This section only begins to approach the vast number of arts organizations in the region. I was able to speak to a few local directors and curators about their organization's connection to membership and their approach to and use of evolving technology. The hope is for this section to grow with new contributions.
The largest, most public aspect and certainly most expensive element of any arts organization is its physical presence, the space or building associated with the institution. It’s impossible to underestimate the impact of “the building” or space when considering area institutions and their relationship to their audience. The building provides more than place, it provides the “sense of place” critical to the institution’s identity, and thus, membership and patronage. Arts organizations in California, the Bay Area in particular, are unique in that their history has been impacted by seismic building codes resulting in tectonic shifts in location, neighborhood, direction and, thus, connection to audiences. While this may seem an indirect response to the issues of demographics and technology, the geologic (that is, financial) stresses encountered by local arts institutions caused pragmatic decisions about location that affected exposure to new audiences.
Severely damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake, the de Young Museum approached the retrofitting bill by raising a bond issue with the voters. They were turned down, soundly, twice. When the people turned their backs, the private sector came through, eventually footing the bill. The story is told to underscore the difference between a privately supported institution with access to private backers and many of the more neighborhood centered arts organizations below the mission.
In the case of Southern Exposure (SO/EX), the earthquake of 1989, and the subsequent need for seismic upgrade, launched them on a path become an independent 501(c)3 (splitting from Project Artaud) and relocate, not once, but twice. Project Artaud, was founded in 1971. Described as a “live/work collective” that housed over seventy artists in a large (condemned) warehouse space. Early members of Project Artaud founded So/Ex to exhibit their work, it was completely volunteer run and reflected the sensibility of the communal art movement at the time. When the city informed PA of the need for major retrofitting, they weren’t informing a unified board, but an organization “owned” and run by 100 members. Fifteen years of meetings later, SO/EX was suffering from the constant temporality caused by the lack of a dependable change. Under the constant threat of relocation, and under the wing of another non-profit, they were unable to effectively plan. When the city started threatening fines, things began to move and So/Ex, seeing an opportunity, relocated, and, in so doing, consciously remade themselves more responsive to local and current artists needs.
Courtney Fink, Southern Exposure's Executive Director, describes the period:
I felt that this was a chance for us to do something really different and I was really excited about that. So we decided it’d be really interesting to use the city and use the streets as a way to develop new work and as a way to support artists and as a way to change. Our existing space was very large. It allowed us to have big exhibitions, but the resources that we were pouring into it didn’t allow for us to change our programming to respond to the needs of the artists.
The open call resulted in the selection of nine works (unintended and purely coincidental echo of the 1969 Minneapolis show 9 Artists / 9 Spaces) grouped as SO/EX Off-Site. These works involved the artists working specifically with the community in neighborhood- based projects, involving radio (a storefront housing “Neighborhood Pulblic Radio) mapping (an Emotion Map of San Francisco) and several active and energetic investigations of San Francisco’s civic geography. The program coincided with five public education programs involving youth working with artists to investigate themes relevant to the urban experience and environment. While So/Ex’s is an artist’s organization, with a mandate to support contemporary artists, their connection with audience is focused on conventional outreach programs but it rooted in their long history within the community and the nature of works themselves; influenced by the Situationists and Psycho-geography movements and ultimately, neighborhood based.
Similarly, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, considers itself, and more important, is considered, “a people’s art center.” Established as part of an initiative to develop the district at 3rd and Mission, it was designed as a fully integrated space for art, commerce and community involvement. It has a mandate to connect art and community life. “There’s the sense,” says Ken Foster, YBCA’s Executive Director, “that it doesn’t belong to the people of Pac Heights, it belongs to the rest of us. It is well known that we are not owned by some wealthy, and remote, San Franciscans.” Sensitive that “the people” ought to be able to afford the price of admission, YBCA has lowered their ticket prices, a pragmatic, and concrete step towards outreach. From their website:
In the spirit of discovery—and our passionate desire to ensure you have the opportunity to interact with these amazing artists, art and ideas—we’ve reduced ticket prices. We may reside in one of the most expensive cities in the country, but at YBCA we are dedicated to providing you with "Big Ideas. Small Prices." Indeed, without you here, the art doesn’t exist.
|CONTEMPORARY JEWISH MUSEUM||Earthquake history plays a small part in the early history of the Contemporary Jewish Musuem (CJM). The new building is centered about the esteemed Willis Polk designed power station built in 1907 to supply power to the city after the 1906 earthquake — but, unlike the other examples cited above, it didn’t play any role in their current relocation. Also, the CJM did not initially view the two-year period between buildings as a time of expansion, but began to shift their efforts almost solely on the new building opening in 2008. The director, Connie Wolf, commented that although they were largely, “focused on what we would be doing as opposed to what we were doing,” they continued their visits and relationships with community and school organizations. and embarked on collaborations, with the Jewish Community Center (JCC) and the Jewish Film Festival, in order to maintain their presence and connection to the community. Once the new building opened, their membership quadrupled, in less than a month, from one thousand to four thousand. Recognizing that the thousand who stayed with them during the transition period represented their core (those who were mission driven, believing in the value of the institution, rather than benefit driven because, without a building, they weren’t offering traditional members’ benefits) they built on that by looking carefully at the community. Wolf comments:
CJM has expanded beyond the basic informational nature of a museum website, adding a 2.0 connection allowing visitors to make comments and offer their perspectives. “We know this is important,” says Wolf, “because we know that the numbers of people who can visit the museum are very different than the number of people who can visit the website.”
CJM is actively employing technology, but Wolf has been quoted as saying there is “no tech for tech’s sake.” Instead, she says, “I believe that technology is a strategy and not as a programmatic element, I encourage my staff to think of the end point.” For example, in order to provide an opportunity to listen to Daniel Liebskind talk about the building, hearing his voice in a tour as opposed to reading something, they opted to do a cellphone tour , not an audio guide tour with rented equipment. They were willing to compromise control over the audio (quality varies with individual cell phone reception) in favor of increased access: anyone with a cell phone can listen allowing them to engage a younger, new constituency (who would never be caught dead checking out headphones for a museum audio tour) in understanding the building.
The Berkeley Art Museum (BAM) will soon enter a period “without walls” due to seismic codes. In 1997, the University of California, Berkeley, conducted a seismic survey of the Mario Ciampi designed concrete structure. The 4.5million spent on a partial upgrade (from “very poor” to the only marginally reassuring “poor”) merely grants a stay to the existing, well-loved location, slated for demolition in 2009. The new building will open in 2013, in downtown Berkeley, the gap will provide BAM an opportunity to maintain and extend its reach throughout the regionDMAX is the digital media arts program at Berkeley Art Musuem / Pacific Film Archives (BAM/PFA), the letters a loose acronym from Digital Media Art Access Exhibitions. DMAX is notable as an initiative to fully integrate emerging media into all aspects of an arts organization by going beyond the exhibition floor to engage the academic audience for active research and critical forums. From their site:
These efforts include a distinguished advisory panel, a series of symposia and classes, and is the leading researcher in an NEA supported initiative, Archiving the Avant-Garde
The OPEN MUSEUM builds on the DMAX initiatives, embracing the “open source” philosophy, in announcing its intention to create the first “open source” museum collection providing:
BAM is advocating the use of technology, not merely to announce and inform about their holdings, but to offer the originals!
This is an unprecedented leap forward for the advocates of access and outreach. BAM, in creating this structure for unprecedented access, has courageously acknowledged the distribution potential of digital work in an experiment that has the capacity to redefine the field.