Let’s face it; we’re living in a time when distractions abound. Nearly everyone carries a mobile computing device in his or her pocket. You can easily occupy your mind and time with music, photos, social networks, TV, movies, news, and video games, not to mention phone or text conversations, at any moment. So why go to an art museum? I talked with Steve Konick, Director of Public Relations and Marketing for the Currier Museum of Art, in Manchester, New Hampshire, to understand why art museums are still relevant, informative, and dare I say fun, in this digital age
First, there’s history. There is something captivating and awe-inspiring about longevity in this oftentimes throwaway world. Experiencing the past in real life has a significant draw to it, one that’s compelling enough to even take a break from Pokemon Go. The Currier definitely has history. It opened in 1929, shortly before the Great Depression. Somehow, in a small New England town, it survived the economic devastation of that time. And in its 87 years, it has continued to show resilience and growth.
Currently, it is housed in a building that has changed as its collection expanded and gained notoriety. In the not too distant past, a new addition was built around the original building, so as to not destroy the historical structure. According to Steve, “Now when you go into what looks like a really huge cafe area—a communal area that we use all the time for events—you’re looking at what was the front door of the museum as you look behind you. We wanted to keep a sense of that history, and we did. The entire old museum is still a part of the new museum.”
Also adding to its historical power is the Zimmerman House, which it maintains. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1950s and is the only one of Wright’s houses open to the public in New England. Approximately three miles from the Currier, buses are available to bring museum visitors to this architectural gem.
“It’s really neat because it has been maintained in the exact form that it was left from the previous owners, the Zimmermans. Their clothes are in the closet. Their old phone is there. Their old artwork is there. It has been preserved exactly as it was,” said Steve. Compared to TV’s scripted and heavily-produced so-called reality shows that dominate our entertainment these days, wouldn’t it be intriguing to spy on an untouched actual living space?
The Currier also has in its collection works by other names you’ll know, like Pablo Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe, as well as great regional, modern, and contemporary pieces. It also brings in tantalizing special exhibits, such as this past winter’s “Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe” and the upcoming installation “BioLath” by New Hampshire artist Soo Sunny Park.
Nonetheless, besides having a compelling story and an interesting collection worth seeing, the modern art museum must be approachable to keep people coming these days. The Currier has taken the time to properly engage its audience. A more focused advertising strategy, which cut ad quantity for ad quality in the proper advertising spaces, was key to finding a fresh market. As was bolstering its social media presence, which helped create a friendlier, funner reputation for the museum.
Then there are the unique social programs that lure people out and get them talking. For example, “Currier After Hours,” which brings visitors, art tours, food, and drinks together for an evening’s entertainment.
“In the old days, you had an art event with a social thing wrapped around that. Now, we’re creating a social event that we wrap art events around. So “the sell” is the social aspect, but when we get people in here, they inevitably get drawn to the art world and art making opportunities that we provide,” Steve explained. “If they have a good time, they’ll be back again and get deeper into the art aspect of it.”
And so, art museums are far from outdated in our technologically advanced and sometimes awkwardly antisocial times. They can be vibrant and evolving places that should remain important in our collective cultural mind. Still not convinced to check out an art museum? Well then, consider Steve’s last thoughts on why they remain special today.
“When you’re right there in front of the Picasso, you see those thick brush strokes—you can feel the intent of every brush stroke that you see. More than that, it’s the authentic article,” he commented upon the idea of standing inches away from a painting.
More passionately Steve continued, “We have a Glenn Ligon here, and I saw this on the Currier Web site when I was interviewing [for my job]. And I thought, this is really interesting. It’s a commentary on race relations, all blurry text on canvas. Then, when I got to see it—because I could take my time in the galleries once I got the job here—I realized it was a passage from “The Invisible Man.” The shadows he was creating were to show you two silhouettes of African-Americans, and it was mind-blowing. Amazing. I would never have had that experience on a computer.”