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Meet the Walker People’s Archive

As the Walker celebrates its 75th anniversary, we’ve inaugurated the Walker People’s Archive (WPA), a crowd-sourced compendium of Walker history from the ground up, where visitors can see what others have to share and submit their own photos. Alycia Anderson, WPA intern, recently sat down with Jennifer Stampe, WPA project manager, to talk about the […]

As the Walker celebrates its 75th anniversary, we’ve inaugurated the Walker People’s Archive (WPA), a crowd-sourced compendium of Walker history from the ground up, where visitors can see what others have to share and submit their own photos.

Alycia Anderson, WPA intern, recently sat down with Jennifer Stampe, WPA project manager, to talk about the project. Jennifer has a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Minnesota and has taught Museum Studies at New York University and Anthropology at Brown University. She was recently co-curator for an exhibit marking Brown University’s 250th anniversary at its Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. Anniversaries seem to be her thing.

Walker Art Center staff in the lobby of the Barnes Tower, 1990

Alycia Anderson: What is the WPA? What’s its status today? How do you see it growing and developing in the future?

Jennifer Stampe: The WPA is a crowd-sourced, online compendium of people’s photographs and, just as important, stories about the Walker over its 75 years as a public institution. Over the summer, Education and Community Programs staff members began soliciting photos and stories from visitors at scan days held during Free First Saturdays and Target Free Thursday Nights. We also reached out to staff, volunteers and members who were likely to have great photos. The photos we collected allowed us to build a small archive and experiment with ways organize it.

For the Walker’s anniversary kick-off celebration, Walktoberfest, we launched a website where people can view the archive. More importantly, they can upload photos, caption and tag them, and tell their stories. This is an exciting time: now that we’re online, the archive will really start to take on a life of its own. We also want everyone to know that they are invited to participate in this project. For those who don’t yet have a relationship with the Walker, this is a chance to begin building one. New members of the Walker community are as important to us as long-standing ones.

AA: The WPA is a project created by the people of the Walker as a reflection of themselves, their relationships and their memories. How would you describe the Walker community?

JS: I see this project as an opportunity to learn about the Walker community, so I wouldn’t want to try to answer that question yet. But I will make a couple of guesses about what we might find. First, I think we’ll see that there is not any single Walker community, but rather many, overlapping communities. Second, I think we’ll see affiliations that disrupt the usual kinds of associations we think of when we hear the word community. So beyond expected communities — of staff, artists, or neighbors, for instance — I think we’ll also see clusters of people who share something based on where the Walker fits into their lives. I’m thinking about those who’ve gotten married in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, students who have visited the galleries on a field trip, or fans of the Internet Cat Video Festival. Or something else we don’t imagine at this point. I’m hoping that  responses to this project will surprise us, and that we’ll learn something unexpected about the Walker and its people.

AA: The WPA is designed to be a place where the past and present mix, with polaroids and iPhone snaps illustrating decades of Walker experiences. With all of that potential diversity and change, do you expect visitors’ stories will have a theme which connects them?

JS: The main thing the stories we’ve heard so far share is an emphasis on family and friends. We don’t always think of it this way, but museum-going is a social experience: the people we’re with matter as much as what’s going on within the museum’s walls.

We’ve heard a few stories about moms, in particular. Carol Lichterman, a charter member of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, gave us this photo and told us about attending the Garden’s opening in 1988 with her mother, Sylvie Lichterman.

Sylvie Lichterman at the opening of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, 1988. Photo by Carol Lichterman.

As the morning’s ceremonies drew to a close, Carol asked Sylvie to pose in front of her favorite piece. Without hesitating, Sylvie chose Claes Oldenburg’s Spoonbridge and Cherry. Once the photo was taken, Sylvie exclaimed, “All of a sudden I feel like having an ice cream sundae with a cherry on top!” and proposed that she and Carol told Carol skip their planned lunch and proceed directly to dessert. Carol says, “Every time I explore the Garden now on my own, I think of [my mom] and how we enjoyed the Garden’s opening together.” The opportunity to make that kind of memory, based on spending time together exploring new ideas, is a thing the Walker has been able to offer people in its capacity as a public institution.

AA: What attracted you to the Walker and the WPA? Has your work in anthropology influenced your perception of the project and its goals?

JS: I’ve lived in Minneapolis (or had it as my home base) for a long time and I’ve been a Walker member for several years, so coming to work here was attractive. The project is particularly appealing because it’s multidisciplinary, as so much at the Walker is, with its archival, curatorial and outreach components. The way I think about the WPA is definitely informed by my background in anthropology. My research to date has examined the ways that people understand new kinds of museums, like those oriented to serving specific communities, so this project is right up my alley. Beyond that, I see the submissions we’re getting as a kind of data; my role is to analyze that data and to create opportunities for others to do so, and in creative, expansive ways. Fortunately, my training in the social sciences equips me with the tools for conducting ethnographic interviews and oral histories, and those have been useful in the conversations I’m having with people who are submitting photos and stories to us. Most importantly, anthropology is interested in describing social worlds in ways their participants would recognize: I’m hoping that people will see themselves in the WPA.

AA: The next question you may have seen coming: what’s been your most vivid experience at the Walker? And do you have a favorite contributor story or photo you’ve encountered so far in the archive?

JS: My most vivid Walker experiences don’t have photos to go along with them. I’m a fan of the Out There performance series, and I always attend the annual Choreographer’s Evening. I have had my mind blown during these and other performances over the years. And I loved visiting the Walker when the expansion opened in 2005. I remember wandering the new spaces wondering at the then unfamiliar building materials, and thinking about how that was a very different experience than looking intently at works in the galleries.

I have clear mental images of these experiences, but nothing I can share with the archive. That’s probably true for many potential contributors, so we encourage creative solutions: submitters with a memory but no photo could make a drawing to illustrate their story in the archive. Or they could get their friends together for a photo re-enactment of an important moment.

As for favorite submissions, I get the feeling that I will always love whatever photo has come in most recently. We recently finished scanning a binder of photos from Bob Teslow, a longtime art instructor at the Blake School’s Kenwood Campus, our neighbor on Vineland place. Bob was on the scene as the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden took shape in 1988, and he took wonderful photographs of many of the sculptures being installed. This one shows Mark di Suvero swinging on his sculpture Arikidea.

Mark di Suvero swings on his Arikidea during its installation in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, 1988. Photo by Bob Teslow.

Or there’s this photo, submitted by Peter and Peggy Georgas. Peggy made her own gowns for the Walker exhibition openings she attended with Peter, who was the Walker’s publicist from 1964 to 1979. Peggy made this dress for a reception held for Andy Warhol in 1968. She told us that she routinely finished the (sometimes very short!) hems of some of her creations in the car on the way to the party.

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Peggy Georgas, ready for another Walker evening, 1968. Photo by Peter Georgas.

AA: Personally, I can’t wait to see a collection of awkward family portraits or visitors’ first impressions of the Walker. What kind of kinds of submissions will you be most excited to see?

JS: I’m most interested in seeing those that include rich, reflective stories. Don’t get me wrong: we do want absolutely want photos of everything and everybody, snapshots and selfies, from serious to silly. But there are some particularly compelling shots and narratives out there, and those are central to the archive. I’m looking forward to seeing them.

As for genre, I’m partial to photos of people taking photos. I could say it tells us something about the ways we use photography, but really they just make me laugh. I also like mysteries, shots where we don’t know what’s going on or who is pictured, and I hope that people will help us identify unknown subjects and activities in others’ photographs. Over the coming months, we’ll hold events at the Walker that will give WPA participants a chance to meet and respond to one another’s photos.

AA: Have you taken the obligatory selfie at Spoonbridge and Cherry?

JS: I have to admit I haven’t, yet. Let’s go take some pictures. We can start making #OurWalker memories today!

At John Cage’s 33 1/3 in Art Expanded, 1958-1978

With FACES: Set #8, Darryl Nelson in Art Expanded

Getting our Spoonbridge on

In the swing with Arikidea!

Questions about the WPA? Contact Jennifer at wpa@walkerart.org

 

Cat is Art Spelled Wrong: Making a Book About Cat Videos

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There are plenty of cat books out there in the world.

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Clockwise: Fashion Cats, Why Paint Cats, The Big New Yorker Book of Cats, Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book

But of all the cat books out there, there is no book quite like the book that Coffee House Press (with help from the Walker Art Center) aims to publish next fall. Using the Internet Cat Video Festival (#catvidfest) as inspiration,we’re currently working on a book that is all about cat videos: why we love them, why we hate them, and why we are powerless to resist them. There’s just something about cat videos.

Substantial research on our end helps confirm that statement:

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The Internet Cat Video Festival in (top-bottom) 2012, 2013, 2014

In order to fund this book, and the many moving parts that an effort of this size entails, Coffee House Press has launched Catstarter – a Kickstarter that’s cat-themed. For all intents and purposes, it acts as a way for you to pre-order your copy of the book, titled Cat is Art Spelled Wrong, get it shipped directly to you, and, oh yeah, get your name printed in it as a token of appreciation.

The book will take the form of a collection of essays – thoughtful, varied, and by a roster of some of our favorite writers and friends, including Matthea Harvey, Alexis Madrigal, Rhonda Lieberman, Elena Passarello, Stephen Burt, Jillian Steinhauer, Kevin Nguyen, Sasha Archibald, Will Braden, Joanne McNeil, and Carl Wilson. (Fun fact: Wilson’s book about Celine Dion for the 33 1/3 series, Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Bad Taste, was a huge source of inspiration for the project for Coffee House Press’ Caroline Casey. Although it seems odd to mention Celine Dion and cat videos in the same sentence… is it really?)

Already the book has gotten some love from Cool HuntingThe Washington Post, and ARTINFO.

But you don’t have to take our word for it. Take it from Henri, le Chat Noir:

Read more about the project and  support Catstarter today! 

As we’re sure you’re aware, with Kickstarter, it’s all or nothing. The project must be funded in full by Saturday, September 13 or it will see exactly $0 of the pledged funds.

A Year in Review: Highlights of 2012

By Rachel Kimpton. From the doors of the Walker Art Center to happenings around the city, state, country, and world at large, 2012 was indeed a whirlwind of a year. After putting our heads together, we present to you this compilation of outstanding family programs to shine as a beacon of inspiration for the year […]

By Rachel Kimpton.

From the doors of the Walker Art Center to happenings around the city, state, country, and world at large, 2012 was indeed a whirlwind of a year. After putting our heads together, we present to you this compilation of outstanding family programs to shine as a beacon of inspiration for the year to come.

Arty Pants

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Last winter, visitors created “cool” paintings and sculptures using colored ice as a medium, and designed their very own arctic creatures. Young guests transformed the windows overlooking Hennepin Avenue in the General Mills Hennepin Lounge with giant, colorful window clings. January featured the film Lost and Found, a heart-warming story based on the book by Oliver Jeffers. Spring activities largely incorporated the Lifelike exhibition and similar themes. Visitors toyed with scale by creating tiny models of their favorite places, preparing a paper feast large enough for giants, and manipulating the size of different body parts using a photo booth.

Steve Sanders of Snapdragon Seeds Music joined us in May and June. He improvised songs based on visitor observations of the Walker Art Center galleries and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Songs included a story about a cyclops (based on our old Murakami wallpaper), the journey of a young man from New York to Minnesota, and why John Waters is silly. You can enjoy a large batch of Steve’s Arty Pants songs on his website. Summer hosted two very fun hands-on projects. Kids created their own clay versions of freshwater creatures and collaborated to make paper garden with all the necessary inhabitants (including a garden gnome). During November and December, local dancer Timmy Wagner led several workshops teaching Merce Cunningham’s ideas behind artful movement and choreography.

Expect the unexpected.

One of our favorite things about Arty Pants is when visitors get excited and projects take unexpected turns.

Free First Saturday

February was all about snow. We planned to trick out sleds and take them for a spin down the hill,  but Minnesota threw us a curveball last winter. No snow? No problem! “Snow(less) Saturday” was a day of making cardboard snowmen with artists Andy Ducett and Scott Stulen, learning about bees with Terry McDaniel of the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association,  and crafting valentines for residents at Twin Cities nursing homes with local artist Amanda Lovelee. Families had a chance to experience the imaginative process of film within the walls of the Walker Art Center in March. This day was very exciting, as the Walker hosted the regional premier of the award-winning animated Japanese film Oblivion Island.

April was a day of exploring memories, ancient traditions, and feelings of youth. Minnesotan playwright and performer Kevin Kling and author/illustrator Chris Monroe paid us a visit to narrate their collaborative work, Big Little Brother, a children’s book about sibling rivalry turned brotherly love. Families had the opportunity to enjoy Oscar-winning short film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore and to create wool felt alongside artists from the Textile Center.

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Battle master Scott Stulen and workshop boys Karl Unnasch and Andy Ducett.

In August, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden was transformed into a giant LARPing (live action roleplaying) arena. The responsibility of freeing both the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden from a dangerous curse was placed in the hands of ordinary citizens. Participants encountered shopkeepers, trolls, shaman, fortunetellers, sirens, merchants, and others while completing various quests in order to lift the curse. September celebrated the power of reading,  storytelling, and community. Local author and illustrator Nancy Carlson led the activity Get Up & Read, allowing characters from her books to encourage guests to be active and move their bodies as they made their way through the Garden.

As the year began to wind down, November wound things back up again by coaxing out one’s inner inventor through experimental expression. Artist Margaret Pezalla Granlund transformed the Art Lab into a luminous forest where guests investigated the tricks of light, mirrors, and reflection. Electronic music pioneer Laurie Anderson held an afternoon workshop showcasing her invented instruments, projects, and music.

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Laurie Anderson manipulating the voice of a participant.

Family Exhibition of the Year: Lifelike

Without a doubt, the Lifelike exhibition wins family favorite – hands down. Lifelike was on view for most of spring, opening in late February and ending in late May (you can read more about the exhibition here and here). This exhibition showcased how artists replicate everyday objects, challenging visitors to think about the art of design, and to recognize that “ordinary” does not necessarily imply “simple.” For children, this was a great introduction to exploring art outside of textbook examples, and to get a sense for what artists are doing and have done. The irony of altered scales or mediums, such as an oversized milk carton or a sleeping bag cast in bronze, was enjoyed by all and served as the perfect spark for dialogue

The gallery activities were very successful with this exhibition. Over 1000 scavenger hunt sheets made it into hands of visitors at family programs! Art Think, one of our gallery activities, asks children to describe their thoughts on a specific work of art that caught their attention. During Lifelike, kids tended to gravitate towards pieces from this exhibition and had a lot of interesting things to say.

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As the Walker Art Center is always changing and evolving, we hope that 2012 will serve as an excellent role model for the upcoming programs in 2013.

November’s Free First Saturday: Experimental Expression

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By Rachel Kimpton

Guests in front of Bruce Conner’s “Night Angel”.

The warm welcome of family-friendly programming grows all the more enticing as winter creeps its way closer. November is always a busy time at the Walker, especially with the recently commenced performing arts season. This month’s Free First Saturday was no exception. Families flocked in to illuminate their Saturday, basking in the glow of visiting artist Laurie Anderson and experimenting with light, reflection, and inventing.

The morning started off by investigating and playing tricks with light via activities designed by artist Margaret Pezalla Granlund. In the Art Lab, kaleidoscopes of all shapes and sizes beckoned from tables, inviting curious hands and minds to pick them up and peer inside. Each turn of the kaleidoscope showed something different – a thousand pairs of laughing eyes, a thousand loving mothers, or a brief sneak peek at reality interspersed with a thousand tiny polygons.

If the kaleidoscopes were too dazzling, a simpler approach came in the form of two free-standing mirrors and an assortment of small objects. This seemed better suited for our youngest crowd members. With a slight tilt of one mirror, an infinite loop of images appeared, creating millions of apples or blocks or candles that faded into obscurity. The eyes of a child would narrow, and their tiny gears would start to turn. This garnered shared smiles of excitement and endearing gazes between parents. For the older kids brave enough to venture into the dark (some alone, some gingerly holding onto their taller guides), a forest of hidden secrets awaited that could only be revealed through the power of light. By placing the tiny LED against one’s temple and oscillating the finger to which it was attached, visitors were pleasantly surprised when shapes of leaves, trees, squirrels, and birds revealed themselves in the dark curtained tunnel.

Photo by Frannie Kuhs

On the way to exploring the galleries upstairs, visitors stopped at Cargill Lounge to challenge their inner inventors – some for fifteen minutes, and some for two hours. You know you’re doing something right when parents are just as into a hands-on project as their younger companions. Led by arts instructor Alexandra Waters, visitors designed their own illuminated structures using small lights and a variety of transparent materials including recycled film strips and tissue paper. The end products were altogether awe-inspiring. Highlights of the afternoon included: an angler fish, a Tony the Tiger Statue of Liberty, a decent sized model airplane with landing lights and engines, and several movie projectors (a quote from the 7-year-old artist: “Once I’m finished, it will project this film onto the whole side of the Walker!”)


Photo by Rachel Kimpton

Photo by Frannie Kuhs

Photo by Rachel Kimpton

And what better innovator to inspire creativity than multimedia artist and musician Laurie Anderson! An electronic inventor herself, Anderson generously presented an afternoon workshop for kids on top of her three evening performances in the Walker’s McGuire Theater. The promise of experiencing Anderson firsthand had parents geeking out for the entire morning. During her workshop, Anderson shared a chunk of her personal and artistic history, discussed her music and performance pieces, and showcased some of her instruments that she herself invented. Her beloved inspiration and companion for many years, Lolabelle the dog (may she rest in peace), appeared in videos as a skilled pianist. Between these discussions, Anderson performed selections from her recent work and invited young audience members to distort their voices and laughter through one of her filters. A brief question and answer session followed, giving younger audience members a chance to pick Anderson’s brain about her favorite creations and the many processes of inventing.

Guests also had the opportunity to participate in gallery activities in the Midnight Party exhibition. Guests created their own light impressions by applying concepts used by artist Bruce Conner in his piece Night Angel. Conner created this piece by positioning himself between photosensitive paper and a light source to essentially create a photographic negative. The farther Conner was from the paper, the darker the paper became. Toying around with these same ideas, visitors experimented with ultraviolet pens on UV sensitive paper. Unlike Conner’s piece, this paper did not permanently capture the effects of the light. Instead, the image remained for only a few seconds until it slowly faded away, returning the paper to its original blank state. The fleeting images dazzled visitors of all ages, making it hard to venture into the rest of the galleries.

Our other featured gallery activity asked children to share their thoughts on a specific work of art. Kids had great things to say about Robert Motherwell, Paul Sharits, Thomas Hirschhorn, and others. Yayoi Kusama’s sculpture Passing Winter was interpreted as depicting a snow storm inside a mad scientist’s lab, as well as the innards of a disco ball. One 10-year-old guest was reminded of “how lucky [she] is” by Kris Martin’s Still Alive, while an imaginative 6 year old guessed that Ed Paschke’s Painted Lady was inspired by feet that “were walking in the woods and tripped over a bucket of paint.”

Experimenting through art makes the upcoming winter season seem brighter.

All photos by Gene Pittman unless otherwise stated.

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