Hey, this is Amy Meier, the author of CivilTongue, thanks for reading. I am passionate about my beliefs and about how we humans create and process with our brains. The worst part about starting this blog is that there is so much depressing stuff out there! In reading and researching for posting, I am very interested in lots of issues, but consuming news can bring you right on down – especially if you see your values being trampled. I am experimenting a bit here so that I can share some really positive things with readers as well. My “Favorite Frames” will be featured – perhaps regularly – to show what is going on in the world that celebrates my values and makes me feel happy. There are no sponsorships or advertisers (though I’d be happy to entertain an offer 🙂 ), this part is just about feel good stuff.
The City Museum in St. Louis is one of the most stupendously amazing places on the planet. If you haven’t been, you really must put it on your “to do” list immediately, it is SO MUCH FUN! The City Museum is a 600,000 sq. ft playground, in the form of a former shoe factory in what many folks used to consider a seedy part of downtown. This museum is very unmuseum-like in most respects. Touching is not just encouraged, it is required. Matter of fact, you will likely have a lot of full body contact with the museum. There are countless slides, steps, squeeze-throughs, tunnels, tubes, ropes, mazes, climbable sculptures, nooks and crannies that you would not be able to avoid exploring – the museum offers no maps or explanations of what to do, and also very few rules you have to obey. The museum isn’t even that safe!…which is surprisingly wonderful. There are tons and tons of welded steel to crawl around on and in, kneepads are recommended and many stories of how a late night adventure turned painful (yes there is a bar open until 2). The space is for adults as much as it is for kids – it helps us adults really remember the feeling of explorative play. There is silliness, sophistication, performances, art making, a huge aquarium, a circus, a ….a…. (I’m getting breathless here). There is so much about it that I love and that ties in directly to my values, I’ll try to start and explain (but I’m telling you, you have to see it to believe it).
First of all, I love that Bob Cassily, the sculptor, birthed this dream against the odds. He dreamed it, found some capital, then proceeded to follow his dream. This is the American dream that I want (it has nothing to do with living in the suburbs or working in the rat race), it involves opportunity and ingenuity. He was like a kid in the candy store, choosing found items like sweets; the building blocks of this magnificent place were formerly known as “trash”. The idea of turning a (not exclusively money driven) dream into reality is inspiring. Doing it in a way that is creative is better. Doing it in a way that actually produces thousands of beautiful artworks is amazing. And doing all of this while recycling tons and tons of useful and beautiful bits of architecture, industrial equipment, scrap metal, and anything else they find is mind-blowing.
Values embodied in this project: creativity, empowerment (apparent in the creativity- no artists could plan the whole thing, there are many nooks where it is apparent that different people were given creative license), bravery (to take risks, follow dreams and buck the city), community (in playing with everyone there, multi-generational and multi-cultural, whos’ thinking about barriers while having a blast?), grit, hard work, and the joy of experiential learning – the joy in life.
Here is what is not a big part of City Museum – fear. Granted, there is the thrill of self inflicted vertigo if you look down at the city from the bus that’s suspended over the roof, and no doubt many a youngster (or oldster) has found themselves stuck in a tight place or high place and freaked a bit. A person might have to overcome some personal fear about claustrophobia or high places, but there is not a culture of rules over fun like we see normally in museums and in our hyper-litigious culture; it is liberating. (Funny story: the only time I’ve been scolded after climbing everywhere I could find in the museum, was after going down a five story slide and lying on the floor giggling with a friend and we were spied – this was in almost total darkness. The employee thought we were coming from or trying to get into the apartments that adjoined in the rest of the building. The whole issue happened because the employee had no idea that a five story slide existed in the room – granted it was a 10-story “room”. The only way we convinced the employee that we truly had been down a 5 story slide was to show them where we got on. They admitted that it was a slide they’d never noticed before and let us be on our merry way.) Even if a person wasn’t able bodied enough to throw themselves into a child-like climbing frenzy, there is so much to touch, see, learn, observe – it’s extraordinarily rich people watching.
The museum does a decent nod to architecture, specifically the very rich architectural culture of St. Louis – so the value of tradition is honored. Authority is a value that may be in place in the background (through boards, directors, or lawyers), but it is not apparent to the public. In fact it is encouraged that you “get lost” and you often find yourself in awe of the freedom to explore unfettered by “DO NOT____” signs, security guards (I’m guessing they were there in plainclothes), or school marms shaking their fingers at you. It is such a rare experience to be able to freely explore such a rich and intricate space in our Big Box, pre-fabbed, rectangular kind of world. There is a small section of “straight” museum, like you might have already experienced, with photos, artifacts and explanations, but most of the place is a crazy non-traditional jumble of old and new, fancy and junky all welded together to make a brand new wonderful 10+ story art piece (there’s a rooftop playground too).
Is the City Museum political? No…and yes! City Museum did have to contend with crabby city planners and assumed a renegade role in the beginning. Now that it is one of the biggest draws for tourists, the city admin changed their tune and trumpets the wonders of the attraction to the world. All of our lives are political, in work, play, school, church. Politics aren’t just about insider Washington policy and candidates, politics is about the governing of our lives. This is why the “government is bad” meme makes little sense for anyone but Anarchists. In experiencing the museum, current events are probably far from the mind, but the ideas and values that shape our world are still present.
Like the rest of our lives, City Museum reinforces values that are all over the political spectrum (probably very few people except myself even think of things in this way). Independence and a pioneering spirit are celebrated, as well as a community spirit. It is a beautiful way to show that community, freedom, expression, commerce – and JOY can be held in one place and enjoyed by all.