimental practice in museums, the text for each of these posts similarly draws in many of the voices involved at each site — quoting artists and museum staff to honor their core role in this challenging and meaningful work.
Before we begin, I have a question to ask you. To help get a sense of how many arts enthusiasts, museum professionals, and educators are aware of these types of experimental museum projects, please take a few seconds and complete the poll below. I’m going to keep this poll going for a while, so please invite your peers and colleagues to submit their own response.
Thanks for responding to the question above (BTW, the first poll ever on ArtMuseumTeaching.com — don’t worry, it’s not going to become a regular feature of my posts). Now onto the first telling case of great work being done in this area of museum practice.
* * * * *
Walker Art Center’s Open Field
“What does it mean to be creative as conscious social activity—to create a commons, rather than individualizing creativity?” —artist Josh McPhee in the “Introduction” to Conversations on the Commons
Open Field is the Walker Art Center’s experiment in participation and public space. Taking place outdoors in the summer months since its launch in 2010, the project invites artists and visitors to imagine and inhabit the museum’s campus as a cultural commons—a shared space for idea exchange, creative gatherings, and unexpected interactions. The Walker’s backyard has been home to numerous planned and spontaneous activities during its three years of Open Field, including music performances, artist-in-residence projects, Internet cat video festivals, juggling lessons, Drawing Club, pickling workshops, yarn-bombing, temporary sculpture installations, a concert of people mowing the field in tandem, and so much more. The initiative began with a simple question: “What would you do in an open field?” Through this experiment in ‘letting go’ of cultural authority and control, the Walker Art Center has been pioneering in its rethinking of public gathering spaces and the role of the art museum in creating something with its public rather than simply for its public.
In addition to being an open creative space for public participation, the Walker Art Center also imagined the potential for professional artists to experiment with public practice in the commons. Working with artists and collectives who embraced their vision for public engagement and collaborative investigation, the Walker Art Center commissioned groups such as Futurefarmers, Machine Poject, and Red76 to envision and implement projects during the summer—both pushing the creative and artistic thinking about the space, as well as to model possible creative activities to the larger community (who were interested in participating, but nervous about what this might look like in the context of a contemporary art center). In the 2012 publication Open Field: Conversations on the Commons, which documented the first two years of the project, Open Field co-creator Sarah Schultz describes the vital role that these artists played:
“The socially engaged practices of these artists and the intellectual and creative rigor with which they approached the aesthetic, social, and political implications of commons-based cultural practices were crucial to project’s evolution.
“The resident artists’ openness and warmth toward the public and their willingness to allow their work to unfold alongside whatever else was happening on the hill played an important role in what Open Field would eventually become: a porous environment that blurred the lines and leveled the playing field between professional and nonprofessional artists, weekend hobbyists, and creative enthusiasts.”
As the Walker Art Center’s education and public practice staff continue to reflect upon Open Field and plan for future directions for this project, there is little doubt that they have shifted the conversation about museums, public practice, and community participation as well as the ways in which museums can collaborate with artists and artist collectives.
Did you get the chance to visit Open Field and attend any of their programs so far? What were your experiences? What is the role of a space like this at an art museum? Does it matter if anyone actually enters the museums itself? What does the future hold for projects like this? Please chime in below and add your perspective.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:
Possibilities for Evolution: Artists Experimenting in Art Museums
Getting a Better Sense of the Terrain: Machine Project at the Hammer Museum
Rethink What Can Happen in a Museum: Portland Art Museum’s Shine a Light
Towards an Even More Participatory Culture in Art Museums
Participate: Designing with User-Generated Content (book review)
Doing, Not Just Viewing: Working Towards a More Participatory Practice
‘Getting in On the Act’: Exploring a More Participatory Arts Practice
7 thoughts on “Blurring the Lines: Walker Art Center’s Open Field”
I visited the Walker during Open Field 2011. I was impressed by the calendar of events and the way the community adopted (and occasionally co-opted) this project was fascinating. I brushed up on my lawn game skills with supplies from the Tool Shed, ate great BBQ, and toured a temporary house built in the sculpture park. It was cool to see an active, participatory art-related space being enjoyed by so many different kinds of people. Instead of just feeling like a pretty museum’s backyard, the sculpture park served as an extension of the museum. Some people visited the museum and the park while others chose just one activity and that’s okay. I was also pleased to see Open Field’s presence at the AAM Annual Meeting in Minneapolis in 2012. I spent way too much time making buttons for that summer’s Open Field. It was the least I could do to pay the Walker back for the great time I had.
Thanks for sharing, Adrianne! And I agree that a truly diverse group of people has come out to engage in Open Field through its various projects — not your typical museum audience. I’m so interested to see what the future holds for this project.
Mike, I´ve never been to the museum and the “Open Field” you are talking about, but in any case here´s my point of view or at least, my Spanish point of view.I think these kind or perfomances are possible when talking about contemporary art museums, but what about baroque era? How can we go about “blurring the lines” with Velazquez? I would rather not blur…!!!also I don´t think this is possible.
In Spain one of the main sources or art is the baroque era.So what do cultural managers do here in order to involve people with art? some nice experiences are dramatasized visits and dramatasized parties where all the people from the village are invited to dress up with clothes from the 17 century, learn dances with the music from this time and help foreing people have a lot of fun during baroque festival .Lerma is one exemple.As a result, each summer the amount of visitors increases, and even in winter.Have a look to citlerma.com and my video on the blog patrimonioparajovenes.com “Fiestas barrocas de Lerma”
Pilar – Thanks so much for your response to these ideas. I appreciate your questions about these types of experiences with artworks that are not contemporary. At the Portland Art Museum, we have an encyclopedic collection that includes much more than contemporary and modern art — and, in fact, many of the participatory “Shine a Light” projects (that I’ll described more in a future post) connect to non-contemporary works, or more generally address the larger museum experience (and do not focus in on one work or collection area). In my opinion, there is always a way to generate creative, playful experiences around any art in the collection, especially if it is done in a way that is smart and relevant to the artwork and its cultural/social context in some way. The festivals and dancing you refer to sounds like a successful, fun, and open way of connecting more people and communities to the work of Spanish Baroque artists (the video was great!).
Thanks for your answer,Mike, I´m glad to have the opportunity to visit the Portland Art Museum online.It looks very interesting and if I go to Portland,I´ll visit it in person, you can be sure!congratulations on your blog and wonderful articles.Greetings from Spain