Have a Drink with an Old Master

by Angela Tillapaugh

The Frick Collection, located in New York City, is an art museum that houses paintings primarily by the Old Masters, as well as sculptures and decorative

1 St. Francis in the Desert at the Frick's current location on Madison Avenue in New York. Image by Joe Coscia, The Frick Collection.
1 St. Francis in the Desert at the Frick’s current location on Madison Avenue in New York. Image by Joe Coscia, The Frick Collection.

arts. While the Frick’s original building, Henry Clay Frick’s Beaux Arts mansion, remains closed for renovations, they are showing a portion of their collection at the Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue. Even though the galleries of the Breuer building stand in stark contrast to those of the Frick mansion, all cool shades of gray and hard concrete to the mansion’s colorful walls and vibrant textiles, the curatorial staff has chosen to present the artworks similarly. That is, without object identification labels or wall texts. The Frick relies on other methods for conveying details about the art, including educational programs.

Cocktails with a Curator started on April 10th, 2020 after the museum closed to the public in response to the pandemic and streamed live each Friday at 5pm for over 60 weeks. After the completion of the livestream, videos are put on their YouTube channel. This series became immensely popular with the public, often receiving well over twenty thousand views, an improvement on a few hundred views on other videos. The Frick collected two awards for the Cocktails series, “Best Virtual and Remote Experience: Arts and Culture” from the Webby Awards and “Best Digital Exhibition or Online Education Program” from the Global Fine Arts Awards. As Cocktails with a Curator is ostensibly the Frick Collection’s best performing online program, what made this series so popular and caused it to resonate with audiences?

The structure of the videos is fairly simple. One of the two Frick curators presents the viewer with artwork from the permanent collection and a cocktail that they have chosen to pair with it. From there, the curator explains why they have chosen that beverage to pair with the artwork. Afterward, the curators give some historical background on the artist and the artwork; this includes details about when the Frick purchased the work, information about the artist and their body of work, and the purpose of the work. The curator then provides the viewer with a deeper analysis of the work, both from an artistic and socio-economic standpoint. As an example, we can look at the July 17th, 2020 video on Johannes Vermeer’s painting, “Officer and a Laughing Girl”. Curator Aimee Ng presents details of the painting and explains the way Vermeer uses paint to capture light. She also discusses the beaver skin hat the officer is wearing and the extensive damage that the beaver trade had on indigenous populations of North America. By providing this information Ng gives the audience a chance to understand the artwork as a whole, explaining both Vermeer’s painting techniques and the context in which he painted the work.

2 Still from Cocktails with a Curator: Vermeer's "Officer and a Laughing Girl"
2 Still from Cocktails with a Curator: Vermeer’s “Officer and a Laughing Girl”

These videos certainly resonated with the target audience, the general public. I think there are a few reasons for this. First, the curators do not assume the audience has prior knowledge about art. They always provide definitions for specialized language and other details important to understanding the work. By doing so, they allow viewers to learn about art without getting frustrated by opaque language. They uploaded the videos to YouTube, making it easier to find and watch. If it was only accessible through a page on the museum’s website, it would have a higher chance of being lost to digital decay. The videos are relatively short, usually clocking in around 20-25 minutes. A curator could discuss the artworks for much longer, but many people do not want to commit an hour to watching a YouTube video on a topic that is a casual interest. Presenting information through the guise of a cocktail hour makes learning about art more inviting to viewers. A cocktail hour feels like being invited to an informal social event, not an intellectually rigorous lecture. The Frick provides the recipes in the description box for each video, so you could make the beverage ahead of time and join the curator in enjoying the drink.

3 Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’s The Portrait of Countess d’Haussonville in the Frick’s original building. Image by Michael Bodycomb, The Frick Collection.

I think it is important for the Frick to provide these friendly, close spaces for people to interact with art. The videos allowed viewers to learn about a work of art without the distraction of all the other items in the gallery, and with more detail than is provided in a Frick gallery. Additionally, the Frick Collection can seem intimidating to users, especially people who do not frequent art museums. In their original location, the artworks live in highly decorative rooms. The Gilded Age opulence can seem overwhelming and unapproachable. At the Madison location, the art is hung in sparse gray rooms that look cold and sterile. The Frick does not provide wall texts, and there are stricter rules for visiting that other museums do not have (they do not permit photographs, bags, or children under ten to enter). These elements combined can make visiting the Frick Collection daunting for visitors.

The online format appeals to people, and the Frick Collection appears to have understood what made the Cocktails with a Curator series popular with

4 The Portrait of Countess d’Haussonville in the Frick Madison. Image by Gus Powell for the New York Times.

viewers. They started a new series called Continuing the Conversation, which is a free event open to the public that occurs live over Zoom. This series of events, unlike Cocktails, invites attendees to join in the conversation. I think the Frick Collection has more work to do to make their museum more welcoming to those visiting in person, but the Cocktails with a Curator series certainly achieved its goal of getting viewers interested in their collections throughout their closure. Providing these comfortable spaces for people to engage with artwork online will likely have long term benefits for the Frick. The educational programs allow people to see past the less than genial galleries, and view the Frick as a place where they are truly welcome to visit and enjoy art.




Vermont History Day and the Vermont Historical Society

by Toben Traver

What happens when we engage students in the process of historic documentation and research? This is the question that drives the annual Vermont History Day (VHD) program and competition. Since 1983, VHD, administered by the Vermont Historical Society(VHS) in affiliation with National History Day (NHD), has worked to provide Vermont 5th12th grade students with opportunities to develop research skills,grapple critically with historic topics, and present the fruits of their labor to their peers and community. All student projects are organized around a common theme selected each year by NHD, a national nonprofit organization committed to teaching, preparing, and inspiring the next generation of historicallygrounded citizens. Students are charged with delving into the topic of their choice, and encouraged to bring in creative skills and interests; projects solo or in groups of up to five can take the form of an essay, a performance, an exhibit, a documentary, or a website. Placing first or second in the statewide April competition qualifies students to compete at the national level in June. In 2021, as in 2020, these competitions will be virtual events due to the ongoing COVID19 Pandemic.

VHD fits squarely within the mission of the VHS, which is to engage a wide audiencein the exploration of our state’s rich heritage… through our outstanding collections, statewide outreach, and dynamic programming(Vermont Historical Society, 2021). The program provides an opportunity for students, parents, and teachers from across Vermont to connect with and learn to value historic materials. VHS also demonstrates a clear understanding of how they can tailor their services to this group of users by highlighting possible project ideas oriented to the issues that animate them environmental degradation, social justice, and indigenous rights, for instance. Howto guides and tutorials are written with gradeschool students in mind, using language and imagery they might find approachable. Resources on the VHS website guide participants in how to locate and evaluate primary and secondary sources, a critical component of building archival and information literacy. Further, resources link to various other libraries, museums, local historical societies, and repositories throughout the state. In this way, the project helps raise awareness of the broader environment of cultural heritage centers throughout Vermont, and provides avenues for outreach to critical partner organizations and future potential allies of the VHS.

Students are one of the primary audiences for VHD, though they are certainly not its only beneficiaries. While, according the VHS website, one hundred and sixtyseven students participated in the VHD competition in 2020, a virtual exhibition allows a broad swath of the public to learn about the individual topics and projects, and perhaps connect with the VHS, Vermont State Archives, or other organizations that house cultural heritage materials (Vermont Historical Society, 2020). Educators are a central target of this program as well. VHD provides tools for incorporating historical teaching and learning into the classroom, including suggested topics of study relevant to Vermont’s history, and creative methodologies for engaging in research, such as oral history.

While many of the students engaged in this program have benefited immensely, judging by their glowing reviews on the VHD webpage, it is difficult to quantify the programs impact. Many of the winning projects in 2020 originated from one school and one town,suggesting that some teachers and communities have found ways to fold the program into their classrooms successfully, while others may have not. That said, local history, culture, and politics have long been celebrated in Vermont, and the VHS has secured a prominent role in educating, promoting, and preserving Vermontersconnections with their past. VHD provides a clear avenue for this kind of wrestling with history, offering students the chance to direct their own learning, and showing all involved the power that historical materials can have. In this way, the program helps secure a loyal base of support for the VHS, and ensure the organization can continue its mission into the future.

Links for further reading:

The Vermont Historical Society: https://vermonthistory.org/

Vermont History Day: https://vermonthistory.org/historyday/

National History Day: https://www.nhd.org/


Vermont Historical Society. (2020). Vermont History Day 2020. Vermont History. URL: https://vermonthistory.org/vhd2020

Vermont Historical Society. (2021). Mission & Strategic Plan. Vermont History. URL: https://vermonthistory.org/missionandstrategicplan

2020 Four Nations Concert Series at NEHGS

by Verity Ahlin

Boston has no shortage of rich history and distinguished institutions dedicated to preserving that history. Simply walking down Newbury Street will land you at one of these institutions, and may inspire you to investigate your own family heritage. The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), established in 1845, is a longstanding Bostonian institution that, along with their online repository American Ancestors (americanancestors.org), is dedicated to preserving and promoting the study of familial history in America.

With the execution of their “2020” project, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower, they have successfully planned a variety of events that cater to those wishing to not only learn more about Pilgrim history, but also their own genealogical roots.

“2020” is a project produced by American Ancestors and NEHGS that very thoughtfully showcases some of the more intangible facets of Pilgrim culture. According to Ryan J. Woods, Senior Vice President and COO of NEHGS, the project includes a variety of “programs, publications, exhibitions, and tours that will touch on the key themes of exploration, innovation, religious freedom, self-governance, immigration, and Thanksgiving as we honor and learn from the enduring legacies of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag.” I was particularly intrigued by the 2020 Four Nation Concert Series, so I bought a ticket!

On February 13, I had the pleasure of attending the first concert in this series, Pilgrims’ Progress: Music of the Plimoth Colony Settlers 1590-1650, featuring Seven Times Salt, held at NEHGS on Newbury Street in Boston.

Using reproductions of 17th century instruments, the members of Seven Times Salt make up a classic “English Consort,” a four person ensemble consisting of traditional wind and string instruments. In addition to being an enjoyable musical experience, the musicians made sure to explain important historical context for their song choices.

Seven Times Salt kicked off their performance with popular songs from England in the years 1590-1608, before the Mayflower set sail. Next, the musicians explained some of the lesser known history of the Pilgrims’ stay in the Netherlands, playing songs from the region in the years 1608-1620. Seeking religious freedom, Pilgrims lived in the Netherlands prior to their emigration to America. After spending over a decade in the Netherlands, many Pilgrims still sought freedoms that they were not receiving from the Dutch. When they left for America and finally ended their arduous journey on the Mayflower, the Plimoth colonists came with diverse tastes in music, such as psalms, rounds, part-songs, and dance tunes. Seven Times Salt presented these varied musical genres in their final portion of the concert, which focused on Plimoth in the years 1620-1645.

After the performance, the musicians from Seven Times Salt answered questions from the audience followed by a reception, where participants could learn more about the “2020” project as well as NEHGS and American Ancestors.

In addition to the concert series, NEHGS provides interested participants opportunities to learn more about the Mayflower voyage and the early days of American history through talks, tours, and even essay contests for students in grades 5-8 and 9-12. While I can only speak to the concert I attended, I can testify that this program is a successful act of user outreach. Whether it be through experience, study, or participation, everyone can find something that strikes their imagination with the “2020” project.

The professionals at American Ancestors and NEHGS clearly value and care for this rich aspect of American history, and by putting on performances that people enjoy, they create a thirst for further understanding. Once that thirst is established, NEHGS provides the tools for additional study; encouraging users to explore their own history.

The project is currently on-going, and I highly recommend attending one of their events to see how this history comes to life for yourself.

Upcoming dates in the 2020 Four Nation Concert Series are as follows:

  • May 14, 2020: The Beggars’ Songbook: Revolt in the Spanish Netherlands, Historical and Musical Illustration of the Pilgrims’ 10-Year sojourn in the Netherlands, featuring Long & Away.
  • August 13, 2020: Wampanoag Nation Song & Dance, featuring Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers.
  • November 19, 2020: The Immigrant Experience to America, featuring Promised Land.

If you would like to attend part of this concert series, participate in another aspect of the “2020” project, or explore your own heritage, I recommend visiting their website: https://mayflower.americanancestors.org/.

Neighborhood Matters: An Outreach and Advocacy Project by Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections

by Angela Lee

“Neighborhood Matters” is an outreach and advocacy project hosted by Northeastern University Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections (ASC). This lunch time series aims at promoting diversity and inclusion by organizing a free public event; its goal  includes bridging campus and community. “Neighborhood Matters” first began in 2014 and is held at Snell Library on the Northeastern University (NEU) campus two to three times a semester. The project was proposed and led by the head of NEU’s Archives and Special Collections, Giordana Mecagni. “Neighborhood Matters” started out as the simple format of a Boston-specific documentary screening event; it has  grown into a more interaction-driven forum that encourages thought-provoking communication over the past six years.

The scope of this community-based initiative is confined to the city of Boston.  Within this geographical boundary, “Neighborhood Matters” sheds light on local history that is largely underrepresented through unique stories narrated by our neighbors. The project is an embodiment of NEU’s ASC, aligned with their collection policy to curate diverse historical records to preserve the history of Boston’s social movements. The individual voices captured by “Neighborhood Matters” bring insight and new perspectives to seemingly mundane places in Boston.

The project’s target audience includes local communities, as well as NEU members, but events are open to anyone who is interested in how actual neighbors have shaped and been shaped by Boston’s distinct neighborhoods. Not only does “Neighborhood Matters” encourage community members to appreciate their neighborhood more, but it also offers an opportunity to network. As a result, NEU’s ASC becomes a nexus of rekindled community spirit and identity.

According to NEU’s archivist, Molly Brown, the topic of each event is curated in response to current and socially significant issues that are worthy of public attention. Due to this adaptability, an event is planned a few months ahead of time, rather than on a yearly basis. Sometimes socially active figures reach out to NEU’s ASC and propose an idea for an event. For instance, Alison Barnet, who is a local author and a long time committed attendee of the “Neighborhood Matters,” suggested the recent event entitled “Once Upon a Neighborhood: A History of the South End from Alison Barnet.”

This author talk was held on February 11, 2020, and featured Alison Barnet as a special guest. Originally from New York, but now a resident of the South End since the 1960s when she was a transfer student at Boston University, Barnet has witnessed the ceaselessly changing landscape of Boston over the past half century.

This South End history writer shared her version of the Bostonian chronicle, which traces Boston’s legacy all the way back to the 1600s, based on her newest book Once Upon a Neighborhood: A Timeline and Anecdotal History of the South End of Boston. The event had a great turn out and a large number of elderly attendees, due to Barnet’s many personal allies who showed up to support her. While she recounted snippets of South End history, the audience reacted with fervent nodding or occasional sighs as a sign of empathy.

Following Barnet’s jovial reminiscing through her long-term residency in the South End, she presented video footage of her 1980s appearance on network TV. Barnet’s satirical performance in the skit addressed a looming threat of gentrification and displacement in Boston. Since the gentrified neighborhoods are still an ongoing battle faced by the city of Boston, her story is not limited to the past but resonates with all of us in the here and now. As the series’ self-explicit title suggests, neighborhood does matter. However, “Neighborhood Matters” asks us to consider why it matters, how a sense of neighborhood can be cultivated, and why it is important to stay connected with the people who live around us. The belief behind this outreach and advocacy project is that posing these questions makes a difference in our everyday life, while also demonstrating the tangible value of NEU’s ASC.

This grassroots empowerment is what has driven the “Neighborhood Matters” forward, resulting in enhanced social recognition of NEU’s ASC. Brown, NEU’s archivist, attributed the continuous positive feedback and growing number of loyal attendees as an indicator of the efficacy of “Neighborhood Matters” since its initiation. This gradual but steady effort contributes to increased community awareness, and its impact reverberates beyond NEU’s neighborhood.

Elizabeth Nagarajah, an attendee who is a Class of 1990 NEU alumna, described “Neighborhood Matters” as an invitation to all to reflect upon their society’s interconnectedness. As a Roxbury resident for nearly 40 years, Nagarajah is frustrated by the frequent marginalization of the Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, and Hyde Park neighborhoods in the media. In her eyes, Roxbury is “a neighborhood full of families and people who care and love the area,” even though the neighborhood is “depicted as a crime infested area full of brokenness.” Nagarajah stressed the importance of people seeing more of these marginalized neighborhoods than what the local news displays, with the help of projects like “Neighborhood Matters.”

At the heart of NEU’s ASC’s achievement lies their proactive redefinition of their role as a social activist, as opposed to a simple institutional library and archives. NEU’s ASC has embraced their socio-geographical context as a means of garnering public support and earning advocacy. The more people realize the influence of their neighborhood through “Neighborhood Matters,” the more people commit to building a more inclusive community, supported by NEU’s ASC.

Climate Conversations and Commitments at the Arnold Arboretum

by Lily Eisenthal

Early in the autumn of 2019, before the trees making up its extensive collection began changing colors, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University offered a series of events and activities for Climate Preparedness Week. It was the Arboretum’s first year participating in the weeklong event through a partnership with Communities Responding to Extreme Weather (CREW). CREW is a Massachusetts-based grassroots organization that aims to offer space and resources to help communities face the climate crisis. Climate Prep Week is an effort that helps people and institutions connect around climate change.

The Arnold Arboretum is the result of a unique collaboration between Harvard and the City of Boston, at once a public park and a center for cutting-edge research and horticulture. To casual strollers-through, the Arboretum is another gorgeous link in the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Emerald Necklace. Look closer at the trees in this park and you will notice silver accession tags affixed to trunks and research markers dangling from branches. The Arboretum sees itself as a community resource, serving inward to members of the Harvard community and outward to residents of and visitors to Boston. The Arboretum hosts creative programming year-round to help these communities celebrate and better understand the beauty and science of nature.

The main goal of Climate Prep Week at the Arboretum was to support community engagement with a difficult topic through scientific lectures, artist-led workshops, an art exhibition, guided tours, and more. When I arrived at the Hunnewell Visitor Center on a sunny Saturday afternoon, it was abuzz with activity – artist Steffanie Schwam was in the middle of teaching a botanical printmaking workshop. Schwam participates in one of the Arboretum’s citizen science projects, Tree Spotters, which she uses to inform her creative process, and her workshop is a great example of how the Arboretum used Climate Prep Week as an opportunity to showcase the work of both non-traditional (artists) and traditional (scientists) users of the collections and to encourage visitors to engage with the Arboretum is new ways.

I gathered with about twenty other visitors for a tour called Research in the Collections – a Scientific Exploration of the Arboretum to learn about how scientists use the Arboretum’s collections to study the effects of climate change. Docent and biology graduate student Esther Miller led us along the curving paths of the Arboretum, stopping at specific trees to discuss climate change-related research projects currently underway. Miller expertly wove discussions of climate research with information about the history of the Arboretum as well as the science behind the sights and smells of the trees in the collection.

In addition to one-off events, the Arboretum installed week-long activities to create opportunities for visitors to have honest conversations about the climate crisis. Out on the Arboretum lawn, there were two circles of logs with prompts for “Dia-Logs” to encourage guests to sit down and chat about their thoughts and fears around the climate crisis. One circle was geared towards children, with kid-friendly prompts for “environmental discussions” and tips for adults answering tough questions. Inside the Hunnewell, visitors sat arguing at a table with suggestions for making “climate commitments” – a bulleted list of ways to “act toward change.” The Arboretum provided guests with a basket of construction paper leaves and sharpies to make personal commitments inspired by this list. A young girl scribbled out “use less plastic” and then ran over to the “tree” – lines of string hanging in the entrance to the Hunnewell where visitors could clip their commitments – to hang her little orange leaf up. The Arboretum did a great job sharing lifestyle changes and habits that individuals can make to respond to the climate crisis, but it missed out on an opportunity to address (and potentially promote) responses, actions, and initiatives taken by local organizations and government such as the Arboretum, Harvard, and the City of Boston.

From what I observed during my visit, Climate Preparedness Week at the Arnold Arboretum was a success. The Arboretum designed activities and events that facilitated (sometimes difficult) conversations about the climate crisis, educated visitors about the climate crisis and what they can do about it, and fostered a sense of community through shared learning and art-making experiences, reaching their audiences in new and meaningful ways.

To learn about upcoming events at the Arboretum, check out their website.

Repair// Heal: Mending the Self: Our Healing at the RISD Museum

by Rivi Feinsilber

Museum spaces are no longer a place of just observing objects; they are now a place for creating and interacting with them. This is particularly true at the Rhode Island School of Design’s Museum (RISD Museum). The institution believes that art makes a better society from the collections, visiting artists, and events and always in an inclusive and accessible space. Some spaces are designed for collaboration with museum staff, artists, and/or visitors for events. The museum carries out events each month that include lectures, performances, and workshops that range in price from walk-in free to registering with a fee. One event that combines interaction and collaboration between student, museum, visitor, and art is the Repair// Heal: Mending the Self: Our Healing. This public curation event not only allows the visitor to participate in art, but also better understand the space around it and become part of the museum.

Led by a student artist from Brown for four consecutive Sundays in March, the end product was part of her dissertation, Mind, Body, and Community. The project not only fulfills the artist’s need for a “community” object, but also engages the patron in the exhibit, participating in the art of mending objects and being part of something bigger including the gallery and the RISD Museum community as a whole. She chose this space, as healing and mending is the point of the exhibit, but also the curator designed the space with collaboration in mind with seating, tables, and an open atmosphere. Unlike more traditional museums and events that only allow observation, this event made participates including myself feel like an artist and repairer of not only fractured fabric, but also a fractured self and community.

Repair// Heal: Mending the Self: Our Healing was a free open to the public of all ages interactive live object making event that focused on the cathartic act of healing oneself through mending fabric and understanding the concept of gendered activities. Patrons (child through adult) take strips of fabric and decorate them by embroidering and/or using fabric markers. Participates are encouraged to write a meaningful statement on the fabric as well, which ties into the healing portion of the project as the artist stated: “sometimes healing means setting personal goals. Sometimes it means stating one’s values aloud for others.” Here in this event and space, healing is a communal event; that broken becomes whole in new ways. For one moment in time in this particular space, strangers who would not acknowledge each other in a museum are now temporarily part of the RISD Museum’s artistic community. The event made participants feel part of the art but it did not effectively connect to the larger theme of gendered tasks.

The project was effective in making the patron an artist and a curator, but not as effective in connecting to the space and larger concepts. The gender identity theme was not apparent in the activity; my educated guess is that it was assumed that a patron knew that mending clothes/fabric is seen as a gendered activity. Additionally, there was no obvious rebuttal of this inherent assumption. Finally, it took me some time to realize that the space and the project were parallel to each other as the event absorbed my attention. Observing the space, it was clear that was the case for many patrons. People engaged with the project more so than the space. The artist did emphasize the purpose and relation to the space if you asked. A verbal introduction to the event’s purpose including themes and relation to the gallery would help patrons understand the whole objective and make a bigger impact. Nevertheless, it was clear from observing other patrons and analyzing my feelings that the event was successful in weaving diverse strangers together to each other, the space, and the museum as a whole, similar to weaving the fabric into the artist’s rug. Therefore, this event was successful in implementing a public curation type event that aims to make museums and its community more approachable and malleable to patrons’ experiences, knowledge, and skills.

Francophonie 2019 Launch at The French Cultural Center

by Clara Snyder

Tucked away in the heart of Boston’s historic neighborhood of Back Bay is the French Cultural Center, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide French language instruction and cultural programs for the Greater Boston Area and holds the second largest private collection of French books, periodicals, DVDs, and CDs available in the United States. Programmed events take place year-round, especially in March to celebrate Le mois de la Francophonie, a global celebration of the diversity of those who speak French. The Center’s month-long celebration includes screenings of films, author talks, language discussion, and an art exhibition; but it is all kicked off with an annual Launch Party focused on gathering Boston’s French-speaking communities and organizations to network and engage with each other.

According to the French Cultural Center, “La Francophonie is a vibrant and dynamic language community shared by some 274 million speakers. From Africa to America, French is spoken on five continents [… and] With more than 60,000 words, it is an international language of communication used by 80 states and governments. In the United States, the number of Francophones is estimated at 11 million and nearly 13 million Americans report having a French, French-Canadian, or Acadian ethnic origin.” These diverse statistics were mirrored in the Launch Party’s food, audience, and organization representatives.

The event was held in the French Cultural Center’s location on the corner of Marlborough St. and Berkeley St. It’s a stunning building with a large white foyer, a grand staircase against the back wall leading to the library, and two sets of French doors on either side leading to adjacent rooms. The rooms to the left held the majority of the event, including the refreshment buffet, and the doors to the right led to the photography exhibition. The food and drink present at the party took you on a tour of the French-speaking world with cuisine ranging from Caribbean and African dishes to French wines and cheeses. Everything looked, smelt, and tasted delicious.

The organizations there were just as varied as the food with the likes of businesses, governments, and nonprofits; including but not limited to: The Quebec Delegation Boston; International School of Boston; French American Chamber of Commerce; Campus France, an international studies organizer; the Boston University French Club: Association Francophone de Boston University; and Everett Haitian Community Center. Each organization used the occasion to network with each other and the general public attending the party by promoting their community offerings, calendar of events, travels, studies, work, etc. The sense of community between everyone, despite their various backgrounds, was palpable and probably largely due to the existence of the French Cultural Center.

Adrien Argentero, the French Cultural Center’s Cultural Programs and Business Outreach Manager, organized the Launch Party and subsequent events in March to celebrate Francophone culture. He expressed his excitement and hopes for the party to foster deeper connections between the French-speaking groups and persons by being the focal point of Francophone events and educational resources. Though unsaid, it also seems that the Center is aiming to encourage non French-speaking communities to learn about and engage in Francophone culture. The event seemed to be a great success with high attendance, wonderful food, and engaging organizations eager to share their experiences and passion for Francophone culture.

Death, Corsets, and Opera, Oh My!: Nichols After Dark Events at the Nichols House Museum

by Jasmine Bonanca

Louise Homer, portrait in the Nichols House Parlor

In March of 1902, the Nichols family hosted a performance by Metropolitan Opera singer Louise Homer in their home on Beacon Hill.  More than 100 years later, the Nichols family’s home, now the Nichols House Museum, brought opera to Beacon Hill once more through the performance of Boston-based soprano Jacqueline Novikov, accompanied by pianist Yelena Beriyeva.

The event was part of the Nichols House Museum’s Nichols After Dark event series, which began running in October of 2017.  The Nichols House Museum (NHM) tells the story of the socially and politically active Nichols family, particularly Rose Standish Nichols, a life-long pacifist, traveller, suffragist, and one of America’s first female landscape architects.  Through stories of their lives and home, told during a 1-hour guided tour, visitors can get a glimpse of what life was like on Beacon Hill at the turn of the century.

That tantalizing glimpse can give visitors a desire to hear more, and the NHS staff certainly has more to share. The Nichols After Dark events allow the NHM’s staff to further their educational mission by giving staff members a chance to dig deeper into stories and historical themes that usually only get mentioned in passing during tours.  The cliffnotes version of Louise Homer’s 1902 performance, for example, is typically told in the second floor parlor room during the tour, but during the Night at the Opera event the museum staff introduced the performance with a fuller retelling of the story that included quotes from the family’s letters and information about the prominent Bostonians who attended.

Not only does the NHM get to dive deeper into the family’s stories through these events, but according to the NHM’s Program and Collections Coordinator Laura Cunningham, the Nichols After Dark events also gives the museum the opportunity to reach out to a younger, broader audience while re-engaging their traditional audience and long-time constituents.  According to Cunningham, Nichols After Dark targets younger audiences by “embracing pop-history themes.”  One previous Nichols After Dark event “Dearly Departed: Death and Dying in 19th Century Boston” looked at Victorian mourning practices, while another, “Corsets and Courtships,” showcased 19th-century undergarments loaned from a sister institutions to explore the love lives of the Nichols family  members. The NHM has also used the Nichols After Dark events as a chance to develop multisensory programs that allow visitors to experience the museum’s historically furnished rooms in ways they can’t typically achieve on a guided tour.

The Nichols After Dark events invite visitors to experience the museum as a place to relax and be social.  Each event in the series ends with a mixer featuring wine, beer (served by a TIPS-trained bartender), and small eats, transforming the museum from a purely education space into one where people can connect over their shared experience.

The NHM hopes that the Nichols After Dark events will inspire audiences and institutions beyond Beacon Hill, and start a dialogue in Boston cultural heritage institutions about the roles of historic house museums and cultural institutions in today’s society.  According to Cunningham, the NHS is deeply invested in keeping house museums relevant through the 21st century and “aims to do so not only by adopting an inclusive and self-critical approach to history telling, but also by reinvigorating our programmatic calendar and allowing ourselves to go ‘off script.’”

This exciting events series has been a success in more ways than the museum hoped for.  While Cunningham said that the museum’s goal was to bring in first-time visitors and give everyone a unique experience, she also said that the Night at the Opera event created a chance to connect with some potential donors after the performance.

Developing such exciting events are a team effort.  The NHM only has three full-time staff members, and though as the Programs and Collection Coordinator, Cunningham spearheads efforts to actualize these events,  everyone contributes ideas for events and works together to make them happen.

Overall, the Nichols After Dark events are an exciting way to get out and experience a beautiful house museum in an innovative, thought-provoking way.

Curious about what’s next on the Nichols House Museum’s events calendar?  Check out their website and Facebook page: