Tag Archives: New York

Art Beyond Sight Interviews Michelle Lopez (Queens Museum)

INTERVIEW WITH MICHELLE LOPEZ

published by Art Beyond Sight, Oct, 2013

Michelle Lopez is the senior program coordinator of Queens Museum of Art. Having served children and families on the autism spectrum as an ABA Instructor, counselor and trainer, she is now working with Queens Museum of Art’s ArtAccess library programs and coordinates the Autism Initiatives program, which is a multi-year partnership with the Queens Library. Through this program, families can access bilingual studio art classes held at the various Queens Library branches. Programs have included classes such as Photography Class, Beautiful Oops, and The Magic Tree House series. The Magic Tree House, a 6-week series, provided students of all reading levels with the chance to make art inspired by the themes in books 1-4 of the book series.

 

ART BEYOND SIGHT: Why did you become involved with ArtAccess/Autism Initiatives? MICHELLE LOPEZ: Art access is the part of our education department that focuses on special needs, so I was interested in working with it because of my art therapy background. In terms of Autism Initiatives, back when I was in school I gained experience from working at a preschool with children on the autism spectrum. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do at the time but that’s when I became interested in autism. When I started working at the Queens Museum of Art, we had a grant for the new New Yorkers program, which is a program for adults and the immigrant community. So at the time, most of the programs were for adults but the coordinator wanted to make programs for families as well, including programs for early childhood. It just so happened that one of the families of the program had a child on the autism spectrum – this family invited other friends and family of the autism community and the number of classmates increased therea􀅌er. The coordinator of this new program wasn’t familiar with working with those on the autism spectrum. That’s when I came to help out – it ended up becoming a popular and successful class. And at the same time, the Queens Library was looking to gain training for working with families and children with special needs – that’s when I decided to focus more on autism and became involved with Autism Initiatives.

ABS: What is the goal of Autism Initiatives?

ML: The goal overall is to create more inviting institutions for families on the autism spectrum. Thankfully, looking at how things are now, it looks like a lot of the museums have gone on that journey, starting their own au- tism initiatives. I think now, were really thinking about the relationship of community spaces for individuals on the autism spectrum so that they can develop relationships with these institutions. Another goal is to offer prac- tical tools to help families understand how to use a museum. These families can then pass these tools onto others. Last but not least, another goal would be teaching these families to use this cultural network to their advantage. The focus of Autism Initiatives has shi􀅌ed from children to families in recent years. Due to this, our main focus is socialization because sometimes educators can feel intimidated and vice versa. So a primary goal is socialization.

ABS: What are some programs that have been created through Autism Initiatives?

ML: We first started with photography classes, then DJ classes, to traditional art making classes and art-making classes inspired by books. We’ve also done composing, lighting classes – whatever is of interest of the educators. Programs are o􀅌en educator driven so it usually comes down to the educator. If the educator is passionate about a specific topic, the participants are more willing to learn about it because it is presented to them in an exciting way. Because every child is interested in having a positive experience, we will really initiate any program that an educator is willing to teach as long as they are open to opening up their curriculum in this manner.

ABS: What kind of skills do you focus on enriching in the classroom? Through programs such like the Magic Tree House series?

ML: A series like the Magic Tree House series happens over 6 weeks, so we start with socialization skills. Children learn to greet each other and to reinforce the action of acknowledging their peers. For the Magic Tree House series in particular, we were also trying to wean children off of picture books. Since many children are visual learners, they tend to need that . The great thing about the Magic Tree House series is that there is a set beginning, middle, and end to the story line, and they always focus on science or social study based needs – subjects part of a school’s core curriculum. One thing I’d like to emphasize is that it’s not that children can’t learn, it’s that you want to get them to learn. The idea is to introduce them to themes that will come up in the book and get them interested in those themes. If the theme is mummies, we will introduce them to the idea of Egypt so when they read the books in class or with their parents, they begin to see certain words come to life because of the previous reenactments in class. This applies to children whether they can read or not. We want children to be eventually able to do this on their own. We show parents that the vocabulary of a visual thinker can be built by adding images to words – and images can be added to words by playing around with material found at home. The ultimate goal is to help them be independent in their reading and get them interested in topics.

ABS: Who do you think adults benefit from participating in programs like the Open Studio program? (The Open Studio is a program for adults only)

ML: First and foremost, the adults come on Sunday and they register for every class individually. We don’t want a large group to book during that time because we want adults to live independently. For instance, there might not be enough space for an adult to register due to group booking. We want adults to feel like a􀆩ending this class is entirely up to them – they book the class and they a􀆩end. We also charge a dollar in order to help them understand money management. Usually, 2-4 participants come to each class. The adults choose what they want to do because, they’re adults. If they want to make cards, have a conversation, whatever it is they want to do, it is up to them. We have participants that come every week and work on one art piece for a long period of time with their own materials. The idea here is not to teach them to make artwork but allow them to ask for what materials they want in making it. If they want to make the sky look more profound, Mitra, the art therapist, can make suggestions. The direction these adults want to take is ultimately up to them. We want to provide them with a studio space where they can make decisions. Adults can also benefit from Open Studio because it provides a social community. The adults look forward to seeing each other, sharing new sketches, and interacting with one another.

ABS: Can you describe the process of collaborating with teaching artists and/or art therapists in developing new programs/How do you go about developing a program together to successfully help those with autism?

ML: We collaborate and develop a program by teaching art therapists how to incorporate more entry points into their lessons. For instance, just talking to the kids won’t suffice because children of the autism spectrum are usually visual learners. At the same time, some of them are not entirely visual – some need to take action and do. So throughout the process of developing a program, we make it clear that the communication to the kids needs to be clear, which includes giving participants space and/or more time. We enjoy adapting to the different personalities and teaching styles of art therapists and teaching artists, but we also make sure to let them know to pace each lesson.

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Experiencing Art through Touch (Repost from Metropolitan Museum, New York)

Photographer Interview: Experiencing Art through Touch

Jennette Mullaney, Former Associate Email Marketing Manager, Department of Digital Media

Posted: Friday, February 8, 2013, on www.metmuseum.org

Matt Ducklo | Thutmose III, Dynasty 18, ca. 1504–1405 B.C. | 2006

Matt Ducklo (American, b. 1973). Thutmose III, Dynasty 18, ca. 1504–1405 B.C., Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006. Chromogenic print; 50 x 40 in. Image courtesy of the artist. Learn more about this statue.

The Metropolitan Museum has a long history of making its collections accessible to blind and partially sighted visitors through touch and description. In the 1970s, the Museum established the Touch Collection, a group of small artworks from different curatorial departments, for the purpose of tactile exploration by blind and partially sighted visitors. Since 1998, these visitors have been invited to engage with a range of Museum objects through touch tours—guided or self-guided visits in which they can explore specific objects with their hands. For several years, photographer Matt Ducklo has captured participants on these tours at the Metropolitan and other museums, creating a body of work that explores how all people—both sighted and otherwise—experience art. I interviewed Matt about his work and how it has affected his own experience of looking at art.

Jennette Mullaney: What attracted you to this subject?

Matt Ducklo: I am interested in seeing and looking, particularly the way in which looking at art can feel like heightened looking. When I visit a gallery or museum, I occasionally have moments that produce some sort of emotional or intellectual response, but a lot of times I just register work with my eyes and move on. With the photographs of touch tours, I am representing the appearance of an interior experience.

Matt Ducklo | Statue of Herakles seated on a rock, Imperial, 1st or 2nd century A.D. Roman; adaptation of a Greek statue of the late 4th or early 3rd century B.C., Metropolitan Museum of Art | 2008

Matt Ducklo (American, b. 1973). Statue of Herakles seated on a rock, Imperial,1st or 2nd century A.D. Roman; adaptation of a Greek statue of the late 4th or early 3rd century B.C., Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008. Chromogenic print; 50 x 40 in. Image courtesy of the artist. Learn more about this statue.

Jennette Mullaney: You photograph not only a work of art and a visitor’s interaction with that work of art, but the very act of experiencing art in a way that is foreign to most of us. How do you capture that experience?

Matt Ducklo: The thing is that I don’t know what the experience is like. I photograph what it looks like, but I guess that the impossibility of knowing is what’s interesting.

Matt Ducklo | Young Girl with Flowers in Her Hair, 1865–70, The Dixon Gallery and Gardens | 2008

Matt Ducklo (American, b. 1973). Young Girl with Flowers in Her Hair, 1865–70, The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, 2008. Chromogenic print; 50 x 40 in. Image courtesy of the artist

Jennette Mullaney: Have these projects affected how you observe art when visiting a museum?

Matt Ducklo: I suppose I sometimes pay more attention to the surface of a work now, but it’s not as if every time I look at a work of art I think about what it must feel like. I guess I think more about how I might be misunderstanding the work and probably spend a little more time with each piece.

Matt Ducklo | The Well (Variation on a Tsukubai), 1982, The Noguchi Museum | 2009

Matt Ducklo (American, b. 1973). The Well (Variation on a Tsukubai), 1982, The Noguchi Museum, 2009. Chromogenic print; 50 x 40 in. Image courtesy of the artist

Jennette Mullaney: Would you mind sharing some of the insights you’ve gained working with visually impaired visitors?

Matt Ducklo: Art is important, and many people with visual impairments want as much access to art as possible. Most of the people I have photographed find that experiencing art through touch is meaningful. I do believe that touching can function as something like seeing.

Related Link
Programs for Visitors Who Are Blind or Partially Sighted

Repost: How to Keep Museum-goers Happy

This is an interesting article on how big museums have found out that a museum visit is not only about the art, but also about the “experience”…

 

How to Keep Museum-goers Happy

By Posted 03/27/12

As visitors crowd into blockbusters at rates of more than 800 people per hour, museums are working behind the scenes to keep guests patient, informed, and calm.

Long lines. Jostling crowds. Mini-stampedes to get a look at the “good stuff.” A trip to a major museum exhibition these days can feel more like a Black Friday sale at Walmart than a rewarding adventure in esthetic uplift. So much so that a Gauguin retrospective at London’s Tate Modern, in 2010–11, elicited a slew of complaints on the museum’s Internet message board. “A good exhibition sadly marred by the gross overcrowding,” read a typical response. “I shuffled along with so many others struggling to see past the backs of so many heads.” The reactions of angry visitors led one art critic to dub the phenomenon “gallery rage,” and if that’s not quite as catchy as “road rage,” it may be endemic to our times.

But there is good news, and it’s twofold: attendance numbers at major exhibitions reveal no sign of flagging (even in a poor economy and even with higher entry fees) and museums are increasingly sensitive to visitors’ needs. Indeed, many devote serious time and personnel to forestalling meltdowns in their halls of culture.

A case in point is the recent Alexander McQueen retrospective at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which broke attendance records for a fashion exhibition at the institution. Visitors lined up for as long as five hours, but nearly all showed “remarkable patience and perseverance,” says Harold Holzer, senior vice president for external affairs at the Met. The museum’s visitor-services department, he adds, “staffed up as never before for McQueen,” and during the opening weeks, they kept a close eye on how many people could navigate the galleries and for how long. “We worked at the beginning of the show to create a flow that would accommodate visitors, protect the art, keep the climate control at ideal levels, and maximize the experience,” he says. “We learned that about 426 visitors per half hour would work best.” In the end, McQueen garnered a total of 661,509 visitors.

If that sounds like a lot, consider that the ongoing spectacular “Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs,” now traveling the globe, still draws about a million people per city and averages 600 viewers per hour. “We put in a great deal of thought beforehand to managing that gallery capacity and managing expectations,” says Mark Lach, senior vice president of Arts & Exhibitions International, the chief organizer behind the King Tut show. When people are paying top dollar—between $28 and $32 admission to see Tut’s treasures—expectations can run unusually high. “You’ve got a certain segment of guests who want it to be that perfect experience,” he adds, “so if parking isn’t right, if the directions to the exhibition are confusing, you end up with a number who are frustrated before they even walk into the show.”

Timed ticketing, with entry slotted at fixed intervals, can help forestall frayed tempers. Simon Blint, head of visitor services at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, says he was spurred to introduce timed ticketing after receiving a serious tongue lashing from a man who had stood on line for an hour and a half waiting to see “Picasso and American Art,” in 2007. “The guy was incredibly frustrated,” Blint says, “and if I recall correctly, he was there with his children. He told me I was an idiot for not doing timed ticketing. And he was right.”

Making it clear up front how much of a schlep museum- goers are in for is helpful. “Don’t keep people in the dark,” Lach says. “Let them know that there are 12 galleries in the exhibition, that they can linger as long as they like, and that there’s a time they can count on for entry.” Any advance information may keep tantrums in check. Lach remembers his own visit to the McQueen show last summer: “As soon as I got on line, there was a little sign on a post that said, ‘From this point on, it’s about a 90-minute wait.’ And there were guest-services personnel handing out pamphlets on the exhibition and doing their best to answer questions.”

Sometimes the personal touch can help sweeten the wait. “A few times, my marketing colleagues got Argo Tea, a local chain, to donate hot beverages to those waiting in line for shows,” says Chai Lee, associate director of public affairs at the Art Institute of Chicago. “At one of our events, our previous director, Jim Cuno, even helped pass out tea and greeted visitors who queued up to get into the museum.”

“I spent a lot of time talking to visitors on line for the Vermeer show in the ’90s, because I would be relaying information to the press,” says Deborah Ziska, chief of press and public information at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. “I was always going out and asking, ‘What time did you come here? How long have you been on line?’ Then I would tell that to the papers, so visitors would know how long a wait to expect.”

“People like to see that you have a system going,” adds Lynn Parrish, assistant director of visitor services at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “They want to see that you’re organized, and that they’re all being treated the same way. When we have a line outside on the sidewalk, for example, we post staff at various points.” And that can mean a serious number of personnel devoted to one exhibition. For the Met’s McQueen retrospective, Holzer says, “between visitor services and security, we had at least 40 to 50 people working all the time.”

No matter how meticulous the advance planning, museums can’t always predict which shows will be megahits or whether the galleries will provide enough room for uncrowded viewing. For the exhibition devoted to filmmaker Tim Burton at MoMA two years ago, “we were caught off guard,” confesses Parrish. “As the show grew in popularity, things got kind of crazy.” When controlled entry, letting visitors in a few at a time, turned out to be insufficient, the museum turned to a timed-ticket system. Before “Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913–1917” opened, the museum fully expected the show to draw record numbers, and yet the sixth-floor galleries turned out to be spacious enough to see the work comfortably even at peak hours. “The challenge is a big artist in a small gallery,” Parrish says, “and that’s where you have to think about crowds and how you will deal with them.”

Visitors waiting to ride down Carsten Höller’s 102-foot slide last year at the New Museum in New York; riders on Höller’s Mirror Carousel, 2005; Singing Canaries Mobile, 2009.

“At the New Museum, the response to the Carsten Höller exhibition was unprecedented and largely unexpected,” says Karen Wong, the museum’s director of external affairs. The survey of works by the German entomologist-turned-artist, this past fall and winter, included some unusual showstoppers: a 102-foot slide that corkscrewed down two stories, a sensory-deprivation tank where visitors could float in salt water, and an installation of flashing lights that supposedly induced hallucinations. “The sheer scale and constancy of the attendance surge—which included not only our core visitors but also a large new audience—was way beyond what we imagined.” As a result, staffers had to handle exigencies more typical of a hotel than a museum. “The demand for the supply of slippers, robes, and towels that visitors needed, which required laundering and constant replenishing, greatly exceeded what we anticipated,” notes Wong. To cover the tab, the museum raised the cost of regular admission from $12 to $16. The price hike wasn’t permanent—it has since dropped to $14—but it showed, Wong says, “how increased resources can translate into improved customer service.”

However, a big turnout can sometimes translate into lower ticket prices. For last year’s exhibition “Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art,” the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, promoted a limited-time two-dollar discount on tickets for lower-traffic slots on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. “Those tickets sold well, and as a result high-traffic days weren’t oversubscribed and less-popular time slots were filled more than they might have been,” says Jennifer Garza, director of membership and guest services at the museum.

One great boon for museums sponsoring heavily attended blockbusters has been the number of memberships sold. More than 23,000 people purchased memberships to the Met during the run of the McQueen show, allowing those visitors to skip the line. (Another 17,000 paid $50 to see the exhibition during its last eight Mondays, when the museum is normally closed.) Similarly, MoMA sees its memberships soar when it implements timed ticketing. “We let members go any time they want to when there’s a timed-ticketed show,” says Parrish, “which is good and bad because it creates a variable—you don’t really know what’s going to happen. You might have a hundred members per half hour with their guests, or you might have 15 members.”

But blockbusters can also bring headaches in the form of ticket scalping. During the recent major exhibition of works by Leonardo da Vinci at the National Gallery in London, websites like eBay had tickets priced as high as £400 (about $628) when the regular charge was £16 ($25) per person. The National Gallery in Washington, D.C., faced similar problems for two of its biggest hits, “Johannes Vermeer,” in 1995, and “Van Gogh’s van Goghs,” in 1998. Museum passes, which are free, “were going for more than Redskins tickets at the time,” says Ziska. “A lot of homeless people would get on line for passes and then go off and scalp them.”

Museum personnel encounter other possibly devious tactics used to slip into popular shows. “You’d get calls from people who would give you these stories and you just don’t know what to think,” says Ziska. “‘My mother has cancer, and this is her last wish. Can you please get us in?’ Sometimes you don’t know what to say, but you try to believe them, to be sympathetic.”

Of course there are things visitors themselves can do to make a museum trip more pleasurable, no matter how packed the galleries. After newspaper reports of “gallery rage” at Tate Modern last year, Tim Dowling, a columnist for the Guardian, offered a set of cheeky-but-practical tips for making the most of the blockbuster experience. Go early or late, he advised, and tour the show nonsequentially, since “visitors tend to bunch up at the first few works of art.” Skip the audio tour for the same reason, and wear a high-visibility vest: “It makes you look official; people will be afraid to jostle you.” He even suggested forgoing the crowd-pleasers entirely. “Cultivate a taste for the overlooked, the offputting, the little understood and the poorly reviewed.”

Ann Landi is a contributing editor of ARTnews.

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