Monday, June 18, 2012

Week 2- Collections Insiders and Outsiders

In the hopes of building a stronger focus for this blog, I'm hoping to look more into the collections and exhibitions aspect of the Arts Center, perhaps with some interviews with staff about the unique collections here.  But first you all need to know why the collection at the JMKAC is unique!

I was reminded how different the JMKAC is from most every other museum I have worked when I stepped collections for the first time this past week.  From the house of the Original Rhinestone Cowboy, shelves full of ceramic and metal worked pieces from the Arts/Industry program, rows and rows of ceramic assemblage sculptures from Nek Chand's Rock gardens, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center has proven a commitment to collecting items most museums would shy away from. 

Many of my art history and museum studies classes focus on the power that museums have as institutions in writing the history of art.  Artists are seen to have "made it" once they've been featured in exhibitions by major museums, and no doubt the general public sees an artists inclusion in a museum as a validation of what should be considered "good art".  Historically, in this distinction of "good art" and "bad art" a number of populations have been left out of the conversation due to their race, gender, sexual orientation, or social upbringing.  Linda Nochlin's essay "Why Have There Been no Great Women Artists?" brought this topic to the forefront of Art History in 1971, and 3 waves of feminism later, Art Historians continue to ask the same question of queer, ethnic, mentally ill, and other "outsider" artists today.  While many museum institutions tend to stick with the classic Monets and Rembrandts, it is perhaps the JMKAC's founding in the late 1960s helped keep these revolutionary ideas at the forefront in it's own Mission Statement and Collections Policy.

First, a little aside for those of you unfamiliar with museum policy. Many museums considered to be in good practice have mission statements, collections policies (sometimes more than one), and collections committees which help them decide what kind of audience they'd like to serve, and in turn, what kinds of exhibitions they show and/or objects they collect.  

For example- the John Michael Kohler Arts Center has been a community effort from it's founding in 1967 by the Sheboygan Arts Foundation.  Named after the house of John Michael Kohler, the Arts Center's first building, it's first programs were an arts-based preschool and exhibitions based on underexposed artists, ideas and art forms.  The John Michael Kohler Arts Center's Mission Statement reflects this historical involvement with community and underrepresented artists:

"The Mission of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center is to encourage and support innovative explorations in the arts and to foster an exchange between a national community of artists and a broad public that will help realize the power of the arts to inspire and transform our world."

This statement, coupled with the Arts Center's commitment to regional environment builders, emerging artists, in it's collection is reflected in it's reputation as a starting point for many emerging artists.  Even last weekend at the opening of the 55th Beloit and Vicinity Juried Show, I overheard an older artist speaking to a college-age artist about the Arts Center, and it's influence in an artists career.  Not to mention, I see this reflected in the careers of many of the artists I've researched through the Arts/Industry program- often an artists' residency here is career changing move and their work after gains them notoriety in the larger art community.  

In short, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center is unique not only in its mission, but in it's commitment to its mission of the innovative, something that not all museums embrace today. 

(Sorry about the lateness of this post, it appears that the allergens of Sheboygan are very different than those of Beloit, so my seasonal allergies have a much later season up here!)

Until next week-


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