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Continued: Minnesota museums reinvent themselves as playgrounds for the mind

Museums are also taking chances on looser, more surprising collaborations, taking exhibits to unexpected places, like out on the streets — or even a suburban front yard.

To reflect the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden’s 25th anniversary, Walker Art Center will launch a summerlong project, “At Home in the City,” with events related to gardening, food production and urban farming. One home in the outer suburbs will be chosen for a residency by artist Fritz Haeg, who will transform its lawn into an organic garden, an “edible estate.”

Museums elsewhere are also stretching boundaries and rethinking standard practices.

Early this year, the Dallas Museum of Art began offering free admission and launched a “rewards” program for frequent visitors, who can earn badges redeemable for prizes from free parking to an overnight stay in the museum.

The New Museum in New York City has turned 5,000 pay phones in Manhattan into temporary time machines, at which you can dial a specific number to hear known personalities like Michael Musto describe what life was like in the area in 1993.

At the Louvre in Paris, IBM has installed a “smart” maintenance system that streamlines the efficiency of heating, cooling and other functions to allow many more galleries to be open at the same time to maximize the visitor experience.

Crowdsourcing is also being tested as a way to support new efforts. A campaign last fall on Indiegogo raised nearly $1.4 million toward a Tesla museum to be built in Shoreham, N.Y., site of the inventor’s final laboratory.

Adding more voices

The MIA’s Armstrong sees other uses for crowdsourcing as well. Traditionally a curator’s notes are posted on the wall beside a painting, but a museum might also print the thoughts of average museumgoers.

“Crowdsourcing labels, with Wikipedia being the model, seemed very radical a few years ago, yet we are all smarter when we work collectively,” Armstrong said.

Walker Art Center’s Schultz is on the same wavelength. Formerly in charge of the Walker’s Teen Council, she saw the high schoolers as an “audience in residence” with ideas as valuable as those of trained adults.

“Everyone has something to learn, everyone has something to teach,” Schultz said. “It’s better to think of it as expertise than authority, because authority shuts things down. Expertise is the beginning of a conversation.”

When Joe and Jane Q. Public are allowed to weigh in à la Yelp, is expertise in danger of being canceled out by ignorance?

“You have to have checks and balances,” Armstrong acknowledged, with curators getting the last word as content verifiers. “But it’s moving from the idea of one ultimate authority to acknowledging multiple perspectives. I’d much rather see 10 people’s opinion of a work of art than just one.”

Nor should visitors believe that making work more accessible is the same as dumbing it down, said artist Andy Ducett, who will be artist in residence at the Bell Museum of Natural History in the fall and who recently created performance art and other one-off antics for opening night of the MIA’s current exhibit, “More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness.”

“The content is still there,” Ducett said. “There’s meat on the bone. It’s just dipped in chocolate.”


Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046

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