The Art of Engagement: UCLA’s Hammer Museum

This past weekend, the Hammer Museum at UCLA hosted its annual gala, this year honoring actress Diane Keaton and artist Paul McCarthy. As always, the event attracted a star-studded crowd: Steve Martin, Selma Hayek, Martin Short, Jane Lynch, Julia Roberts… The Hammer’s very public engagement with this very public part of Los Angeles got a lot of press coverage.

But all of the media buzz surrounding what celebrities wore at this once-a-year party made me think about how the Hammer Museum’s everyday engagement with the less public parts of Los Angeles often gets buried beneath the glitz and glamour of Hollywood…

Los Angeles sometimes gets that same treatment, doesn’t it? If you live here, you know that Hollywood — with all of its media attention and money — is just one sect of this sprawling city. Hollywood doesn’t define an Angeleno any more than Times Square defines a New Yorker. It may be the public face of the city, but it isn’t its soul.

The thing that impresses me most about the Hammer Museum isn’t their annual gala (although that’s nice), but —

Their daily commitment to serving
the not-so-visible parts of Los Angeles.

Here are just a FEW of the ways the Hammer Museum engages with the broader Los Angeles community:

  • In partnership with the James Irvine Foundation, the Hammer Museum strives to “create a new model for visitor engagement, conceived and driven by artists.” This series of programs includes exhibitions inside and outside the museum.
  • With the Art + Practice foundation, the museum is helping to develop a model for collaborative, offsite arts engagement in Leimert Park (South Central LA; damaged in Rodney King riots; now considered by many as the heart of the Black music and arts scene in Los Angeles). This unique partnership is bringing art outside of the museum walls and into the city.
    csm_IMG_1423_be67dd2175
  • In early November, the Hammer will host a two-day international conference called ENGAGE MORE NOW!  where art professionals will discuss ways for museums to engage with the general public and local communities.
  • The Collection (including works by Rembrandt, Titian, Monet, Cezanne, and Degas) is free to all visitors. The Hammer Museum has literally opened its doors… to everyone!
    Armand Hammer Collection installation
  • The museum is also committed to showing works by Los Angeles-based artists. If you want to hear the VOICE of LA, a visit to the Hammer is imperative.
    DSC_0278 (2)

Sometimes, living in LA, I feel like I don’t have a voice. I think a lot of us feel that way. This city is GIANT: about 18 million people in the metro region, sprawling over four-thousand square miles. I’ve worked in “the industry” (as the television and film business is called here) for fifteen years, and the amount of money and fame can be positively suffocating to anyone who isn’t already on the top of the mountain. With legendary traffic, parties, and paparazzi, how can a “normal” person be heard amid the noise?

The Hammer Museum is fighting to give the rest of the city a voice. Whether it’s giving local artists a place on the walls or bringing art out of the museum and into the streets of South Central LA, the Hammer is raising us — the people of this city — above the clamor.

Sometimes, in our modern society, we all close inward. Instead of looking up and out, we stare down into our iPhones or stream videos from YouTube instead of walking the streets. Plus, the noise of media and the outside world is so loud, we often want to hide in a quiet cave…

And our museums close inward, too. Sometimes, I feel like museums want their exhibitions to be esoteric instead of broad or to be seen as an exclusive institution instead of an open one…

So, when a museum does reach out to the community, we should all reach back. The Hammer Museum is benefiting from engaging with the public — the museum feels vibrant, young, and alive. And I think YOU would benefit from engaging with it.

That means stopping by the Hammer the next time you’re in Westwood, attending one of their Art in Conversation talks led by student educators, tracking down one of their exhibitions in your neighborhood, or just hanging out with a friend in the courtyard and enjoying a bite at the Ammo Cafe.
AMMO at the Hammer (cafe) (3)

Because if we want the Hammer to continue reaching out to us, we have to reach out to it, too. That’s how a relationship — any relationship — works: give and take; speak, then listen; both sets of arms open.

And having a relationship with art is one of the most rewarding experiences of this human life. When you see yourself in art — and art in yourself — your life will improve.

The Hammer is opening its doors to you.

It’s time to open your heart to it.

 

 

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