Thursday, April 12, 2012

More thoughts about a possible Teenie Harris Museum

A few more thoughts about what a Teenie Harris museum might look like and what it's purpose and programing might be. I am hardly an expert on either African American; Pittsburgh or larger issues of urban history. I also don't know that much about photographic history, so one can take these ideas as food for thought.

The Teenie Harris archive seems to show how little most of the public knows about it's own past. It often raises more questions than answers.

Luckily, Pittsburgh already has one of the best possible models of a stand alone museum of a single artist, that both documents that artist's work and places it in a continuing living context of shows involving others.

First, an idea of the show's success.

Coverage or reviews appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Art Daily, The Daily Mail, Time Magazine, The Cleveland Plain Dealer and National Public Radio. An AP story on the show was published in 300 papers across the country.

From The Post Gazette

"Overall museum attendance was up last year over the previous year, said Jonathan Gaugler, Carnegie media relations manager, with "huge spikes over the holidays and after Teenie opened." It's also been "way ahead for the year" to date compared with last year at this time. African-American attendance has approximately doubled, he said. Counts for individual shows are difficult to tally because admission numbers include Natural History Museum visitors, but attendance on March evenings, free through a Jack Buncher Foundation grant, gives some idea, escalating from 1,082 early on to 1,665 last week.

"Several hundred comments including identifications and stories have been left in the galleries, some of which are periodically posted on the Carnegie website (click on Information and scroll to What's New). "People write, 'This was my mother, my grandmother, I was the flower girl in this wedding.' They tell heartwarming and heartwrenching stories,"

This brings me to the first concrete reason a permanent space needs to exist, which is to capture the memories of the people who lived in and knew these communities while they are still here.

Museum programing

Of course the primary focus of the museum will be the exploration of Teenie's work, but like the Warhol, it will be very important to do more. Harris may be growing into a Pittsburgh legend, but he is still not very well known outside of town. The Westmoreland and recent Carnegie Museum shows garnered lots of national press, most of which faded very fast. Since he stayed in Pittsburgh and his full archive was left here, too few scholars have had a chance to put his work in perspective.

Part of the problem is that the vast rich world Harris shows us, now seems almost unbelievable. James Van Der Zee took staged pictures of a small slice, of Harlem's intellectual and social elite. Harris, shows the amazing social capital that existed from top to bottom --corner stores, bars, clubs, schools, sports- the famous, the struggling and the striving.

A major goal of the museum is to explore other urban photographers and journalists and try to get a fuller and more realistic picture of what was really going on in America's "working class" neighborhoods. The Teenie Harris Museum would explore urban. African American and photographic history.

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