There are two types of museums: those that don’t allow touching, and those that do. Almost without fail, the touching museums teach science, and the non-touching teach art (or very likely ask visitors to teach themselves art). Thankfully for San Antonians and tactile learners, the McNay Art Museum is bridging that gap with the unveiling of its new interactive studio on Friday, July 1.
The McNay is constantly developing new ways to improve accessibility, and this initiative makes these efforts explicit, weaving in permanent collection items with more interactive schemes. Unlike many other well-meaning but narrow-sighted art museums with interactive programs just for kids, the McNay made this whimsical and introspective space appealing to all ages.
“Visitors [of all ages] are welcomed into ... a site-specific experience infused with surrealist natural elements, curiosity-driven interactives, and a personalized interaction with the collection,” says Meredith Doby, vice president of exhibits and lead of the design team, DoSeum Design Studios, in a press release.
Even for an art museum, that’s a lot of abstraction. The studio is one room — relatively small by museum standards — with a projection screen, recessed display windows with original art, and workstations with prompts and cards. The prompts are conversation starters (“What does home mean to you?”) that could become teaching moments, potential connection points on first dates, or something cryptic to discover from the last people who sat down to reflect.
The space will change with each new studio artist; this inaugural setup is made in collaboration with Soomin Jung Remmler, a San Antonio-based landscape artist. The fluorescent collage-like works lend themselves to the collage-like thoughts that on-the-fly arts education tends to encourage. The station that asks the meaning of home is equipped with tiny cards for revelations. Another workstation asks visitors to shuffle around little art prints on a floorplan to create their own exhibition. A wall covered in greenery contains hidden doors to shadow boxes with surreal scenes depicting the artist’s answer to the prompt.
“I created the little village and a house in response to the fantastical foliage walls throughout the Studio because they remind me of the nature that exists within all of us,” Remmler said in the press release. “The miniature houses, stars, moon, and origami airplanes symbolize home as the place where one’s heart is.”
The studio is working up to more community programming, including artist-led workshops, but for now is self-guided. Remmler’s work will anchor the space through 2022.
The interactive studio is open to all museum visitors starting July 1. Tickets ($20 adult, various other tiers) are available at mcnayart.org. There are free admission windows every Thursday, and every first Sunday of each month.