Ian Waggoner, Staff Writer
Returning to Hopkins for my sophomore year, and being the Museums and Society minor that I am, I was eager to visit my favorite museums that I frequented last year. Of these museums, I was most struck by the Walters Art Museum’s transformation since I had last visited.
One Thursday I decide to visit the Walters and take advantage of its extended Thursday hours, closing at 9 pm rather than 5 as most museums in the area do. Checking the museum’s website on the way, I saw news of a new building having been opened called 1 West. Upon arriving, I moved through the taxidermy open they had going on, made a button for free, and then continued to the new portion.
1 West struck me as something completely different from anything I had seen in a museum in quite a while, something that deeply felt like a community space. One topic much discussed in museum studies is that of the museum as Temple vs. Forum, the former as a place where ones goes for quiet inward contemplation, soft voices and slow looking, and the latter as a place for discussion and interaction with other individuals.
Seeing 1 West, I took note of how the museum is attempting to incorporate the community and create a space for shared collaborative experiences. A studio on the upper floor serves a place for anyone, from children to adults, to get in touch with their creative side and use the provided art materials no charge. While there are suggestions about what to create, there is certainly no one preventing you from grabbing a blank sheet and making anything your creative heart desires.
Moving elsewhere in 1 West, there a historic library room equipped with tablets, some providing information about the building itself and Baltimore-related history as well as others geared for looking at objects in the museum’s collection, enabling casual research and a chance to see a scope of what the Walters has in store.
Towards the entrance from the Asian art gallery, there is also a conservatory where anyone is welcome to sit down and converse with a friend or colleague. Keep in mind that all of this is completely free to everyone who wishes to go.
After processing all of this, I realized that the museum’s move towards a community space isn’t entirely new. They often host events in the sculpture court, holding concerts for local orchestras, performance art, events like the taxidermy open, and the Queer Curiosity event that happened in late September.
While many museums hold a variety of events, none strike me as much as the Walters’ do. Additionally, theirs are generally much more accessible than other museums thanks to their extended hours, allowing working professionals, students, and other individuals to come to these events without interfering with their busy schedules and still leaving their weekends free.
These community-centered features, when combined with the new spaces in 1 West and free admission, create a sense of the forum so often talked about in museum scholarship but so infrequently applied. The Walters is certainly taking steps to create spaces where the community can come together in the museum and create beneficial experiences close to home.