The Ryland Museum started in March of 2020 as a project to hold the attention of children in my apartment complex who might be dwelling on their anxieties during the county-ordered shelter-in-place order in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Ok, maybe I was a little anxious, too. I had been working at the Children's Discovery Museum in San Jose, one of the first organizations to close amid coronavirus outbreaks. I was sent home from work the first week of March and laid off official the first week of April. I would find a way to turn this to my and my community's advantage.
Starting with an art project I've long admire, I adapted the work "Very Small Objects" by Brian D. Collier into a treasure hunt for children. Using Collier's invented taxonomy for forgotten, discarded bits and pieces, I engaged one child in particular to be an explorer of our world, which had suddenly become much smaller. Erik was the co-curator of our first exhibit, which at the time we thought would be the entire short existence of the Ryland Museum. With Erik's help, we amassed tiny objects (less than 1" square) and named them according to Collier's instructions. With a relevant quote from Rachel Carson, a home printer and much prodding of the tenants, we opened our first exhibit on April 10th. Visitors (limited to people already living in the building) could submit their own objects and take home a small printed identification guide. The museum opened also virtually through a Facebook event page, where people all over the country submitted photos of the small things they'd found in their desk drawers or on walks.
Knowing there were other children with myriad interests, still stuck inside and missing their friends, I engaged 10 year old Julian to co-curate a travel show. Inspired by a note he'd written me (while on a campaign to convince me and my spouse to buy an RV that he could borrow), we built an exhibit around beautifully detailed RV and truck drawings. Other children (and adults) submitted 2D work on where they wanted to go after the coronavirus had passed us. These artworks were arranged as a travel map, with the vehicle drawings travling on construction paper roads between them. "Come on! Come on! Travel after Corona"was a huge hit at its virtual opening, with a video of all the artwork, information about Julian and a printable maze activity.
Even before museums and art galleries closed due to Covid-19, there were many children and communities that did not feel welcome in those environments. While I can't fix systemic problems all on my own, I hope this DIY museum project ripples out into more and more communities, and reaches children (and adults) and gives them a way make museums their own. More people in the museum landscape mean more ideas and mindsets. I want to know what's important enough that you want to collect it and tell me all about it.
Upcoming exhibitions include portraits, the science of snails, art and poetry about animals and kid-drawn dream architecture. Please follow the museum on Instagram .
This adaptation of Brian D. Collier's whimsical taxonomy of the forgotten engaged children in scrutinizing their immediate surroundings. His project inspired me almost 10 years ago and I was overjoyed for it to be the first project undertaken at the beginning of our city's self-isolation.