forever, forever, ever, forever, ever

Owning a museum-quality art object is, for most people, an unattainable aspiration.   As I began my first nonprofit nerd read of the month, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, it became even clearer that navigating the complex terrain of art buying and selling is not for the faint of heart or the light of pockets.   Occasionally, I manage to squirrel enough money away to select a print from 20×200 or purchase work from local artists who are willing to barter and/or entertain the idea of a layaway plan.  The reasons why I buy art are not always quantifiable, but it usually comes down to the personal connection I have with the work and the idea of formally honoring the labor, vision and—schmaltzy though it may sound— love behind it. 

clare twomey: forever

Leveling the art acquisition playing field is at the heart of Clare Twomey’s first U.S. solo exhibition, Forever, at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art  (October 8, 2010 – January 2, 2011).  Modeled after an 18th-century salt-glazed stoneware cup  in the Museum’s esteemed Burnap Collection of English Pottery, Forever is a site-specific installation of 1,345 ceramic vessels signifying the number of objects donated by Harriet and Frank Burnap in 1941.   The phrase “in trust forever” is sprinkled throughout the original Burnap Deed of Gift, which decreed the collection could never be sold, must be accessible to everyone and never displayed with any objects that are not part of the collection.  

The amount of resources expended amassing an art collection is mind-boggling, but the thought of simply passing it along to strangers is practically unbelievable.  Mirroring the spirit of the Burnap’s gift, the cups are being given away via a random selection system to anyone willing to sign a Deed of Trust for its care forever.   

For someone like me who could never hope to afford such a thing, this was an opportunity I could not ignore.   Museum members got first shot at the selection during the October 8, 2010 preview day [best member benefit ever!].  By 10:00 a.m., I was ready to select my intended Cup.  I spent quite a while inspecting them, noticing the slight differences in the individually-applied handles and surface variations.  I chose #1130, symbolic of the anniversary of my first date with The Roommate, November 30.    The gallery buzzed as everyone related the story behind their chosen cup and  how they planned to display it if selected.  It was a welcome jolt to my art-infused soul. 

the roommate's selection

When The Roommate graciously joined me for lunch that afternoon, he threw his hat into the Forever ring as well, selecting #0115, which corresponds with our wedding date, January 15  [I know—it’s all sickeningly romantic].  I said a silent prayer to the fates, honestly grateful for the experience, but no false modesty here—I really, really wanted a cup. 

As I drove to work this morning, I was motivated and energized.  Forever had sparked something inside of me and I did not want that feeling to go away.

Luckily, it didn’t.  “I just got an email,” The Roommate said over my cell’s speaker phone as I neared the Museum.  “Dear Member, we are delighted to inform you that you were selected as the owner—” Honestly, I didn’t hear the rest because I was screaming like crazy and trying to keep from driving off the road!

Safely at the Museum, I took a moment to compose myself and rushed to the gallery, joining the throng of freshly-minted owners.  We oohed and ahhed over the cups like proud parents of newborn babies.  One woman told me, “I barely believed it when I got the email.  Now I’m a part of art.”  Another said, “I just chose the one that looked the best to me.”

hello, philanthropy!

 It was great talking with Catherine Futter, the Helen Jane and R. Hugh “Pat” Uhlmann Curator of Decorative Arts, about the origins of the exhibition and her feelings upon finally realizing a project that was years in the making.  Catherine also introduced me to Clare Twomey, whom she had already informed of my cool-headed reaction to being selected.   Clare was warm and charming, stating that the best part of the work was hearing why the cups were chosen.   When she asked me to show her my cup and tell her the story behind it, she seemed genuinely touched and it was amazing to share that moment with her.


artist & lender

Art is often perceived as an elitist activity.  Forever shatters that convention, bringing art to the masses in the most egalitarian way possible.  It encourages community, conversation, connection and engagement, and is ultimately responsible for one of the best days I’ve ever had!


Have you ever felt transformed by an art exhibition? What does forever mean to you?

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adding “lazy rapist” to my résumé

In his August 12, 2010 diatribe-du-jour slandering democrats, the Obama Administration, leftists, liberals and “what have you” (anyone else he couldn’t stand that day), Rush Limbaugh claimed that nonprofit organizations and their employees “siphon contributions as their salaries” and have the nerve to consider themselves “good people” even though they are “rapists in terms of finance and economy.”  Please take a listen while I check my blood pressure.

It’s common knowledge that Rush (may I call you Rush?) could care less about black folks, is indifferent to gender inequality unless it involves making a blonde female 26 years his junior his “better half” and really digs bashing black women.  Finally, I represent all that he truly despises: a black, brunette woman working for a nonprofit organization  

It would have been interesting if Rush had offered some compelling evidence supporting the ills of nonprofits.  I am not above critical assessment when it comes to my bread and butter, so color  me disappointed.  Rush missed the opportunity to spark a necessary conversation regarding the sector’s response to the new American economy.   However, to do so, he would have to be  interested in exchanging ideas in the first place.  His distasteful flavor of hogwash is simply par for the course.     

See, Rush is an entertainer.  If you want a primer on how a down-on-his-luck small town guy captures the ear of a nation, Elia Kazan’s “A Face in the Crowd” shows you how its done.    

Get it, people? He’s an actor.  Spewing hate into the world and laughing all the way to the bank, it’s hard to knock the hustle.  It would be funny if people didn’t actually believe him. 

Though what people say is telling, often their behavior reveals even more.  Here’s a breakdown of Rush’s more recent nonprofit-related activities:

Gee, Rush is just like me.  When he’s sick, he seeks treatment from the best doctors and hospitals he can afford.   He uses his influence to raise money for causes he supports.  He’s driven to apopletic convulsions at the sound of “Poker Face.”    

Rush can talk out the side of his neck all he wants, but I know better.   He loves nonprofits which, truth be told, keep the “big government” he purportedly fears from getting bigger.   

 Thank goodness those “idiots” at the organizations he needed felt like working those days.    

 DC Central Kitchen employees sum up Rush’s trash talk in one word.  Is he justified in calling shenanigans on nonprofit employees?

nonprofit nerd reads

One of the great things about being out of  school is that you can finally read whatever the heck you want.  Coincidentally, this is the time of year when it’s skin-blistering hot  in the Midwest and you can only comfortably be outside between 6:00 – 6:02 a.m.,  so reading is the perfect indoor activity.  I am blissfully working my way through a very long to-read list (kept oh-so-tidy thanks to Goodreads) but I wouldn’t be a true nonprofit wonk without including a few (um, more like 20) books devoted to the industry.  Here’s some from the top of the list:


Work Hard, Be Nice: How Two Inspired Teachers Created America’s Best Schools, by Jay Mathews

Two educators observe successful teachers working with low-income students, ultimately using what they learn to develop an educational model that results in a nationwide network of charter schools.    



Ignite the Power of Art: Advancing Visitor Engagement in Museum Experiences, by Bonnie Pitman, Ellen Hirzy

This book compiles the results of the Dallas Museum of Art‘s seven-year research project examining how visitors engage with art and how the findings sparked institutional change.


Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential (Civil Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives), by Dan Palotta.

Palotta questions why nonprofits are held to such unreasonable economic standards, why some nonprofit leaders  bend over backwards to appear unconcerned with securing financial sustainability and why many funders are diametrically opposed to supporting operational expenses.



The Digital Museum: A Think Guide, edited by Herminia Din and Phyllis Hecht

25 museum and technology thought-leaders put their collective brains together to examine of how communications technology effects all museum operations, not just the typical areas of concern (conservation, education, curatorial, etc.) 


 What are you reading this summer?