With provisional space, repurposing and the growing popularity of the “charm bracelet” approach (diverse cultural groups branded together as one district or neighborhood), how do we think and talk about, much less pay for, the iconic showcase-spaces that drive civic PR and tourism?  Here are two relevant and thought-provoking articles:

A sobering piece in the New York Times about building expansions, cultural capacity, and Board members with misplaced enthusiasm: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/28/arts/design/study-shows-expansion-can-be-unhealthy-for-arts-groups.html?_r=3

Best read alongside this, for a pick-me-up afterwards:

20 Most Beautiful  Museums in the World, from Flavorwire.    http://www.flavorwire.com/306801/the-20-most-beautiful-museums-in-the-world/comment-page-1#comment-148357

In my opinion, they should have listed 21, with MASSMoCA added to make blackjack!


A former Sprague Electric Company plant, the flat-out droolworthy contemporary art museum in the Berkshires (http://www.massmoca.org/ in North Adams, MA) is thriving, and might offer a few clues to arts groups looking apply others’ lessons and avoid some of the pitfalls:

  • hybridize – old plus new; visual plus performing; art plus technology; science plus humanities.  Creativity is less about invention and more about recombining, so should its containers be!   This is the big limitation of feasibility studies – the holy grail of capital campaigns.  If several others have already done something successfully, chances are you’ll need to put a new twist on it to succeed.  It’s hard to quantify vision, but there’s also no substitute for it and no single discipline, art form or perspective that’s going to compel its narrative forward in isolation.  Build and/or expand accordingly.
  • generalize – niches are nice, but don’t make yours too narrow.  Propose eclectic contents for your container so people will wonder what happens next!  Make sure more purposes are possible in a given space than you ever even imagined at the start.
  • localize – if your proposed architectural project could be somewhere else in the world other than where you’re putting it and still make sense, don’t do it!  Buildings should be indigenous to their surroundings, reinforce their places, and story their communities.

Above all, let’s consider and embrace the notion than everyone is allowed to have an opinion about what makes space important, appealing and interesting, and what spatial alterations and innovations their communities actually need to express cultural vibrancy.   Models, maps and prototypes – tents, carts and flashmobs – might just be the kinds of shrines and palaces that fit these times the best.

Meanwhile City Wide Open Studios is coming up in October 2012 in New Haven, CT – three weekends of feasting on an eclectic free range of art spaces turned inside-out, all invitational-like.  This year is the first to have a theme – Crystal for the event’s 15th Anniversary – making the entire urban area a kind of composite, crowdsourced glittering art palace.   http://www.cwos.org/