Creating Safe Spaces in Contemporary Art: A Private Tour at the MCA

By Urban Gateways Associate Board Member Sam Ostrowski

So far, I’ve gone my whole life staying away from any sort of guided art tour. A self-taught enthusiast of visual art, I’ve always known when to quietly “hmm” at the right moment to signify understanding…even when my head was tilted in the complete opposite direction of everyone else’s looking at the piece. But after going on a private tour of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Basim Magdy: The Stars Were Aligned for a Century of New Beginnings with the Associate Board on February 7, I went around telling anyone who would listen “I feel like I never want to ‘hmm’ alone again!”

Led by Grace Needlman, Programmer of Education: Family and Youth Programs at the MCA and a former Urban Gateways teaching artist, the tour provided the perfect amount of context to delve into Magdy’s surrealist world with certainty and meaning. Drawing from strands of science fiction where Sputnik-like structures are paired with philosophical quotes and everyday photographs are obscured and made unfamiliar by “pickling” the film with household chemicals, Magdy’s work deals with big themes that are hard to suss out without open dialogue while viewing the work. Grace led the group through these big ideas, allowing us to discover themes of hope, how that hope intersects with humor, and how that humor colors the hope.

Exploring the exhibition’s varied media—works across film, canvas, print, projection, and even posters meant to be taken home—Grace facilitated discussions about Magdy’s perceptions of utopia and humanity’s interface with that myth…all mixed with fun and entertainment (see the highly encouraged selfie below). The evening was a perfect way for the Associate Board members, who come from different industries and experiences, to meet up and have a bonding moment over something we all enjoy.

Now, this is the part where I should openly say that I don’t believe in a right/wrong dichotomy when it comes to art. One of the most disheartening parts of my education was when a high school teacher told me I was reading poetry “wrong,” and I never felt confident enough to return to poems by myself after that. But something about Grace’s tour made it feel like I was experiencing the art in the “right” way. Perhaps it wasn’t Grace’s knowledge that made it “right” so much as it was the experience of viewing the exhibition with the group and being able to bounce ideas off one another in a productive environment. It was the conversation that Grace spurred among the group that made it “right.”

And while this was a social experience for the Associate Board, that concept feels so linked to Urban Gateways’ mission and work. Creating safe spaces for everyone to explore art, hope, humor, and big ideas together.




More photos from the MCA tour >>

Thanks to Sam for blogging about his experience at the MCA! Check back soon for more blog posts by Associate Board members. Interested in learning more about our Associate Board? Visit this page.