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'Open House' initiative promoting inclusiveness at MOCA with free admission, diversity and community events

Posted at 7:46 AM, Mar 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-18 10:48:47-04

CLEVELAND — It might be a distinctly-shaped building on the outside, but Silas Buchanan says the feeling you get when you cross the threshold at the Museum of Contemporary Art is what matters.

"MoCA's accessible. I mean, it's here. It sits here," said Buchanan, the CEO at Our Healthy Community, which helps underserved communities become more healthy. "It's whether or not you feel welcome. What compels you to walk in the door?"

MoCA's location since 2012 sits in University Circle at the corner of Mayfield Road and Euclid Avenue.

When Our Healthy Community held an even at MoCA a few months ago, Buchanan says about 95 percent of the people who attended had never been inside the building before.

"It starts with the programming, and by MoCA allowing this sort of programming to happen here, it becomes easier for people to walk in the door," said Buchanan.

Free admission makes it a little easier to get people to walk in the door, but Deputy Director Megan Lykins Reich says she knows contemporary art can be intimidating.

Clothing sits on a table as part of Lee Mingwei's You Are Not a Stronger Exhibit. Volunteers will mend pieces of clothing that will be attached to the nearby wall through string.

"The gallery is the space of greatest anxiety and vulnerability for our audience," said Lykins Reich. "Contemporary art is new and unfamiliar."

That's why the museum is also starting an apprenticeship program. For the first time, trained guides will be in the gallery answering questions from visitors, helping them understand what they're looking at.

While many museums struggle with a lack of diversity in leadership positions, those apprentices will reflect Cleveland's racial diversity.

Flowers sit waiting to be taken by visitors. Those visitors will be asked to go out of their way to hand the flower to a stranger, creating new opportunities for interaction.

"It's important for community members to see themselves reflected in the institution and feel that their valued," said Gund Curatorial Fellow La Tanya Simone Autry.

Her position was created specifically to bring diversity to the exhibits on display at MoCA and to focus on engaging with the community even more.

"Not so much to teach people things, there is learning that happens, but not to be talking down to people but to work more in a partnership with communities," said Autry.

Buchanan says in communities where people don't normally think about trips to MoCA, word about programs like these could travel fast.

"It's 'Did you know? Did you know about MoCA," said Buchanan. "There's a lot of people that I think when invited in, would come."