Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Everybody's Doing It: Museum Night in Budapest
Last Saturday I spent the almost longest day of the year at Budapest's Museum Night on a quick weekend visit to Hungary. More than 84 Budapest museums participated and hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists headed out to enjoy an incredible range of activities for families, young people, old people and everyone in between. It was great to see crowds of people at bus stops and on the metro, reading their Museum Night guidebook and trying to figure out where to go--it felt like exactly the way museums should feel--a real part of the community. A ticket which admits you to all the museums and provides free public transport cost 1300 forints--about $5.60. The event began in Hungary in 2003 with only a few thousand visitors--and now attracts about 400,000 over the course of the evening. Events also happened at other museums all over Hungary, in communities large and small. I had last visited Budapest 18 years ago as it was emerging from decades of Communist rule, and this event gave me a chance to see how the city--and its museums--had changed.
Out of the 84, I only made it to 6--but each one presented something different. It wasn't that any particular activity I saw was so unique--it was the collective effort--and the sense of being a part of a something that everyone participated in a big city. So here's what I did:
Hungarian National Gallery: Activities for kids, artwork by kids, and set-up for a later-night hairshow--based on hair found in the work of Futurist artist Depero, the subject of a major retrospective. Hair show? Why not?
Budapest History Museum: Quick listen to a concert of Mexican music, and a browse through the galleries, including one very good exhibit about the meaning of citizen in the 18th century. Blog post on that to come.
Art School whose name I don't remember: Senior show, and music.
Art Studio torchlight tour: There's a garden, as big as a city block, that contains both sculptures and studios for artists. It's gated off, and only open to art students. Taking a tour of something that's never open to the public was great--and the atmosphere was, well, atmospheric.
Franz Lizst Museum: no surprise, a classical music concert, and a brief walk through period rooms.
The House of Terror: Absolutely packed, this museum is in the former building used by Hungarian Fascists and later the Communist secret police. It's a fascinating, complex place telling the story of both those eras. The crowds meant that we just shuffled through exhibit spaces, but it's something when a young man turns to the girl he's with and says, "let's stay for the 11:00 PM lecture."
Interestingly, a quick Google search shows me Museum Nights all over Europe--from Amsterdam to Bucharest--but none in the United States. Am I wrong? Or what don't US museums embrace this successful model?