Studio Museum in Harlem: A "Happening" Art Scene
Lots of attention is paid these days to the bustle of activity and development in Harlem, especially on 125th Street. Yet, a unique cultural institution, The Studio Museum in Harlem, has been creating excitement on the block for over 35 years. With a progressive agenda and a mission to nurture experimentation and support artists of African descent locally, nationally, and internationally, the museum has an ambitious program of exhibitions as well as of community outreach and education. Begun as artist studio space (hence its name), SMH has grown into a collection museum and the first of its kind to support black art. Recent renovations to its contemporary structure include a glass fa?ade that reveals inviting, airy spaces within and engages the street outside. An auditorium, cafe, and additional galleries and workshops are also being added. New exhibits are mounted quarterly. They are, invariably, timely, provocative, and imaginatively installed. The current winter show, "harlemworld: Metropolis as Metaphor," was created specifically for the museum by 18 black emerging architects and 4 photographers who, through videos, photos, models, digital media, and on-site installations, explore ideas for sites around Harlem. A concurrent exhibit, [Al] "Hirshfield's Harlem," presents the Harlem Portfolio, caricatures of famous African-Americans created by the acclaimed artist.
There are lots of "happenings" at SMH thanks to the dynamic and creative director of education and public programs, Sandra Jackson. She is concerned with "the exhibition after the exhibition" and "curating experiences." The wide range of programs offers "different entry points to the art experience" for people of all ages, cultures, and races. The museum hosts panels, workshops, discussions, poetry readings, performances, tours, music, dance, and book and author evenings, all related in some way to the exhibits. "Hoofer's House," intergenerational tap-dance sessions (Jackson has spied some "older cats" here), features a live band, a welcoming environment, and a chance to recreate a bit of Harlem history associated with the 1920's to '40's and such legends as Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. "Sunday Salon" showcases an aspect of Harlem talent and culture in a relaxed setting; March 21 will feature gospel music. During summer's "Senior Source," the elderly can listen to a big band, dance, and tour the exhibits with a teen guide. The current exhibition, "harlemworld," has spawned forums to discuss "the changing face of Harlem" and several architect-led tours of the neighborhood. Jackson explains that the museum does not take a position on the current "gentrification" of Harlem but, rather, sees its role as a "place for dialogue, a place to bring diverse points of view together." The Artists-In Residence (A-I-R) program, which offers a 12-month studio residency to three emerging professional artists of African descent, is a major expression of the museum's mission. The artists, whose studios are in the building, hold an open studio, mount an exhibition, and conduct workshops.
The Studio Museum was a "trailblazer" in establishing relationships between schools and artists and today trains artists specifically for that connection in "Studio Museum Goes to School." The Fanny Lou Hammer Freedom High School in the Bronx has had a long-time relationship with an SMH artist as have many schools in Harlem. Based on school need and with teacher participation, tie-ins between the curriculum and an exhibit are developed. An "Educator's Night Out," a festive evening filled with information about programs and workshops as well as opportunities to preview exhibits and network with peers, will be on February 9th from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Class tours can be scheduled and curriculum guides obtained.
Youth are well served at SMH with hands-on workshops, opportunities to meet artists, a portfolio review day, and chances for self-expression through town hall meetings and open mic sessions. "Expanding the Walls" is an 8-month long teen workshop involving discussing, making, and learning about art, visiting museums, galleries, and artist's studios, and leading museum tours. High school students can apply for unpaid semester, yearlong, or summer internships at the museum where they will do research and administrative tasks, assist in family and youth programs, and complete a project. B.A. or M.A.-level students are eligible for paid and unpaid internships that support the museum's mission and programs. The museum believes families bond over art and has fun, hands-on programs for parents and children ages five to ten. The 4th Annual Children's Book Festival will host some favorite children's authors during a very popular weekend of lively activities related to art and literature.
"I want the museum to transform and demystify the art experience," explains Jackson. "Galleries don't have to be places of quiet, of 'don't touch.' They should be accessible, places to experience culture." She hopes the museum builds relationships with individual people as it grows and is able to serve even broader constituencies. She sees the possibilities of social change through art.
The Studio Museum in Harlem can be reached at (212) 864-4500. www.studiomuseum.org.