before i die – kansas city

A few weeks ago, I was checking out Museum Unbound and stumbled across Ashley’s post on the Before I Die project created by artist Candy Chang. Call it street or participatory or engagement or whatever the latest label is, but I’m all for art that invites people in with a simple, accessible premise, namely to finish this statement: “Before I die, I want to_____.”


This project has been replicated in other cities and I immediately felt that it should happen in my home town, Kansas City, Missouri. We have a vibrant community with no shortage of ideas, opinions, beliefs and dreams plus plenty of large facades that could use some repurposing. Not to mention we could hit up local biz Hallmark for chalk donations!

But like most good ideas (The Snuggie, for instance), somebody else beat me to it. Leslie Lerner and Marion Merritt, self-proclaimed “Thunderbirds of Culture” and proud proprietors of the Box Building located in the Crossroads Arts District are currently in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to fund Before I Die in the Paris of the Plains, with larger plans to use the project as a springboard to transforming the Box Building into an community-based artistic hub. With a June 7 funding deadline approaching, the project is over halfway to its $1,500 goal and could use a bit more help.

*enter generous backers like you.*

Finding Ashley’s post and Leslie and Marion’s campaign on the same day is a lovely bit of serendipity. I’m willing to do what I can to make sure this happens, including shamelessly plugging it on my blog.

Are you still reading? Go back Before I Die Kansas City before time runs out. ūüôā

UPDATE: The project is successfully funded! Thanks to everyone for their support!

museums as political weapons

The recent decision by the National Portrait Gallery to remove artist David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly¬†from its “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” exhibition has, quite expectedly, caused a a flood of reaction.¬† Everyone from bloggers to media watchdogs to the Catholic League have weighed in on the video’s merit, or lack thereof. With all of the hand-wringing and proselytizing regarding whether the four-minute video (only 11 seconds of which depicts¬†Christian imagery) ¬†is “art” or “hate speech” or its removal¬† “censorship”, the larger point is lost: Why this exhibition? Why this video? Why now?

don’t ask, don’t tell

Surely it’s pure coincidence that this controversy presents itself in the midst of the Pentagon’s release of its report on repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ban on homosexual and bisexual men and women openly serving in the United States military, right?¬† The chief finding¬†of that survey is “a solid majority of Service members believe repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will not have a negative impact on their ability to conduct their military mission.”¬† Everyone knows that this last vestige of legal segregation is on its way out the door. What better way to mobilize the opposition than by juxtaposing gays in the military with gays in federally-funded museums? See what happens when we let them work out in the open? Chaos!

there’s a new sheriff in town
One of the loudest opponents of¬†Hide/Seek¬†is U.S. Congressman Jack Kingston (R – GA).¬† A member of the all-powerful House Committee¬†on Appropriations, he is openly bucking for the top spot of Chairman. With stars in his eyes, he has single-handedly¬†taken up the charge of¬†ensuring federal fiscal responsibility in these challenging economic times. He has gone so far as to call for an investigation of the Smithsonian’s funding (his first act of business once he assumes the throne Chairmanship, undoubtedly).

Absolutely we should look at their funding.¬† If they‚Äôve got money to squander like this ‚Äď of a crucifix being eaten by ants, of Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, men in chains, naked brothers kissing ‚Äď then I think we should look at their budget. — Jack Kingston, via Fox News.

Take heart, Smithsonian employees, Mr. Kingston has your back! Once he dismantles the world’s¬†largest museum and research complex, he can continue to vote against extending unemployment benefits for the jobless.

fear mongering & funding

Arts and culture under assault by the U.S. Government is nothing new. Whether via public condemnation, reduction or outright elimination of financial support, many politicians on both sides of the aisle have gladly picked up this political football in an effort to further their own agendas and propagate the idea that government should not be in the business of  supporting the arts.  Recent examples [all emphasis mine]:

  • 1956: U.S. Congressman¬†George Dondero (R – MI)¬†likens modern and contemporary art to Communism, writing: “Modern art is a term that is nauseating to me. We are in complete accord in our thinking regarding this subject and its connection with communism. No one is attempting to stifle self-expression, but we are attempting to protect and preserve legitimate art as we have always known it in the United States.”
  • 1988: Senator Jesse Helms ¬†(R – NC) rails against the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s exhibition¬†of Robert Mapplethorpe photographs.¬† While not a federally-funded museum, the Corcoran received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, an independent¬†federal agency. When the museum’s leadership caved under the pressure and nixed the exhibition, Helms was dismayed that he no longer had an axe to grind. Not one to be outfoxed, he switched his focus by introducing an appropriations amendment¬†to forbid the NEA from funding projects deemed “obscene or derogatory.”¬† The Helms amendment ultimately failed but¬†did result¬†in new restrictions to NEA funding.
  • 1994-1995: Veterans groups, the Air Force Association and¬†a bipartisan¬†delegation of 81 Congressmen¬†protest the National Air and Space Museum’s¬†planned exhibition¬†of the ¬†Enola Gay, the B-29¬†airplane that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, claiming that it portrayed the Japanese as victims rather than military aggressors. Despite pleas from historians, repeated¬†changes were made¬†to the¬†Enola Gay¬†exhibition. Ultimately Dr. Martin Harwit resigned his position as the museum’s Director before the revised exhibition opened stating, “I believe that nothing less than my stepping down from the directorship will satisfy the museum’s critics and allow the museum to move forward with important new projects.”

history will teach us nothing

To me, the most striking thing about this “controversy” is despite having past lessons to draw from,¬†the¬†National Portrait Gallery swiftly removed the contested artwork while simultaneously reiterating¬†its belief that A Fire in My Belly is not sacrilegious (with the full support of the American Association of Museums in direct opposition of its strategic plan)¬†and ignoring its obligation to honor the intentions of the exhibition’s private funders.

Boiled down: We stand by this art, but we’re not willing to make waves to do so.¬†

With howls of protest ringing in his ears, National Portrait Gallery Director Martin Sullivan, in a phone interview¬†with Jeffrey Brown, continued to defend the action but admitted “in retrospect, there may have been better ways to do this, but we certainly wanted to focus the attention on the exhibition as a whole.”

It’s¬†shameful that this museum’s actions have only achieved the opposite.

Do you agree with the National Portrait Gallery’s decision? What is a museum’s role concerning censorship?

talent round-up day


Highlighting nonprofit organizations and individuals doing stellar work!

  • Kate McGroarty, a Chicago-based teacher,¬†learned she was the winner of the Museum of Science and Industry’s “Month at the Museum” contest by performing–you guessed it–an experiment.¬†¬† Five finalists (over 1,500 people applied), decked out in requisite safety-first gear, were given test tubes of sodium iodide¬†and were asked to pour them into beakers, only¬†one of which¬†contained¬†hydrogen peroxide (the rest¬†filled with water)¬†and the winner was determined by the ensuing [bubbly] chemical reaction.¬†¬† Kudos for a super-flashy and educational end to an unprecented contest! You can follow Kate’s adventure here.¬†
  • Bronx Museum of the Arts, newly minted administrators¬†of smARTpower, a U.S.¬†State Department¬†program crafted to bring visual artists to countries around the world including Pakistan, China, Nigeria and Venezuela, where they will collaborate with local artists.¬†¬†¬†This seems like a logical extension of the Museum’s innovative International Residency Program.¬† Although the State Department has reserved the right to final approval of works, it will be interesting to see what, if any, impact this program has on U.S. foreign relations.
  • In an era of dwindling professional development resources, this is right on time: The Institute of Museum and Library Services, Learning Times, Heritage Preservation and the American Association for State and Local History have partnered to present six free webinars based on the Connecting to Collections: A Call to Action initiative.¬†¬† The seminars focus on supporting collections via media, funder and public outreach and how¬†recipients can¬†fully utilize the Connecting to Connections Bookshelf.¬†¬†¬†¬†

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