High Museum creates inviting free space for public use

Photo Courtesy of High Museum

A new installation at the High Museum of Art in the Woodruff Arts Center Sifly Piazza, “Mi Casa, Your Casa” unconventionally portrays architecture, recreation activities, displays and performances in order to accentuate the diversity of the many cultures around us.

Popular for its relaxing and playful environment, the installation breaks new ground: it is extremely personal and interactive, which has attracted many audience members.

In order to shed light on more of the installation’s unique and intriguing characteristics and its production, Technique interviewed the two co-curators of “Mi Casa, Your Casa”: Sarah Schleuning, Curator of Decorative Arts and Design and Virginia Shearer, Eleanor McDonald Storza Director of Education.

Technique: What inspired your team to combine the outdoors and the traditional conventions of a museum?

Schluening: We wanted to create an outdoor space that people could interact and engage with. We wanted it to be playful and encourage people to actually touch the works.

Technique: The performances in the installation most definitely make “Mi Casa, Your Casa” more interactive. How did your team assemble a wide variety of local arts groups to perform?

Shearer: This was a fun challenge for us. The designers are very open to the idea of using the house structures as a blank canvas for interaction, performance and community activity.

Their openness led us to think about artists and artistic groups in Atlanta whose work we admire and who we know enjoy working in the arena of site-specific performance and community engagement.

From there, the list developed quickly. We count ourselves lucky that for the most part everyone we invited could participate in “Mi Casa, Your Casa”. There are so many incredible artistic groups and generous community partners in Atlanta, and we are fortunate to be able to work with a diverse selection to further enliven “Mi Casa, Your Casa”.

Technique: Specifically, what kind of recreation activities does “Mi Casa, Your Casa” offer?

Shearer: “Mi Casa, Your Casa” is all about spending quality time on the campus of the Woodruff Arts Center at the doorstep of the High Museum of Art, the Alliance Theatre, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

The installation is constantly changing with hammocks, shading, swings and art-making activities that are designed to draw our visitors in, to impart a welcoming feeling and to inspire creativity.

We’ve had pop-up sketching activities, chalk artists, yarn bombing and yoga. Many of our visitors spend time here reading, journalizing and socializing. “Mi Casa, Your Casa” has proved to be a great meeting point for people of all ages and a great space for social engagement.

Technique: How do you think audiences have been responding to the entire experience of visiting “Mi Casa, Your Casa?” What effect did your team want to display?

Schluening: People are having the perfect response. They are really enjoying the environment and lingering in the houses. The project really is about people engaging with the houses and their accoutrements, which is exactly how visitors are using the space.

Technique: How do you manage to create an environment in the installation that attracts audiences of all ages?

Shearer: “Mi Casa, Your Casa” is made up of almost 40 bright red houses, and the houses are like magnets. They are incredibly attractive and inviting as structures. Our designers in residence, Hector Esrawe and Ignacio Cadena, have created this wonderful environment for visitors of all ages. It is very intuitive.

We see our job as one of lightly programming around the design installation and letting “Mi Casa” do its magic without a lot of extra programmatic intervention.

Technique: What are some ideas that your team wants to incorporate into “Mi Casa, Your Casa” in the near future?

Shearer: We are looking forward to additional installations that will pop up in “Mi Casa” this fall.  On September 19, a wonderful artist named Kevin Byrd who is affiliated with WonderRoot will unveil a site-specific piece entitled “Lightworks.”

It’s an experiment, so we are really anticipating seeing something special come to life on the Sifly Piazza that evening. Also, we will close “Mi Casa” on the weekend of Halloween and the Mexican holiday: Day of the Dead. Our friends at the Instituto de Mexico will be teaming up with Atlanta artists to pay homage to beloved lost loved ones through the creation of Day of the Dead altars within the individual house structures. This should be a really moving send off for an amazing project.

Technique: How do you think “Mi Casa, Your Casa” will influence other future museums, festivals, and/or public displays?

Schluening: I hope it encourages more engagement and projects like this that the public can really make their own.

“Mi Casa, Your Casa” will grow into even greater popularity, gaining many more fans and admirers.

Quirky, educational, but still sophisticated enough for the new generation, “Mi Casa, Your Casa” has a bright future ahead.