Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Coney Island Congress of Curious Peoples, 4/8-18

Draper Alumni Aaron Beebe, current curator of the Coney Island Museum, recently informed us of the Congress of Curious Peoples, presented by Coney Island USA and the Morbid Anatomy and Observatory. The Congress starts this Thursday, April 8th

For a pdf of the Congress of Curious Peoples poster, which includes the full schedule, click here.

Below is a past interview Draper did with Beebe about his role as curator of the Coney Island Museum. Enjoy!

Tell us a little about your position as curator of the Coney Island Museum and what initially drew you to this line of work.

The Coney Island Museum is a program of Coney Island USA, the nonprofit that brings you the Mermaid Parade, the last 10-in-1 circus sideshow in the nation, the Coney Island Film Festival, and others. The organization as a whole fulfills its mission by using the history of Coney Island to create the future of Coney Island through art and humanities programs. So the Museum is the intellectual heart of what we do.

The first time I saw the Coney Island Museum, a small collection on the second floor of a nondescript building, hidden above a reader/ advisor on Surf Ave., I was surprised by how wonderful the collection was, and how little had been done to show it off. So I offered my services to Coney Island USA’s director and offered to do a lot of volunteer work. First weekends, then evenings; writing grants and talking to potential funders until we’d secured money for a full-time position. Finally one day, I quit my day job and became the first full-time staff person dedicated to the museum itself.

Since then, I’ve built walls, written text, and written grants. On any given day I might be engaged in lighting design, historical research, purchasing stock for our giftshop, event planning or coordinating volunteers. I now curate several historic exhibitions in the main gallery each year, 4 shows of contemporary art, our summer lecture series, and the permanent collection.

Obviously, this is interdisciplinary work. It’s a position that engages all of my passions: artistic expression, scholarly research, historic preservation, even urban planning.

What did you study/research while at Draper? Describe some of the ways in which your experience at Draper has most significantly influenced you. What kind of benefits do you think result from a background in interdisciplinary study?

When I entered the Draper Program, I had already had several years of practical experience in museums and art conservation studios. I saw the program as a chance to explore a scholarly side of that world without getting trapped in a particular academic field, say Art History or American Studies. My thesis was on the use of photography as a marker of identity, both in a historical example and in a contemporary artistic setting. Having the freedom to take courses from a variety of departments meant that I was creating my own approach, combining the social sciences and the humanities. And, in the end, this is exactly what I’m trying to do in the museum. In fact, we’re trying to create an institution that brings the worlds of the museum and the performing and visual arts together in a way they haven’t been in over a century.

I think what defines my interests isn’t a particular field, but a love of ideas of memory and nostalgia. So I’m trying to keep the freedom to follow that wherever it leads me. For the moment, its led me to help design a museum that is also a work of art, working in a critical fashion without being too worried about the propriety of it all.

What advice would you give to a student going through the Draper program?

Follow your interests. And don’t think that what you study has to be your lifelong passion. It’s not as easy as it sounds. The difficult part of making your own path is that you’re the only one who can really judge its merits fully.

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