I have to admit, it feels shameful to have lived in the Granite State for almost two years and not yet visited the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, NH. Ranked #1 on Tripadvisor for city attractions and acclaimed throughout the country for its programming and curation, it’s often only the tourists that take advantage of one of our state’s artistic, historic, and cultural treasures. “New Hampshire residents only make up a small percentage of our visitors,” Jane Oneail, the Senior Educator for the Museum, explains as we sit in the light and airy cafe space that links the museum’s historic building with its more contemporary additions. “I think people tend to head down to Boston for their ‘art fix.’” But, as I found out on my recent tour of the museum, there is certainly no need to leave the state to experience world-class art.
Having left my car in the handy parking lot on-site, I head into the building to be greeted by several helpful and friendly members of staff as Oneail walks up to me. As she takes me into the first space, I remark how happy everyone looked. “It’s all about a community atmosphere. We want everyone to feel invited in.”
Museums, and in particular ones showcasing visual art, can often feel intimidating to many, but the Currier goes out of its way to ensure that the door is open for anyone and everyone interested in seeing both traditional and contemporary works of art. “We’re focused on art, centered on people. That’s what we do,” explains Oneail as she points out their new community curator program and other participatory projects as we walk through the space.
We continue through the peaceful galleries of European, Contemporary, and American Art before stopping for a moment in the Modern gallery to look at a large, colorful and instantaneously recognizable piece. “The children love looking at our Picasso, the parents – not so much,” laughs Oneail. It’s here that I realize that the curators at the Currier not only have a great eye for important, seminal works but they are also dedicated to creativity and showcasing great pieces from around the world with thought, precision, and dedication to the art of curating.
Everyone at the Currier seems excited by their current large retrospective showcasing the life and work of M.C. Escher. Again, it’s the little touches that matter here. Of course, they have all the works we would recognize from this artist’s explorations into reality and illusion, but it’s the magnifying glasses that line the walls waiting to help you get up-close and personal with the work, and the table where visitors can try their hand at their own Escher-esque self-portrait, that makes this a special place for all ages. Those touches dismantle the stereotype of an art museum where people silently shuffle through, and in turn highlight the building’s purpose as a community place for learning, for exploration, and for fun.
Fascinated by the work, I had to tear myself away from the art to sit down and talk about the Currier’s efforts to engage even more with the community, and in particular young people. “We aim to be barrier-free,” says Oneail, and with New Hampshire residents granted free admission on Saturday mornings they are evidently working to ensure that everyone can enjoy the collections, special exhibitions, and events. “But we want to connect more with young people, and so we created Young Friends.”
The Young Friends of the Currier is a volunteer group for busy professionals interested in supporting the Museum through social media marketing and community engagement. “It’s a great networking event for young people, but it’s also just fun to come into the building and explore the artwork in a new way,” explains Oneail. The group meets four times a year. Their next event will be on February 5th and it is free to attend. “We want to create a stronger arts community in Manchester and the state. And young people can help us do that through learning about our work, enjoying it, and sharing it with others on social media.”
“None of this matters if there aren’t any people. We want everyone to keep coming through the door. Come see the art, enjoy the cafe and the surroundings,” says Oneail. I, for one, won’t wait long before my next visit.
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