A multi-layered project showcasing the work of local African American artist Joyce Scott and how it profoundly transformed the Baltimore Museum of Art's (BMA) way of presenting exhibitions. "It's changed how people think; it's changed how people work; it's changed how we present ourselves to the public. It's changed how people perceive the museum," says BMA Director Doreen Bolger.
Basically, the museum is a different place because we did the exhibition. It's changed how people think; it's changed how people work. It's changed how we present ourselves to the public. I think it's changed how the public perceives the museum. That's really a long-term legacy.
--Doreen Bolger, Director, The Baltimore Museum of Art
The powerful bronze figure of Rodin's Thinker sits in The Baltimore Museum of Art's (BMA) venerable entrance court. The familiar icon, a seated man deep in thought, is positioned, as it should be, as the focal point of the hall. But something about this setting is not...quite...what one would expect...for dangling directly over the Thinker's head -- almost touching it -- is the lynched body of a black man fashioned from glass beads, his limp frame covered by racial epithets. The piece is titled "Somebody's Baby." The effect is arresting.
This is the vision of Joyce Scott. A Baltimore artist, she is renowned for her striking creations and biting social commentary on issues such as racism, violence, sexism and stereotypes. In her role as a performing artist, she is also known for her use of humor to drive a point home as in "The Thunder Thigh Review" where she openly mocks America's obsession with thinness. According to Joyce, "It's important to me to use art in a manner that incites people to look and then carry something home-even if it's subliminal-that might make a change in them."
The full range of Joyce's works, from beaded sculptures and fiber pieces to performance art, was recently showcased at the BMA in the landmark exhibition, Joyce J. Scott Kickin' It with the Old Masters. The show literally filled the museum, winding through the permanent collection and even finding its way onto the building's facade. But the display of Joyce's works was only part of the picture. Surrounding it was a multi-layered array of activities, events and outreach efforts made possible through a very special partnership.
Joyce J. Scott Kickin' It with the Old Masters marked a landmark collaboration between two of the city's leading arts organizations --
The Baltimore Museum of Art and Maryland Institute, College of Art (MICA) -- whose goals at once dovetailed and diverged. The BMA wanted to present the work of a great artist, engage its visitors in a new way, advance itself as a place that actively fosters dialogue and teamwork, and connect with Baltimore's artistic and primarily African American communities. MICA wanted to be involved in a major exhibition that gave the artist full voice and helped its students to learn about the exhibition process. Both institutions wanted to show the value of collaboration, and present sensitive issues addressed by Joyce to all visitors - particularly families and school children -- in a responsible way.
In the process, the two organizations developed an inclusive approach that engaged the artist, both institutions, the curator, MICA students, at-risk school children and the broader community.
The result was a year-long, multi-layered project that transformed the museum's traditional way of presenting exhibitions. MICA students participated directly in developing the exhibition as well as its accompanying programs and publications. In partnership with the artist, interpretive tools were created to help educate and inform visitors of diverse ages and backgrounds about the issues she addressed. A special exhibition guide was developed for families, and an Activity Center for visitors of all ages helped build on the experience of viewing Joyce's work. There was also a large roster of internal and external programs focused around the show. Joyce, herself, participated in workshops. She also served as an artist-in-residence at two local elementary schools, where she worked with children and their families to create a permanent site-specific installation.
As if on cue, the original front doors of the BMA were thrown open for the first time in more than 15 years for Joyce Scott's exhibition. The symbolism was powerful: the museum was opening itself up to Baltimore's diverse community and to the artist -- a woman of color -- in an entirely new way. The message was received loud and clear. Joyce J. Scott Kickin' It with the Old Masters drew more than 108,000 visitors to the BMA -- many for the first time -- placing this "blockbuster" among the museum's top 10 attendance-garnering events in the past 20 years.