Day in the District: Experiencing "Whoa" Moments
Posted by Andrea D. on September 30, 2009 - 1:14pm

After surviving my very first Day in the District, I am happy to report that it was quite an experience. Saturday's event coincided with National Museum Day, and Fort Worth's entire Cultural District threw open the doors to their museums, their gardens, (and even their log cabins) to give the public a day of free admission and live entertainment. It was an opportunity for visitors to experience much of what Fort Worth has to offer, as well as providing a chance for the locals to get out and savor familiar surroundings all over again.

In fact, I was astounded by the sheer amount – and variety – of experiences that the event was capable of producing. The Modern alone hosted performances by The Texas Boy's Choir, The Fort Worth Jazz Orchestra, Fort Worth's local Contemporary Dance troupe, and film shorts by The Butterfly Connection. And that wasn't even taking into consideration the art exhibits: it was the final weekend that the William Kentridge: Five Themes exhibition was going to be on display, and the permanent collection, as always, was a big hit. People of every age entered our doors: families with children, high school and college students, and groups of adults, all of whom were eager to see, experience, explore as much as they could.

The flow of people between museums also provided the opportunity to compare and contrast common themes between exhibitions. For example, I was struck by the way that Kentridge's Journey to the Moon, and Philip Haas' film The Butcher Shop (which was on view at The Kimbell Museum) dealt with the subject of artistic inspiration in such strikingly different ways. Kentridge portrays his search for inspiration as deeply personal and introspective; it involves scrutinizing books, pacing around the room, and imaginative flights of fancy...occasionally to another planet. In contrast, Haas' video installation depicts an actor (representing Annibale Carracci, painter of the piece which inspired the film) intensely studying the action that surrounds him, immersing himself within the butcher's shop and making periodic pauses to note specific images that would eventually find their way into some of his later works. This duality between exhibits allowed the public to engage with a variety of works in multiple museums, while finding common links between them.

However, many experiences inspired by Day in the District were much less complex. While providing wrist bands to visitors, I was approached by a young girl around six or seven years old. She produced a small photo album within which, with painstaking care, she had organized a collection of postcards depicting art works from various museums. Thumbing through the pages, she suddenly stopped and pointed to a postcard representation of Melissa Miller's The Ark, a piece in the Modern's permanent collection: "I'd like to see that one, please."

I offered to take her directly to the piece, and once we rounded the last corner and Miller's menagerie was in sight, I witnessed one of those moments that causes warm fuzzy feelings in the hearts of all art professionals: The clear blue eyes of the young girl lit up, and her lips widened into an incredulous smile. "Whoa…! It's so big! Look, Mommy, look at the animals…!"

Unable to suppress a smile myself, I left the girl and her bemused mother in front of the painting, but I knew (and, could occasionally hear) similar experiences happening all over the building. There were the occasional gasps of "Wow!" or "Cool!", but equally poignant were the silences of internal epiphanies, of thoughts shifting and rearranging themselves in the heads of so many. Day at the District was, overall, an experience about the experience...about experiencing a cultural area, about the thoughts and feelings it inspired. It was about creating one "Whoa" moment after another.