The Secrets Can... exhibit was deinstalled on Sunday, April 27th. It was a bittersweet moment. I had done what I had set out to do - install a contemporary art exhibit at Kirkland Arts Center. But for me, it was about more than that. It was about making something meaningful. The exhibit was about connecting people to one another. It was about interaction and introspection. It was about allowing for dialogue, thoughtfulness, and empathy. It was a tall order. It is hard to say if it was successful in all of these ways. How does one set out to measure that which cannot be seen, the invisible work, and the subconscious? I could spend a PhD or two on that question alone.
I know I'm a bit biased, but I it was successful overall. We collected a modest number of surveys. We asked people if they liked the interpretation we provided (artwork was grouped by the artist and themes). We asked what visitors would tell their friends about the exhibit. We asked how they thought the exhibit and interactive components handled the topic of secrets. Every single response came back with positive remarks. Perhaps the folks who visit KAC are some of the nicest in the world - and I do think this is true - but no one said anything negative in the anonymous surveys (or to me). It could be that the old adage "if you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all" was employed, but I think many people did connect with the exhibit.
The opening night was a whirlwind of activity. My mom flew in from Wisconsin to see the exhibit come together. She graciously and carefully counted for every visitor. The clicker stopped at 122. I felt humbled and inspired by the turn-out. A lot of my friends, colleagues, peers, and mentors came. It provided me with a mini-reunion for some of my online library school friends - people I hadn't seen in person in years. I was really overcome with emotion and I couldn't help but cry a bit when I had to deliver my speech. (What can I say, I'm a happy crier...)
We collected 85 secrets from the interactive. The secrets were about love, relationships, hardships, fears, loss, self-worth, hope, and personal truths. They were written in English and one in Japanese. They were written by those with a lot of life experience, young adults, teenagers, and children who aren't quite able to write letters but who still had something they wanted to say. The secrets were beautiful and heartbreaking. I have only the sincerest hope that the issues shared will be resolved in the best way, that those little kiddos get the Lego sets they are hoping for, and that everyone who bravely shared a secret felt a connection with their community.
As of this Friday, all of the artwork will have been returned to the appropriate galleries and artists. A new, fantastic student (Kayla) has been selected for next year's ECI exhibit. Things are moving forward, as they do, but I keep thinking of my exhibit. Being in the gallery once everything was hung, right before the opening night, was a pivotal moment of my life. I knew I was doing the right work. It's not glamorous and sometimes it's slap-dash. Yes, I love exhibit design, but more than that, I love doing something meaningful. Colleen texted me frantically one afternoon, providing me with a play-by-play that made all of the hard work worthwhile. A grandmother and her grandson were walking through the exhibit, talking about something that had happened to her son (the boy's father) when he was young. A friend had confided they wanted to commit suicide and swore the boy's father, a teenager at the time, to secrecy. After much thought and turmoil, the boy's father decided he had to go to his friend's parents. The grandmother told her grandson that it was one of the hardest things her son had to do - he had to be brave and betray his friend's trust. But it saved his friend's life. The grandmother told her grandson that he should always let her know if he felt unsafe or if he was worried about a friend. They continued the conversation as they walked through the rest of the gallery, and while the exact words were not said, the message was clear: you are loved, what is important to you is important to me, and you don't ever have to go through anything alone.
|Folded and Disclosure | Artwork by Ellen Heck | Courtesy of Davidson Galleries|
|Humans of NY | Artwork by Doug Keyes | Courtesy of G. Gibson Gallery|