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]

Afterschool program in Ward 7 proves positive connection between art therapy and economic, social success

Art therapy in Heisa Island Aswan

Art therapy in Heisa Island Aswan (Photo credit: rouelshimi)

By Nicole Lafond

Editor

An afterschool arts program in a struggling D.C. neighborhood recently helped African American boys and young men develop goals for their future, as a part of the program’s adolescent art project.

As a component of an art education series, NPR published a piece this week about the afterschool program, Life Pieces to Masterpieces, an art program for boys and young men in the Ward 7 neighborhood.

This program strives to give boys and young men living in the area a safe place to go after school to express themselves and form positive, mentored relationships, NPR reported. Life Pieces to Masterpieces teaches boys and young men in the program values through “The four C’s,” which are Connect, Create, Contribute and Celebrate. Program participants are called apprentices.

The program was strategically established in a struggling neighborhood in D.C., Ward 7.

According to the organization “Ward 7 for Life,” a group that strives to combat the rise of HIV/AIDS infections in the area, Ward 7 has the highest rates of teen pregnancy, unemployment, rates of recidivism, persons living below the poverty level and single women as heads of households in D.C.

A co-founder of Life Pieces, Mary Brown, told NPR the program specifically focuses on younger males in this neighborhood because of the struggling reputation the neighborhood holds and the statistical nature of male reactions to emotions and tragic life experiences.

“The little boys and young men [have] been exposed to all types of horrific things. And being the natural little boys and young men that they are, they swallow it all.”

In a recent art project, the young apprentices artistically developed and expressed their goals for the future. Most of the boys dreamed of becoming pro athletes, NPR reported.

Through these different types of activities, the mentors hope the apprentices in the program not only develop aspirations, but also learn that it is OK to share these feelings with one another, mentor Maurice Kie told NPR. This type of atmosphere is an “urgent need” in D.C., according to the organization’s website.

“A home away from home … That’s what Life Pieces to Masterpieces provides to the hundreds of African American young men and boys growing up in Washington, D.C.’s most poverty-stricken and volatile neighborhoods. And, in a city with the highest rate of poverty in the United States, there is an urgent need for this loving, safe environment for expressing fear, anger, hope and joy.”

All of the mentors and apprentices in the program are males, which helps the younger boys develop a male-figure relationship that many in Ward 7, statistically, are lacking.

Brown considers the program to have been a continued success since its founding in 1996. 1,000 young men have gone through the program and just shy of 100 percent of them graduated high school and went on to higher education.

According to Brown, the statistics of the program speak loudly for the important role art plays in cognitive and social development. “The paintings are not the masterpieces, our boys lives are the masterpieces,” Brown told NPR.

Because of the success of programs such as Life Piece to Masterpiece, I am convinced that art therapy programs are the best methods of igniting positive social and cognitive development and rehabilitation in children and adults, mainly because participants do not necessarily recognize that they are going through therapy.

A study published in World of Psychology last year studied the role of art therapy in occupational and social development. Those surveyed were given the choice between different types of “therapeutic” activities. Art therapy was the most popular out of the 16 choices.

However, after completing the “art therapy,” the majority of study participants indicated that they found the activities to be unhelpful and unbeneficial to their personal occupational and social development.

The author of the study argued that because the study participants were distracted by the actual activity, they were less likely to recognize short-term results, but would, likely, over time, feel real therapeutic results.

The engaging nature of art therapy programs may be the very reason it is highly successful as a means of counseling or therapy.

This claim is not a new argument, either.

Artistic legend, Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

And sLife Pieces to Masterpieces is not the only program in D.C. to have recognized the importance of art therapy in cognitive and social development.

Organizations such as Art Therapy and Art Group at Thrive have harnessed the idea of art therapy as well, making the practice of “creating” the main aspect of their counseling and therapy services.

Art Therapy group recognizes the importance of art in various aspects of development, calling it an integral part of their organization’s mission on the group’s website.

“[Art Therapy] is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self esteem and self awareness, and achieve insight.”

Along with being integral as preventative and development services, art therapy also plays a role in rehabilitation at organizations such as Thrive, which provides art therapy sessions four times a week for the homeless, StreetSense reported.

Following those lines, a group called Art Therapy in Prison is currently conducting and collecting research about the essentials of art therapy as a rehabilitation measure in prisons. This organization has recently done extensive research into the positive results art therapy can have on individuals with anger issues and what types of preventative roles the results could play in prisons.

This concept ties back to the success of art therapy and the idea that because people are engaging in activities that only relate to their issues theoretically, rather than practically, the therapy sessions can have a stronger, or more lasting, impact.

Google Art Project gains popularity and Congressman endorses project’s efforts

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image by CrunchBase

The University of Michigan’s Museum of Art joined the Google Art Project this week, a online collection of art that includes work from 150 museums and monuments around the world, including the White House.

The online collection holds over 40,000 high resolution images of art work, Ann Arbor news reported. The goal of the Google Art Project is to provide wide access to art work and broaden cultural understanding, without physical barriers.

Rep. John Dingell from Michigan endorsed the efforts of the project at an event held at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Art. He is a leading advocate in D.C. for improving cultural literacy in the pre-college education system.

In a time when museums are struggling financially, the Google Art Project hopes to aid in accessibility to art work for art education.

Read the full story of UMMA joining the Google project here.

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.

Street Art — Baltimore Edition

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

Last weekend, I traveled to Baltimore, M.D. with a group of friends. Our day there seemed to be immersed in rich art forms, from art museums to public street art. Pictured here are a few of the many murals we found.

*Photos by Lanie Rivera

Art-o-Mat: degrading art or promoting success?

*Watch this video featuring Art-o-Mat creator Clark Whittington as he explains the genesis of his “art for the masses.”

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

The Smithsonian’s Art-o-Mat vending machine was installed in 2010, but this recent article by San Jose Mercury News (SJMN) shows that D.C. was ahead of the curve — institutions across the country are now tagging along, using the refurbished cigarette machines to dispense small art pieces for just $5 (check out their over 100 of the nationwide locations here).

Amid a time when art organizations are financially suffering, it makes sense that organizations have embraced fun technologies like the Art-o-Mat to attract customers.

Some art enthusiasts haven’t welcomed this trend — they claim the vending machines undermine the quality of art. But it’s not like these cigarette dispensers give out little snippets of Van Gogh’s work. Despite criticism from naysayers, the Art-o-Mat allows both artists and consumers to easily market and collect art, taking art from one home and bringing it straight into another.

While some artists are amateur, others, noted Art-o-Mat creator Clark Whittington in response to this post, have been practicing their craft for years but they want to contribute to Art-o-Mat’s cause:

“We have professional photographers, painters, sculptors, etc. who make a living from their art. They are involved because they believe in the original concept of Art-o-Mat … getting art into people’s hands and making it part of their lives.”

And the machines are more than just a short-term project, according to Whittington in the SJMN article:

“Art should reach out to the public … Some people think this is a fad, something with a short shelf life, but it’s not.”

Photo by Karl Mondon

Photo by Karl Mondon

SJMN offers other methods art organizations have used to integrate their work with technology. These modern advancements, including museums with smart-phone apps and pre-theater commercials “fly in the face of artistic convention.” And critics have also claimed that Art-o-Mat is the art world’s way of upping their “hipness” to attract a larger audience, according to SJMN.

But artists, amateur and seasoned, have praised the machines for providing entrepreneurial opportunities, and consumers are enthusiastic for the opportunity to engage with art in an innovative way.

Art-o-Mat artist Dean Konop commented on the Smithsonian’s blog post about their art vending machine with enthusiasm and gratitude for the opportunity this machine provides for him:

I am an artist [who has been] part of the Art*O*Mat group (Artist in Cellophane) since 2004. I have created over 650 pieces for AIC and Art*O*Mat and I find the whole experience liberating and enjoyable. To work on a project and then have them dispersed to places I have never been to is exhilarating … Plus I get my name out as an artist through this whole endeavor.

While some outright oppose the new technologies, others are simply worried that inventions like these are a sign of an arts industry crisis.

Kathryn Jones, CEO of VisualArtsTV, a company that creates innovative ways for the community to engage with art, said that the art world is desperate to attract more viewers, reported by SJMN’s recent article:

“Our industry is facing a severe sustainability crisis … If speaking to today’s audiences via the technology they are already using will help to build more demand for the performing arts then I think we are doing the industry a terrible disservice by refusing to try.”

With this in mind, the question is: does technology really degrade the quality of art?

Some art connoisseurs have argued that ploys like the vending machines are disrespectful to both artists and their work, but others know the art world has to adapt to the changing times:

While purists bemoan the cheapening of the aesthetic experience, others say it’s a sign of times: The arts, like most sectors of the economy, must evolve or die.

And evolving it is. These antique “carcinogen delivery systems” have been repurposed by North Carolinian artist Clark Whittington. They are art themselves.

And the Art-o-Mat machines are undeniably gaining attention from the art world.

The Smithsonian’s blog post reported that consumers immediately took advantage of the opportunity to collect these eccentric pieces of art.

Within the first 12 days of the machine’s installation at the American Art Museum, visitors averaged 16 art pieces dispensed per day.

Not to mention, everyone can participate. It seems like a win-win. Whittington told the SJMN that his art is meant to, at its heart, serve the public:

“This way anyone can be an art collector … It’s as democratic as you get.”

Photo courtesy of artomat.org

Photo courtesy of artomat.org

[WC: 826]

*This post was corrected in response to a comment by the Art-o-Mat creator. He clarified that all of the Art-o-Mat artists are not amateur; many have been practicing their craft and selling their work for years.