Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sense of Place - deCordova Sculpture and Museum Park

Have you ever walked into a place and felt its pulse? You know... when you walk in the door of your home and get that "Ahhhhh, I'm home" feeling? Or, have you ever returned to the neighborhood where you grew up and something tugged at your insides? How do you feel when you hit the beach as soon as you park your car, fling open the door and smell the sea air? Why do we love small New England towns that seem to hold onto their past? All of these examples represent the idea of strong "sense of place." It is this sense of place that tugs our heart strings, ties together the past and the future, brings on memories, and attracts us to a setting, making us want to return to it again and again.

When a cultural institution hits its stride, it exudes sense of place strongly. The deCordova  Sculpture and Museum Park in Lincoln, Massachusetts is an institution that captures sense of place as strongly as any museum that I know. I recently re-visited the park and took along a reluctant nine- year-old, who at first did not want to go and then did not want to leave.

First, I want to reiterate that sense of place is a favorite subject of mine. I often write about the concept because I think that it is part of the core of what librarians, museum professionals, and archivists do. If we can capture a sense of place with our collections and make our buildings inviting by giving them the right "feel" than we are on our way to encouraging patronage by making a special connection to our visitors. If you are interested in reading more on my take regarding this subject please see a list of my posts on "sense of place."

"Established in 1950, deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum is the largest park of its kind in New England encompassing 35 acres, 20 miles northwest of Boston. In 2009, deCordova changed its name from deCordova Museum and Sculpture Park to deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum to emphasize its renewed focus on sculpture and to support the institution’s goal of becoming a premier Sculpture Park by 2020. Providing a constantly changing landscape of large-scale, outdoor, modern and contemporary sculpture and site-specific installations, the Sculpture Park hosts more than 60 works, the majority of which are on loan to the Museum. Inside, the Museum features a robust slate of rotating exhibitions and innovative interpretive programming."

The deCordova uses its landscape to highlight its collections and vice-versa. Walking through the space, one feels very centered with a complete understanding of the site's purpose. The setting touches my core every time I visit. (I lived within miles of the place twenty years ago as a young archivist in Waltham.)

I'll keep this short and suggest that you visit the museum if you've never done so. If you have visited, I'd love to hear your reactions. How do you feel the sense of space at deCordova? If you have never been, think about a place that exudes place for you and about what makes it so special. What places exude "sense of place" for you and why?

[The indoor museum also captures this feeling, but I was not allowed to take photos inside. I think museums need to work on resolving the "issue" of having the public photograph borrowed pieces.]

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