The Smithsonians: catch them if you can

AmericanArtMuseum

American Art Museum

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

If you’re planning to visit the Smithsonian art museums in D.C., you might want to make other arrangements — six of the galleries are closing their doors at random and without warning, according to an article on The Verge.

Sequestration budget cuts are forcing the Smithsonian to close the doors of the National Portrait Gallery, the American Art Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Museum of African Art and the Freer and Sackler Galleries of Asian Art, six of the Smithsonian’s most prestigious galleries.

The details of the closings have not been disclosed, and the news came as a surprise to many because the Smithsonian vowed to keep its doors open despite the sequestration, according to CBS. Now, The Verge reported that the museums are supposed to cut off nearly 5 percent of its budget, approximately $42 million, in this year alone.

Employees and visitors alike are flustered that the closing schedule is not posted. Many contracted security guards from AlliedBarton (a private firm that details the staff at the Smithsonians) will be affected, but this statement from the company shows they neglect to release information about the employees’ future:

“AlliedBarton Security Services does not release information related to client contracts. We work in conjunction with our clients to meet their ongoing needs for security officer services.”

Not only will the security guards take a toll, but there will also be a freeze on new hires, a decrease of employee travel and postponed maintenance at major museums such as the National Air and Space Museum.

The Smithsonian Institution’s Secretary G. Wayne Clough testified before Congress last week to outline the effects of the sequestration:

“We have little budgetary flexibility remaining, and these required reductions will be felt by our visitors and those who are increasingly expecting services online.”

So why leave employees and visitors in the dark? 

Linda St. Thomas, a spokesperson for the Smithsonian Institution, told The Verge that none of the officials even know when the exhibits will be closed:

“The reason we can’t post [closing information] online is because we don’t know … We won’t know enough time in advance to do a web post.”

Decisions will be made on a day-to-day basis by the Institution’s museum directors and heads of security.

Although these budget cuts are temporary, Smithsonian officials are not at ease. Both Clough and St. Thomas cautioned that the cuts could become permanent if they continue past 2014.

Clough didn’t expect the effects of the sequestration to even get this bad, according to the CBS article from February of this year. Clough told CBS he wanted to avoid layoffs and museum closings.

The effects of the sequestration could “translate into permanent staff reductions,” and museums will be “forced to postpone or cancel exhibitions,” Clough told The Verge.

Despite rumors of the Smithsonian Institutions charging admission, authorities made it clear that the museums will remain open to the public without a fee. The Verge reported:

The idea has been floated repeatedly by members of Congress and other parties throughout the Smithsonian’s 167-year history, but each time, the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents — the governing board of the institution — has summarily rejected it.

[WC: 540]

Blue Streak invades your space

*Photo courtesy of the Hamiltonian Gallery

Photo courtesy of the Hamiltonian Gallery

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

Art has been known to defy conventional practices and surprise viewers for years. But this recent installation at D.C.’s Hamiltonian Gallery goes one step further — it invades your personal space.

A giant blue construction in the gallery’s hallway makes it hard for visitors to walk through without feeling uncomfortable.

You must be thinking: what’s the artist’s point?

“Blue Streak,” as it’s named, “is about these moments of awkward choice. It’s more about art-making and art-experience than it is about the distinct interpretation of a made object … about contemplating space, the memory of space, the expectations of space, and the mechanics of space as experienced by each individual viewer,” according to the Examiner.

Go check out artist Timothy “Mike” Thompson‘s piece in the “Gathering Space” exhibition.

One Million Bones installation to speak for over a million stories

*Check out this video of a similar project (50,000 bones) in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2011 

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

An art installation made of one million bones is scheduled to be displayed at the National Mall in June; the goal is to make a minute but powerful representation of the people who have suffered from mass genocides and atrocities across the globe.

Photo courtesy of www.kearneyhub.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.kearneyhub.com

The One Million Bones project demonstrates the strength of art as a social call to action against injustices.

The bones, created by art students and teachers of Kearney High School, Horizon Middle School, Kearney Catholic and Sumner Public School, are ceramic.

Residents of central Nebraska were invited to participate in the project on April 6 at the Museum of Nebraska Art by molding bones themselves.

To learn more about the project, visit the project’s website. Read the full article here.

Art used to merge the District’s two cities

Left: The District's famous Washington Monument, frequented by tourists. Right: a mural in Brookland, a less-visited neighborhood that has attracted visitors with its art.

Left: The District’s famous Washington Monument, frequented by tourists. Right: a mural in Brookland, a less-visited neighborhood that has attracted visitors with its art.

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

District Mayor Vincent Gray recently proposed a budget for fiscal year 2014 that would raise the public city arts budget by $2.3 million; city officials wish to invest the funds into neighborhood art projects to encourage tourists to visit under-trafficked areas of the District, according to the Washington Examiner.

I hold the belief that this infusion of funding is an attempt by Gray and other city officials to create a city with appealing aspects beyond its historical and political landmarks.

And if neighborhoods and historic landmarks were equally inviting, I would also argue that the duality of the District would intertwine. Washington, the political, wealthy city, would merge with D.C., the multigenerational residents who have a stake in the District.

Lionell Thomas, executive director of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, told the Examiner that the neighborhood projects would establish the whole District as an artistic epicenter:

People think of the Mall as the place to go for artistic activities … The new strategy creates that whole vision — the city is a vibrant and wonderful place.

And an influx of visitors in lesser-visited neighborhoods would likely promote neighborhood beautification and renovation. Neighborhood visitors would see there is more to the District than the famous statues and museums that people typically plan to visit.

Furthermore, tourism in both Washington (museums and politics) and D.C. (neighborhoods and local hangouts) would weave the two parts together. This contrast is well explained by Adam Serwer in a 2011 article titled “A City Divided,” published on the American Prospect:

Washington spills out of downtown Metro stations at 8 A.M.; D.C. huddles on crowded buses at 6 A.M. On Sundays, when Washington goes to brunch, D.C. is in church. Washington clinks glasses in bars like Local 16 in its leisure time, while D.C. sweats out its perm at dance clubs like Love or DC Star. Washington has health-insurance benefits, but D.C. is paying out of pocket …

Although this duality has existed for quite a while, these two parts of the District have, arguably, already begun to meld together within the past few years, but not equally — some residents believe Washington has overshadowed D.C.

In his 2013 State of the District Address (according to the prepared text), Gray said that the District is becoming a higher class area. The city was previously recognized for its cultural and economic diversity; the career-focused transplants from all over the country mingled with the District locals whose families had grown up in the area for generations.

Now, though, Gray noted that he was afraid the city was overwhelmingly inhabited by residents with white collar careers:

We once worried about the District becoming a city of “haves” and “have-nots.”  But now we are increasingly in danger of becoming a city of only “haves.”

Some District natives have noticed the same shift.

NY Times writer Latoya Peterson, a District resident, shared her experience with the city’s divide that confirmed Gray’s worry. She wrote that the political bustle of Washington is taking over D.C. in her January 2013 op-ed piece:

My block today looks completely different from the way it did when I moved in just a few years ago. Italian wine bars and trendy street food arrived, bringing a diversity-lite mix of patrons. Washington is taking over, yet vestiges of D.C. remain.

Under-trafficked neighborhoods may be considered these “vestiges.” If tourists were drawn into local neighborhoods, I argue that central Washington and hidden D.C. would be equally celebrated. Art installations, as suggested by city officials, would be one method to entice visitors into neighborhoods and promote equality among the two faces of the city.

Although I have not read any residents’ reactions to this proposition, many officials have endorsed the idea. At-large Councilman David Grosso told the Examiner that an artistic landmark would create a well-rounded city, adding a creative, authentic flare to a predominantly federal city:

Just like Chicago has “The Bean” (officially titled Cloud Gate), a shiny, odd-looking, permanent fixture of Millennium Park that draws flocks of gaping onlookers, the District needs its own distinctive centerpiece, [Grosso] reasons – not another obelisk for a former president.

Grosso and others think that the District is not a large player in the arts scene. These city officials support Gray’s decision to fund the arts because most big cities have large art pieces that attract visitors.

Jennifer Cover Payne, head of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington, told the Examiner that she believes the Gray’s proposition is a great sign following years of an artistic drought.

” ‘When there was an downturn in the economy, the arts downturned even more,’ she said. ‘Now … D.C. is ready for a renaissance.’ “

[WC: 777]

National Gallery of Art promotes self-guided tours with new mobile app

Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

The National Gallery of Art (NGA) encourages visitors to be their own tour guides.

NGA released “Your Art,” its new, free app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch last week.

The app allows visitors to explore the galleries through two self-guided tours. It also keeps consumers up to date with a list of events and exhibitions, images of various works housed at the museum, as well as visitor information.

And if you haven’t jumped onto the Apple bandwagon, NGA allows visitors to borrow one of 20 iPod Touches from the West Building Audio Tour Desk.

For more information, read this article by the Washington City Paper.

The District seen through an artistic lens

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

While on your everyday commute, you pass by that colorful mural in your local metro station twice a day — do you ever wonder what it means? Which artist painted it? If there are any more like it in the District, and where?

Well, lucky for you, District art lovers combined their local art findings onto one convenient map, creating a simple way to plan a weekend trip to explore the city and quench your thirst for D.C. art culture.

The map features locations, descriptions and titles of public art pieces, delving deeper into the District’s rich artistic history.

Check out the mural details and the interactive map here.

Philanthropic salsa dancing

Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities

Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

A night of salsa dancing in tempo with musical tunes from a live DJ pulled the District’s fun-loving philanthropists together to support the local Latino community.

On March 22, D.C.’s Catholic Charities’ Spanish Catholic Center hosted Música y Sueños (Music and Dreams), a Latin-style salsa dance party held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Over 400 locals attended the event and were provided salsa dance lessons by Ricardo Loaiza, a professional D.C. salsa dancer.

The proceeds benefitted the Spanish center, which has served the District’s Latino community for 45 years by providing health clinics, food pantries, employment, legal aid and language classes.

Continue here to read more about the event.