Mattering is Key to Innovation:
A Model for Civic Engagement in the McDonough Museum of Art
All over the US people are revitalizing and reinventing their cities by developing new social, economic, cultural and environmental models. The greatest innovation is coming, as it always does, from places in transition like Youngstown.
Over the past 10 years the John J McDonough Museum of Art has engaged in the process of transformation as a mode of operation. Civic engagement and community commitment have become defining roles for this university art museum as we move toward mattering. Mattering for us is local and reciprocal. We care about what matters to this community and to better understand what that is we are building programs together. Our process is based on inquiry —asking questions around what people care about in this time, our time. Ultimately we are asking if our investigations might lead to substantial changes in the way the arts contribute to education and public life.
In a forever-changed post 9/11 world the American Alliance of Museums joined hundreds of publicly engaged non-profit organizations to examine carefully their connections to community. The AAM has called for new models to provide foundations for the next step in becoming relevant and vital centers for civic engagement. We have answered that call but in a way that radically repositions the institution by industry standards. In conventional museum practice, no matter how experimental, the institution comes first. Like other university art museums that are non-collecting institutions, we are free as academic entities to push the limits and expectations of our profession beyond what we know and at the same time expand the context for our academic programs.
To choose mattering, responding to a known basic human need as the foundation for relationship building, we open the museum to unknown possibilities. By putting the community first our mission is adjusted program by program. Each time we build something together with the community our consciousness is expanded and as a result, how we think about and see ourselves in the world is changed by every experience.
Leslie A Brothers