Are museums cool?

Hi! I’m Waleed, a rising senior majoring in Religion.  I’m interning at the Philadelphia Museum of Art this summer as part of their Museum Studies program.

I spend three-and-a-half days a week working with the Communications Department and, more specifically, with the Art After 5 program (the PMA’s weekly evening programming of music and performing arts).  The rest of the week I attend lectures concerning all-things-PMA: the history of the museum, tours of the museum’s collections and exhibits, the various people it takes to run a large art museum (from curators with wonderfully ambitious ideas about the importance of their exhibitions to finance experts with concrete projections of an exhibit’s expenses and revenue) and the future of this institution and others like it.

One of the things I’m currently working on is a list of performers that the PMA might be interested in having play in the fall and winter for Art After 5.  I’ve done some “programming” in the past but they’ve been relatively small ventures: benefit concerts, a stand-up comedy show, an art installation, a lecture, house shows in high school, etc. Putting on a show in a museum is not like putting on a house show or even a show in Haverford’s Lunt Basement. Or is it?

And so one of the questions I’ve been asking myself is: who can perform in a museum? Evening programming at museums has traditionally featured stylish jazz or classical musicians playing soothing “background” music. Museums aren’t typically seen as “cool” venues. But recently we’ve seen some “crazier” happenings in prominent museums connecting contemporary music with contemporary art. Check out Kraftwerk at MoMA, Animal Collective in the Guggenheim, Jarvis Cocker of Pulp at the Whitney, and this Doug Aitken project at the Hirschorn in Washington D.C.

The PMA’s Art After 5 has also contributed their fair share by featuring some shows that you might not think belong in a museum including a party DJ’d by Twitter-happy Questlove of The Roots for Zoe Strauss, a drag cabaret performance by another Philly-local Martha Graham Cracker, Brooklyn’s funky brass bhangra band Red Baraat, and Japanese riot grrrl pop-punk group The Suzan.

In an effort to reach both a wider and younger audience the PMA is in the process of organizing special evening programming highlighting Philadelphia’s local music and performance art. I’ve been thinking about two exhibitions that the Cantor-Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford put on this past semester and what might happen, or not happen, if the thinking behind these sorts of events was brought to a more mainstream institution like the PMA. I’ve spent much of the past two weeks looking at music and arts blogs as well as researching the history of music in Philadelphia (reunions anyone?). Hopefully, we’ll see some interesting shows in the upcoming season!


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