It’s Saturday morning and patrons are filing into the Museum of Russian Art in south Minneapolis.
The number of art aficionados in the group has swelled from 350 to nearly 1,700 since Brown assumed its leadership role in 2009.
“I feel so lucky,” she says between sign-ins. “I’m following my passion. I’m meeting new friends and supporting museums, which I love.”
In a recent four-day stretch alone, Brown was orchestrating a Thursday tour at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts before jumping across the river for a Friday event at Alexander Ramsey’s historic house in St. Paul, a Saturday backstage Ordway tour and a Sunday shindig at the Schubert Club’s classical music museum in the Landmark Center.
She insists the group is not a dating club, simply an eclectic collection of highly educated folks, ranging in age from 30 to 70, who share common interests in art, science and architecture.
Though they’re mostly single, she says there are a few couples in the ranks, with one partner who loathes museums while the other signs up. After docent-led tours and visits to sometimes obscure museums focusing on everything from fire trucks to broadcasting to aviation, some members will gather at a restaurant for socializing. They’ve roamed as far as the Hinckley Fire Museum to the Mayo Clinic’s tour offerings in Rochester.
“We learn, we explore, we discover, we make friends and have a damn good time,” she says.
For Brown, a 1965 St. Louis Park High School graduate, it all started on the other end of the emotional spectrum. Divorced since 1969, Brown spent six years as a caretaker in St. Louis Park for her aging parents, Irving and Janet Silverlieb. When they passed away in 2006 and ’07, she asked herself: “What do I do with my life now? I had no more need to stay at home, no more worries about the phone ringing.
“I’d always loved museums, but I hadn’t been able to go,” she says. “Then all of a sudden I had all this free time to do stuff.”
Her hairdresser suggested she try Facebook, where she found a meetup.com cooking class and then the museum group. Technically retired, she spends countless hours a week managing the museum group for no pay.
“Word-of-mouth and online reviews have helped our numbers grow,” she says. “It’s the people who make this group, not me.”
Museums will give her a number that they can handle on a scheduled day, say 25. Then Brown will post it on her site, they’ll RSVP until the sign-up is full, “and we take it from there.”
“This is my life now and I love it,” she says. “I’ve made so many friends and my biggest accomplishment is when people say I’ve changed their lives, gotten them out and about, made a difference and introduced them to people and places they never knew before. It’s humbling.”