Imagine you and I are having a conversation. I happen to mention The Louvre, The Tate, The Met, The Prado, MoMA and MOCA. Through the simple act of naming I am also necessarily invoking the cities in which these storied museums are to be found. When I say "Louvre," you think Paris; when I say "MoMA," you think New York.
This inextricable relationship between museum and place has everything to do with the evolutionary success of a vital, thriving art museum. In many ways the North Carolina Museum of Art, situated as it is on 164 acres of rolling Piedmont green, echoes the structure-to-land ratio of a modest North Carolina farm. With the opening of the new building, a "smart" structure designed to harness natural light, engage the elements and almost breathe the North Carolina air, we are perfectly primed to participate in the evolution of a landmark museum.
I include all of us in this scenario because museums are nothing without the people who visit them. While there is much to take in and savor in this newest NCMA incarnation—full-spectrum halls aglow with white marble statuary, antiquities brought out from their dark caverns and seen anew in the light of day, a breathtaking Yinka Shonibare figure held aloft in the gallery space, the stark yet sensitive landscaping of the many outdoor corridors and courtyards—the most important thing in the museum is us.
The essential circuitry of the museum is activated only when we're there to look and consider, experience and question, feel and wonder—when we compare notes about what we saw and thought about it. That is one thing all those other famous institutions have in common: the engagement and pride of the citizens lucky enough to live close enough to those museums to become bonded with them—and to form a relationship with their permanent collections over a lifetime.
Perhaps one way for us to inaugurate this new beginning at the NCMA would be to give it a name that's easy to say and remember. Check out that list of great museums; they all have simple, definitive nomenclature. I'm thinking NCMA might be spoken "NICK-ma" and ultimately shortened to "The Nick."
Looking at dictionary definitions for the word "nick," I like the multiple meanings. As a noun we're thinking about a cut or small groove, which certainly resonates with the image of the museum as a tiny dent in the vast Piedmont green. And to my mind, the nick is a powerful part of what makes art important—its capacity to make incisions. A few of the verb definitions work nicely, to cut into or through—and to record by means of a notch—both effective ways to think about the role of a museum. And I don't think the museum will suffer from the association to the British slang that means to capture, nab or even steal. The suggestion is that viewers get something tangible from the experience that they can walk away with. So what do you think? Work for you?
See you at The Nick.