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?


Anne W. Ackerson said...

Great post, as usual, Linda. When I first started reading your description of the event, I immediately thought of First Night, which many communities do here -- you buy a button for the event that gets you into all the venues and a program guide to help you figure out where to go.

Then I recalled that here in Troy the culturals would coordinate openings of galleries and exhibits on one night. That has now, many years later, morphed into Troy Night Out, which is on the last Friday of every month and the culturals along with shops, restaurants and street vendors/entertainment make up the mix. Other communities have taken up this model.

And then I was reminded of several museums that, individually, have programmed throughout the night -- I think many have been quite successful.

Last year, during the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quad festivities, many culturals --most museums -- created a collaborative weekend-long program of activities, based on a French model.

Oh, almost forgot -- this year, 600 museums nationwide are offering free admission to active duty service personnel and vets from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Different, but based on a collaborative model organized by the NEA (in NYS, Senator Gillibrand proposed the Memorial Day concept and 160 museums participated statewide).

So, pieces of your Budapest experience do exist in the states.

Laura Roberts said...

What an absolutely fabulous idea. I was on Fifth Ave in NYC for the end of Museum Mile night a few weeks ago, which was a great idea. But this really highlights more obscure places and seems to motivate the whole city. Thanks for sharing.

Linda said...

Yes, Museum Night reminded me of First Night celebrations I've been to--with the added bonus of a beautiful summer night, not a freezing New Year's Eve! And Laura, your point about involving not just the biggies, but the small ones is also really important. I would have never sought out the Lizst Museum, but was glad I did. I'd be interested in knowing more about the demographic profiles of events like First Fridays, which I think of more for adults; and Museum Night, which seemed to offer something for everyone. The public transportation component--and the small fee--seemed to be critical components of its success. And of course, another question is whether these events build return visitors who become regular, enthusiastic museum goers.