Designing the Museum: Inspiration from the AAM conference

As the summer draws to a close, we’ve seen significant development on the OSU Museum of Art Downtown design. At the beginning of the summer, we went to the American Association of Museums conference in Houston, TX, which was a concentrated experience of conversations, workshops, and visits to local art spaces and institutions that has continued to provide us with insight into the Postal Plaza project. You’ve already heard from me (Louise) and Shawn on our AAM experiences; this week, to wrap up our summer and to launch us into the construction phase this fall, our archivist/registrar Topher Lundell shares some of his thoughts on how the OSUMA might contribute to Stillwater’s sense of community.

While at the AAM convention this May in Houston, I frequently joked that the hours of (frequently great and always instructive) panels were keeping me from the real fun—checking out Houston’s many museums.  One of the things that struck me in particular about Houston was the way that the museums clustered together in small, contained neighborhoods. Houston may not have as many famous museums as New York City, but what it does have is a brilliant plan for incorporating its museums and arts areas into areas that become part of, and enhance, the communities they are in.

One night, we were able to stroll through a wooded neighborhood and see the Menil Collection, the Rothko Chapel, and the Houston Center for Photography, all without once stepping into a car (in Houston, this is something of a minor miracle).  Too often, we look at museums as places that we visit and leave, and not as parts of the larger community. The Houston Arts District was a great reminder that museums can and should be parts of our community: places to meet our neighbors as well as places to interact with each other as we interact with the greater community of art.

Barnett Newman, "Broken Obelisk," 1964. Cor-Ten steel, collection of The Rothko Chapel. Photo: Brad Epley, The Menil Collection. Courtesy of the Rothko Chapel, Houston. ©2007 Barnett Newman Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

So, what does all this have to do with Stillwater and the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art? Sure, Stillwater is a small town, certainly nothing on the level of Houston. But what Stillwater lacks in size it more than makes up for in community. As we begin the planning and programming process for the OSUMA we are continually reminding ourselves that this museum is going to be a part of the OSU community, but also a part of the Stillwater and Central Oklahoma communities as well.

Being located off campus gives us a prime opportunity to allow OSU to interact directly with the world beyond. In addition, we will be located right next to the soon-to-be-built Wondertorium, the library, the community center, Stillwater Multi Arts, and The Sheerar Museum, giving Stillwater its own Arts District. Along with the revitalization of downtown Stillwater (a topic frequently mentioned during our meetings), this district will enable the University and the local community to directly interact and engage with one another.

Far from simply being a place to view art passively, we see the OSUMA as a place where people from Stillwater and beyond can learn about themselves and their neighbors. As we construct our membership plan, build our public programs and design the space itself, we want to hear from the community outside of OSU and find out what you want out of your museums, your arts districts and even your neighborhood.

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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