By Regina Connell.
Many museums are about the objects and art within them. Others are about ideas. Yet others are about the building (quite often to the detriment of the ideas and the work the building holds). But some museums (too few) are also about the spirit of what they are.
The Museum of Craft and Folk Art (MOCFA) in San Francisco is one of those museums, and its spirit is infectious.
We’re talking about its creative spirit. MOCFA embraces creativity, and not just that of the artists exhibiting work there. They believe their mission extends to the community as a whole, and it’s this belief that gives this sleek, petite museum its bubbling, magical energy.
A perfect expression of this is the museum’s recent, exhilarating show entitled E is for Everyone: Celebrating Sister Corita. A nun who was also an educator, a maker, and the creator of a community of artists, Sister Corita’s work (which was both outsider and craft-based) spanned public service, political commentary, and joyful self-expression. (She’s also well-known for her Love stamp issued by the USPS in 1985.)
In-keeping with the museum’s mission and Sister Corita’s commitment to social justice, the show included “CreateRelate,” a limited edition of painted boxes featuring Sister Corita’s images created by artists at the Creative Growth Center in Oakland, an organization that serves adult artists with developmental, mental, and physical disabilities. Administrative Director Betsy Herczeg-Konecny says, “Sister Corita really fits with the mission of our museum. She—and we—are all about the democratization of art.”
(We love the following poster from Sister Corita, which MOCFA will be releasing in poster form… not soon enough!)
One of the challenges for any museum with craft in its title (let alone “folk art”) is to find that balance between the traditional and the contemporary. Natasha Boas, the museum’s curator, notes, “We’re thinking about a traditional medium through contemporary optics, exploring the politics of the handmade, of responsibility.” As a curator, Boas is respectful of materials and traditional methods, but is also a passionate advocate of breaking down barriers and integrating craft and folk art concepts into contemporary art. This is evident in shows like “Sister Corita.”
One more thing we love about MOCFA is that they’ve embraced a broader understanding of the word “craft.” Their version of craft embraces making in many of its forms and working closely with the local artisan manufacturing movement (in the form of SFMade) to promote local work and making. Democratic, indeed!
MOCFA further celebrates the creative spirit and brings the community together with events like its hot “Craft Bar” events in partnership with Etsy Labs, and its Make It @ MOCFA events that have turned the museum into both a community studio workshop and a buzzy party venue for the young (including kids), creative, and hip.
And they’re also creating a different kind of community online, bringing remote audiences into the museum, blending the online with off, and bringing its own personality into the mix. Recent Facebook posts, for example, take people behind the scenes and into the museum between exhibits. (Yes, lots of museums have Facebook pages, but not all of them use them well.) Says Betsy, “We like to get the spark and dialogue going, and people keep it going online.”
What’s great is that in a world of sprawling, glamorous, “starchitected” museums, MOCFA does what it does in a small, modest space. Herczeg-Konecny sees this as an advantage. “There’s something good about intimate, contained space: it’s a place where you can bring up bigger questions more comfortably, and more meaningfully.” In other words, ideas don’t get lost in the grandeur of the space.
Finally, for those who love a good browse (and shop) at museum stores, but hate the sameness that seems to creep into the merchandise, MOCFA offers a refreshing alternative, with a collection that balances the quirk of Etsy artists with refined fare from local makers.
We love MOCFA’s energy, enthusiasm, and embrace of community. We love its gutsy spirit. We love that they keep it real. Get in there and check out its next exhibit, Wrapping Traditions: Korean Textiles Now, or go get your hands dirty (in the best of ways) at one of their hands-on events. You might just enjoy yourself.
Museum of Craft and Folk Art
51 Yerba Buena Lane, San Francisco, California
(@ Mission between Third & Fourth)