Setting the stage for conviviality

August 1st, 2011 by Wendy Pollock

Chicago Botanic GardenIn an essay called “Convivial Cities,” Lisa Peattie wrote that “Conviviality can take place with few props. . . But it must have some sort of material base–the right-shaped corner, the piece of vacant land and a couple of rakes–and it must have the rules that permit it. Conviviality cannot be coerced, but it can be encouraged by the right rules, the right props, and the right places and spaces.” These two images (seating at the Chicago Botanic Garden, right, and below, the Hull-House Museum‘s urban farm) suggest ways museums can be staging grounds for conviviality, not only in planning exhibitions, but in arranging other spaces where people can come together and feel connected and revitalized.

Last week, the Hull-House Museum’s director, Lisa Yun Lee, spoke at the closing session of the Visitor Studies Association meeting in Chicago about her vision for museums. She critiqued the economic impact argument that’s often made these days– that museums are important as economic engines and generators of local revenue and jobs. While this is certainly valid, museums contribute much more, she said, including fostering conviviality and offering “an opportunity to unleash our visitors’ radical imaginations about what might have been and might be.”

It seems a modest beginning, a corner and a couple of rakes. But even with limited resources, there are things we can do to make a real difference.

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