"We’re New Here"
by Britt Julious
I was pretty sure my chest would explode. There was no other way to describe the feeling of sitting in the back of the Edlis Neeson Theater at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, listening to Kim Gordon and White/Light perform a mesmerizing, heavy, uncomfortable, yet coordinated “set.” This was not a performance for those not used to White/Light. I attended another performance by the group years ago as an intern at the museum and even then, I could not quite comprehend what was happening. Why was it so loud, yet not loud? Why did I feel it everywhere and all around me? But more importantly, how could something like this be taking place in a museum?
The past decade has seen an influx of unique, avant-garde, and youthful programming from museums both locally and nationally. A part of me is jealous of MoMA PS1’s Warm Up performances and DJ sets that have featured Matthew Dear, Jamie xx, Autre Ne Veut, and Atoms for Peace (to just name a few). But Chicago is certainly not slacking. Bringing musicians, lecturers, photographers, and other creatives into their institutions has been a noted and successful manner of introducing Chicagoans to things they often ignored or were ignorant of to begin.
What first began here as the monthly First Fridays mixer at the MCA soon spread to other local establishments (After Dark at the Art Institute, Jazzing at the Shedd Aquarium). But the experiences are not relegated to just parties. My friends and I attended First Fridays as recent undergraduates because of my connections to the museum. When I worked there, I realized that the event was something that I would appreciate even more once I was older. The MCA (and other museums like it) have begun to notice this as well.
The Kim Gordon and White/Light performance was the conclusion of Face the Strange, a series of monthly, hour-long and free performances by different musicians. Audiences could “face the strange” of both the music itself and the experience of going to a museum.
A long line snaked around the front patio of the museum. Two people ahead of me, I spotted Oak Park writer, fashion icon, and media mogul Tavi Gevinson with a friend. Behind them stood another pair of women.
“It took me forever to get here,” one said.
“Yeah, it’s kind of confusing over here,” the other said.
“I mean, I’ve lived here for five years and I didn’t even know this was over here. I didn’t even know this museum existed,” she replied.
As a long advocate for the arts, this comment immediately confused me. Throughout my childhood, I took trips to the local art museums. In college, I visited during Free Tuesdays (the only time I could attend on my limited budget) and often sat on the stairs writing in my journal. Knowing and understanding and supporting the cultural institutions of this city – my city – is an integral part to how I live and why I choose to stay here rather than go anywhere else. But if programs like these can bring new audiences to the institutional places that make Chicago so great, then so be it. What matters most is that they are seen and cherished. Knowing has become too rare today.