Reconsidering the Art Museum in the 21st Century | Dana Kletchka | TEDxPSU

Translator: Daniel Balton
Reviewer: Ivana Korom Hi, I want you to indulge me
for just a moment and I want you to close your eyes and relax. Sit in your chairs. And I want you to think about your earliest memories
of an art museum. What are the things
that come to your mind? Is it the building? Is it the architecture? Is it the people that you were with? Is it the objects? So I want you to keep that
in the back of your mind as I talk with you today
because we’ll come back to it. But for now, open your eyes. I first fell in love with art museums when I was a little girl. And my father would take
my twin brother and I to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art
in Kansas City, Missouri, on the family free days. And I remember going through the plaza, sitting in the back of the car. And he would drive us through and I would see the sculpture garden. And I would get so excited because I knew what was about to happen. And we would go and as he would
try to find a place to park, the excitement would well up in me. And I would see Rodin’s “The Thinker”
sitting outside of the museum with his hand underneath his chin, his body tense in concentration,
his elbow on his knee. And we would walk by him and go underneath these beautiful columns and these front doors
that just beckoned me in. And we must have been there quite a bit. We must have spent some time there because I remember becoming very familiar and finding these really beautiful things that I connected with including
Jan van Huysum’s floral still life. It’s a memento mori
called “Vase of Flowers”. And I remember thinking that if
I could stand there long enough, I could hear the buzzing of the bees or I could touch the softness
of the petals or I might even be able to, you know, smell the flowers themselves. I also remember the exquisite
beauty of a Caravaggio painting of St John the Baptist. And I remember his soft skin
and his hair and his red cloak. And I remember the cake
of dirt underneath his toenails. Like these are the things I remember? And I just think back and can’t believe it
because I thought that they had put
all of these things here just for me. I was a six year old kid and they had put them there just for me. And now, I’ve spent twenty years
working in art museums creating opportunities for people to engage with one another
and with art and with culture. And I’ve thought a lot about the reasons that people love to go to art museums. And I’ve also thought
an awful lot about the reasons that people don’t like to go. And I’m really interested
to see what will happen with art museums
in the twenty first century. Now I have a quiz for you. Museums in the United States
are often compared to two other kinds of institutions; can anybody guess what they are? Just shout it out. Audience: Banks. Dana Kletchka: Banks, okay,
well that makes sense, anything else? Audience: Libraries. DK: Libraries, okay we have
churches and libraries. And this makes a lot of sense. All three of them
are repositories of culture. They all have very specific locations. They all have inspiration
and knowledge that we’re seeking. They represent the richness
of our culture intellectually, spiritually, and creatively. But for an awful lot of people,
they are places of boredom and stillness and quiet, right? We all know the rules. No talking. No touching. No food or drink. No photography. I could go on, but I won’t. And these rules are there
for a reason, right? To keep things safe, you know, you’ve got to have things all ready to go. However, they also tend to alienate people and that also makes sense. Even in the United States,
art museums are the repositories of culture that are descended
from kings and queens. They are housed in these
intellectual spaces and in these incredible
architectural buildings. They represent experiences
that most of us can only dream of. They are representative
of the power of community and of countries even. So it’s no wonder to me
that a lot of people find museums to be boring and elitist
and perhaps even unnecessary. But I’m here to argue that art museums
cannot exist without you in their current iteration. And I would say that
because we live in a world where people are driven
to seek new experiences, to find out new information,
and to connect with one another, that you cannot exist without art museums. Now, the National Endowment for the Arts came out with a study a few years ago. And it basically said
that participation in the arts is down dramatically
over the last twenty years, whether it’s ballets or orchestra concerts or exhibitions. People are not walking
and getting their behinds in seats and they’re not walking
through the galleries. And on one hand that’s really distressing. But on the other hand,
we kind of know why. There are people who have said that even though they
aren’t going to these kinds of cultural things
they would otherwise like to go and they gave three big reasons. And the first one is time. We don’t have enough time
to do the things that we need to do much less the things that we want to do. And there are some people
that even more it’s difficult for them to find
the transportation to get there or find a way to get there. A second thing – and if you have
young kids you know what I’m talking about. If you have kids under the age of six,
it is very difficult for you to find the time
to get your kids, get them ready, put them in the car,
schlep them over there, and then once you get there
there’s nothing for them to do. And I know that as a parent
I am not going to go through that because I don’t want to hear
the whining once we get there, right? And the third reason that people
are who would otherwise want to engage with culture,
the reason that they’re not is because of social experiences
and the lack thereof. And for me this
is the most poignant reason. They don’t want to go
to these things alone. Even in situations where
money is a difficulty, that’s something that can be overcome. But the social part
of not being with anybody is not something people want to overcome. So I’m not going to do that yet. Okay so the National Endowment
for the Arts also had another study that came out, so this is really paradoxical. They actually said that people
are engaging with culture just as much as they did before. And I know you’re probably
sitting there thinking “Dana you just told me
that people aren’t going to art museums, so what’s up?” And what’s up is technology. People are interfacing with technology. They are downloading podcasts. They are watching videos of concerts. They are pulling up Google Art. They are looking at exhibitions online. And they are engaging
with culture in a way that makes the most sense
to them in terms of time, in terms of space, in terms of safety,
and in terms of cost. Now, I think that the problem with this is that it doesn’t give people
the kind of experience that you can get if you go
to a rich, social, interesting place. There is no replacement
for actually going to a space and being with other people
and having a relationship with them and the discussions that can happen. Art museums occupy
a rich space in our culture and there’s a reason for that. You can go there and you can see things that you’ve never seen before. You can learn about times
and places and other people that are otherwise unimaginable. Museums inspire us. They help us to think
and they help us to consider our place in the world, in a world that I would argue right
now needs a lot of that. However, you have to go. You have to be there
in order to experience this. The NEA study that I initially
told you about actually said that the main reason people go
to museums is because they want to spend time with friends
and family and they want to learn something new
but you can’t do it unless you go. Right now you can look up
anything you want online. There is no shortage
of the information that you can find on artists and paintings
and sculptures and exhibitions. But you can’t experience it
unless you are there physically in person. I want to make sure that everybody knows that I’m not a luddite. I am just as addicted to my iPhone
as everybody else in this room – and I know some of you in this room,
so you know what I’m talking about. And I really think
that there are some amazing things that museums are doing
with technology right now in terms of educational engagement. It’s working. However, I want you to go back
to your original thought about being in a museum that I asked you to conjure earlier today. I am willing to bet
that that thought does not include interfacing with a screen. Right now, art museums
are doing a million different things to bring you in, whether it’s K-12 tours or university experiences, whether it’s musical performances
or poetry readings. Sometimes we have little kids
coming in with Pre-K groups and reading groups and visits. And all of these require you. Your thoughts, your ideas,
your understandings of the world, your friends and your family
all belong in an art museum. And if a six year old girl
from Kansas can be so inspired to go into this grand museum
and the things that I see can inspire me to want to work in an art museum
for the rest of my life, just think about the experiences that you can have in an art museum. Thank you. (Applause)

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