How to create relevant programs for your community

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Caso di studio: Guardare l’arte, la mostra al Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA)

How to create events, exhibitions, and programs relevant to your community_guarding the art
Credit: Mitro Hood

Creating events, exhibitions, and programs relevant to one’s community requires a shift in perspective on the part of cultural institutions, including an in-depth knowledge of their audience, through an exercise of constant listening to what is happening and to the value cornerstones that animate people.

In previous articles in our magazine, we have had the opportunity to delve into and tell about the exhibitions and programs that have been developed as a result of the attention cultural institutions have paid to their audiences.

An example of engaging one’s audience in developing a segment of collective memory is the “crowd-created” curatorial project developed at MuCEM in Marseille, while the focus on current social values and the development of different narratives of the works was developed Rijksmuseum with the exhibition “slavery.

The Baltimore Museum of Art’s Mission and Vision.

As outlined in the mission statement, art and culture within the Baltimore Museum of Art aims to create connections between Baltimore City and the rest of the world through art, developing a context of artistic excellence through events, exhibitions, and programs relevant to its community.

For the Baltimore Museum of Art, in fact, creating events relevant to the entire community means making decisions and developing programs that seek to achievesocial equity.

The Baltimore Museum of Art connects art to Baltimore and Baltimore to the world, embodying a commitment to artistic excellence and social equity in every decision from art presentation, interpretation, and collecting, to the composition of our Board of Trustees, staff, and volunteers—creating a museum welcoming to all.

Mission Statement

The centrality of artistic excellence and social equity found in the mission statement are the pillars upon which the ambitious vision the museum has set for itself: every policy and practice of the museum, every strategic decision, as well as the composition of the Board of Trustees, staff, and volunteers are guided by these responsibilities:

Bold, brave, and essential, it is the unwavering vision of The Baltimore Museum of Art to be the most relevant publicly engaged museum in the United States.

BMA Vision statement

As is then specified, the core-value of the museum is the desire to provide an accessible place toward art where it can contribute to the development of a fervent and participatory agora by the whole society.

Therefore, the museum’s intent is to form a collection of outstanding artworks and create socially relevant and cutting-edge exhibitions and programs. “Through collecting, researching, presenting and interpreting the museum’s rich and diverse collection and listening to the needs of our audiences, the BMA will embody its commitment to excellence, equity, relevance and social justice.

“Guarding the art” exhibition curated by BMA security guards credit: Mitro Hood

Creating programs relevant to one’s community. Guarding the Art: the exhibition curated by security guards.

Thus, starting with a desire to listen to the needs of their audience and be able to create a place that is open and able to engage their community, in 2021 Amy Elias, BMA Trustess, and Asma Naeem, Chief Curator began to think of new ways to interact with their audience.

Therefore, following the museum’s mission and vision, activities were designed to personally involve a part of the community in developing an open dialogue between the works and the halls of the cultural institution.

Opening on Sunday, March 27, 2022, Guarding the Art is the first exhibition in the history of the Baltimore Museum of Art entirely curated by seventeen current and former members of the museum’s security team, featuring approximately twenty-five works of art from the museum’s collection.

The project began with a survey sent to all members of the BMA’s security team to gauge their interest in developing an exhibit that would offer them an opportunity to have their voices heard through their perspectives on the museum’s collection.

The people who joined the project worked over the past year in collaboration with management, curators and other museum offices in developing the exhibition: after proposing their own selection of works, the group met with curators, conservators and designers to learn more about each work, its condition and presentation requirements. They discussed exhibition arrangements and made final selections based on how the works would fit into the spaces.

The exhibition thus highlights the perspectives of security personnel and their thoughts on the artworks they have interacted with, giving their point of view related to, their background, interactions with visitors and their personal interests.

For example, Kellen Johnson selected two works that have a connection to music and black artists, respectively: Max Beckmann’s Still Life with Large Shell (1939), a portrait of his wife, Mathilde, a violinist and singer, and Hale Woodruff’s Normandy Landscape (1928), created when the artist lived in France.

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*Final note: At the opening of the exhibition last March 27, 2022, a dozen members of the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) held a demonstration in front of the steps leading to the museum's historic entrance.

By virtue of recognizing a bona fide program and creating a genuine listening to the needs of their community, the opening of the exhibition provided an opportunity to give visibility to a demand toward the museum's director, namely signing to the city's union election agreement, without which workers cannot vote to officially certify their union.

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