Friday, 23 October 2009
So, we're back! The jet-lag is not good (I woke up at noon UK time, and had no idea where I was!) but nevertheless thought I would do a really brief summary before we start reflecting and making use of our findings back in the real world...
We planned to visit 5 venues (Getty Center, New Children's Museum in San Diego, LACMA, Phoenix Art Museum and Arizona Museum for Youth). In the end, we visited 10 (the above plus Skirball Center, Griffith Observatory, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Desert Botanical Gardens and the Children's Museum of Phoenix).
We have a massive list of further places to investigate, as well as an even bigger list of reports and books to look up and read. I'll post all these later.
It was such a rich and diverse experience: lots of shared ideas, but also lots of divergent ones, alongside a couple of fairly controversial ones. Really looking forward to putting it all to use.
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
So we have come to the final day of our trip - and it was a really inspiring finale - particularly to see two spaces that had under 4 spaces that were so central to their aims. They were aesthetically very different (one bold and bright, the other neutral and natural), but both contained some really interesting things, and in particular we got lots of practical ideas (etch-a-sketch, magnadoodle pattern printing, Buddha boards, IKEA furniture, sorting activities...) Laura Matzer showed us around the Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa, which opened in 1978 during the first wave of Children's Museums. They have no collection, although the curator works with Laura to choose work to have on loan during exhibitions. They also take touring exhibitions and had one from Brooklyn Children's Museum about pattern. They are also about to have one about Studio Ghibli which has been touring many venues for a long time with some serious thought behind it - Laura gave us papers about its theoretical underpinnings which I look forward to reading. She also suggested several other places that we could look into online, and was also interested in Reggio Emilia approaches... Lots of food for thought (yet again! - need to find some thinking time!)
Then we went to the Children's Museum in Phoenix - it took some finding and a few near misses, but it was worth the wait. Lots of ideas about using space: so a wind machine coming from a floor vent, a jungle of spongey rubber trees, bicycle courses, a supermarket and a pizza kitchen were just some of the activites. They were also just building a massive climbing frame from recycled materials which is being created by volunteers using found objects. The recycling and reusing theme is SO strong in almost all the places we have visited.
Anyway, we'd better go and pack now as it's back to reality (via a few airports first) tomorrow.
No visit to Phoenix could be complete without a visit to this amazing cactus desert park. We saw catuses: lots of them - but all different varieties. We also jackrabbits, desert woodpeckers that live inside the giant saguaro cactus (which only lives in this part of the world in the Sonaran Desert), lizards, desert quails, parrots (possibly love birds?) - and also - HUMMING BIRDS feeding off beautiful desert flowers. They were amazing and our photos do not do the wildlife justice (no prizes for us for Wildlife Photographer of the Year, although Alex's parrot is particularly amazing). The desert is not barren at all but really rich and colourful. It was amazing to see the vegetation and go inside some traditional houses made from plants. The dead cactuses were like skeletons and surprisingly hard and barky like trees. The park was surrounded by huge red rock hills and mountains and we watched the sun go down between the cactuses and the birds going to roost.
Then we came back for pre-dinner swim and had dinner near the canal in Scottsdale in a surreal area full of swanky bars and restaurants, but also the most kitsch shops selling chihuahas in sombreros etc.
Phoenix Art Museum had the most different philosophy of any that we have visited - it could even be the polar opposite of the San Diego New Children's Museum. The thinking behind the Children's Gallery was not about being hands-on or making things, rather it was about trying to develop visual literacy, often using language, but again with collections at its heart. An interesting shift though about use of language and prioritising this over kinaesthetic learning in a way, and I am sure there will be some interesting reflections to come later about whether this was equally to do with the political differences between Arizona (conservative) and California (more liberal)... It was great to meet Kathryn Blake and share some of her ideas for the new strategy and thinking about museum behaviours and not setting up false expectations for a museum visit by having a manic hands-on space.
Sunday, 18 October 2009
A 6.30am start to catch the plane. It was the most weird system at LA airport to check-in for an internal flight. Clearly they are trying to economise so it's all self check-in and they managed to add hidden costs for baggage (as they'd done with the rental car as well) but finally we got through. Only an hour flight which was good. First impressions: Arizona really IS a desert! There are huge cacti everywhere like you see on cartoons, and big red rocks sticking up in the city. It doesn't seem like a city compared with LA. It's pretty deserted, very hot, low level buildings and wide boulevards. We're actually staying in Scottsdale which was recommended by Laura from the Arizona Museum for Youth as it has lots of culture going on. On arriving, we went to a Mexican restaurant for Sunday lunch (seemed to be the thing to do when we got there: lots of family lunches), the wandered round the corner - to chance upon the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMOCA) - AND a James Turrell sky space! Wow! Didn't know it was even here! It was an oval version of the one a YSP. However, being in Arizona, the sky was blue with little fluffy clouds (The Orb song keeps going through my head) and it felt totally different to being in a field near Wakefield. Obviously! Was so pleased to find it as had no idea it was even here. We picked up a few maps and the area looks very manageable with some interesting places to see. And a waterfron with canal which I look forward to seeing as there's not much other water round here. All the rivers marked on the map say 'Dry' next to them - just salt in the bottom. We've had a swim and are just relaxing and doing absolutely nothing now as we are shattered and have been on the go since Monday! So I will go now.
Don't forget to look up all the photos on Flickr. Have decided to continue this blog when I get back as so far it's descriptive rather than reflective in the main so need to use it for reflecting when I get back.
OK - so we have to rub it in. As well as working really hard, we are managing to have a small bit of play time. So we spent Saturday afternoon and evening in Santa Monica. It has a pier that is 100 years old, traditional wooden boards, and lined with fairground rides, stalls and entertainers. At the very end sat a busker: Mr Larry Dallas Poling. He sang, played a mahogany guitar and harmonica and it was beautiful. When he got to Neil Young's Heart of Gold, I had a bit of an emotional moment trying to take in the amazing views, sounds, waves, seagulls, pelican (!). Needless to say I bought his CD. You can check him out here.
Then what else to be done, but to have a swim in the ocean (they don't say 'sea' here - it's all oceans - i.e. the Pacific) - it was about 100 degrees centigrade in the sun after all! The waves were awesome: lots of body surfing (without the board) and it was so much warmer than Sandbanks sea.
A wander round parts of the town and then watching sunset from the beach followed by a Bellini at Shutters, a restaurant/bar that is right on the beach and was recommended by Rebecca from the Getty. We followed this with dinner at the Library Alehouse (another thing from Alex's Lonely Planet) - I had a Bison Burger. And then we went to another bar where Alex nearly had an unfortunate incident with someone named Derrick and we nearly got locked in the parking lot as a cold mist descended. But other than that (and we did avoid these hazards!), a really amazing finale to our LA adventure.
PS - Alex W driving today for the first time: don't know why I was so worried - it was all fine.