For the past two weeks I have been abroad in Europe; London and Paris to be exact. I went with two of my friends and together we call ourselves The Smashing Trio (we also team up to put on events like theme parties and theatre!)
The trip was amazing. I have to say that I fell a bit in love with London. What struck me was the way they live life communally. I heard that pub life was rampant there but I never really figured out why until I was there. Apartments/flats are small and no ideal for hosting there so most people go out – and not just out after dinner out, they don’t even go home from work they just go straight to the pub (the Public House as it were – ah see that’s where the name comes from)! From 5 pm on they are hanging out with their friends at their local “Cheers” bar as everyone knows your name (singing ensues…) because that’s YOUR bar. Parks were the same: in both London and Paris we saw that public parks were rammed with kids and families until they closed the gates. This even extended to museums too (more so in London as in Paris there were higher fees to get in) – as it was accessible to all people since the admission price was PWYC! At The Tate Modern Museum I was overwhelmed by how people used the museum space: first it was rammed with people of all ages, status, and ethnicity which was amazing. Next, patrons used the space as they wanted to with minimal authority: there was no shushing (people were calling their friends from across the room to see this “really wicked painting” and others were chatting on their phones and remarking on this Matisse or that art piece across the way), people were checking their Facebook and email as there was free wifi in the museum (updating statuses with what they thought about the things they were seeing) and best of all they were taking pictures! Selfies with art!
Most places want you to be quiet, step away from the art piece, move along like shuffling zombies, don’t talk about the art, don’t stand too long/in the way. But at the Tate and so many other museums/galleries in London I found them to be a hub, a community center. I WANT THIS IN CANADA. Better yet I want this at the museums I work at. I want this in our bones as North Americans. I want to hang out at a museum, a place where I’m welcome to be me in their space. A shared space.
How do we get to that in Toronto? How do we do all that here? The ROM and AGO are trying with their Thursday and Friday Nights – but that’s an event – that’s not a consistent community. City museums like Gibson House Museum is trying to make a place for people to hang out with their various community groups and drop in days. But why aren’t people going? The PWYW Thursday hang outs at Gibson are under attended, and the Sunday afternoon craft space is too. Why can’t we get out of our hobbit holes and knit ourselves into the community around us? Are we so used to hibernating that we are on a default setting to hide away? Are we more like our southern neighbors and watch TV to feel a part of something? What’s the element missing that gets Europe out and into the world that Canadians, at least the ones I know/see everyday, keeps them at home?