March in the Midwest #2 – The Smart Museum

Whilst in Chicago I had an enjoyable day at the University of Chicago, where I wandered around and visited a couple of the arts spaces on campus.

After a little look around the Reva and David Logan Arts Center, taking in the observation deck and a sneaky peak at the teaching studios, I headed to Objects and Voices at the Smart Museum, a series of ‘micro-exhbitions’ centred around art objects.

I was really excited by this approach to curating the exhibition, bringing in a variety of collaborators to tell stories using the museum’s collection, and I was impressed by how much could be said in a small area. With so much to take in I found lots to enjoy, but my personal biases were very evident in how excited I was by ‘The Museum Classroom: Responsive Art from Beasley Academic Center‘, showing work created in response to the museum collection by local young people. To see young people’s work displayed in a gallery context, placed alongside pieces from the museum’s collection, was inspiring, and emphasised the value the Smart Museum placed on collaborative work.

I was then excited all over again to turn the corner into Gallery X, a flexible hub of engagement in the centre of the museum. The range of engagement options available, and the sense of experimentation within these options, changed my perspective on the museum and I began to see it as a more adaptable, person-centred space.

My two favourite engagement strategies in Gallery X, shown below, addressed a couple of things I’ve been pondering over – how can the gallery be ‘interactive’ without technology? how do you assess participant experience without surveys and polls? The magnetic museum map, inviting participants to map their emotions (Joy, Unfriendly, Anxious, Peaceful) directly on the wall, actually made evaluation sort of fun.