Last year, we interviewed Mary Jo Maute, Education Coordinator at the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, WA regarding the museum’s participation in Whatcom County’s Project Homeless Connect(PHC). She had indicated her intention to participate again in 2013, so we decided to follow up with her to hear about the Museum’s involvement at this year’s event.
PHC is an annual day-long event during which medical and other services are provided to people (adults and children) experiencing homelessness in Bellingham and Whatcom County. This year, PHC took place on July 26th, served more than 550 individuals, and counted about 220 community volunteers and 50 service providers thanks to the Whatcom Volunteer Center.
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Incluseum: So I take it you participated in PHC again this year, how did it go? What did the Whatcom Museum offer guests?
Mary Jo: Yes, we did participate and it went great! It was nice to know a little more what to expect, because the first year, I had no idea how many people would be interested in what we were offering. Last year PHC guests were thrilled to have their portraits sketched! The artist, Ellen Clark, was overwhelmed with requests for portraits. Knowing that, I engaged several portrait artists instead of just one. A grant from the Whatcom Educational Credit Union enabled us to hire a couple more artists, which was great. We wanted artists who were comfortable doing quick portraits so we had Ellen Clark who was there last year, along with John McCulloch, who had more of a caricature style, and Joy Olney. Jeni Cottrell, an artist and community arts advocate, volunteered her services to make beach glass and wire jewelry. That was pretty cool, because this was a hands on activity through which people could learn jewelry making techniques like wrapping, attaching, and coiling, something they could possibly do as a hobby or maybe even market.
In the morning I managed a card-making table with collage and stamps. This activity drew less people in, most likely because in the morning, guests are focused on getting in line to receive services such as dental care, seeing a doctor for a check-up, getting clothing, and other crucial services. Once they’re done with that, they’re more relaxed and can take advantage of the arts activities, listen to music, and watch performances.
Incluseum: Did you have any activities for children this year?
Mary Jo: Yes, they got to make jewelry and cards, which anyone was welcomed to do. We had enough volunteers at the jewelry station to work with the younger ones. They could choose colored recycled wire or copper wire and then we had all sorts of beads…yeah, it was pretty adaptable to all ages. Some of the portrait artists encouraged the children to try sketching faces too.
Incluseum: What will you remember the most from this year’s PHC?
Mary Jo: Because I had more time to be a fly on the wall this year, I noticed amazing conversations taking place between the artists, whether they were doing the portraits or making the jewelry, and some of the guests. I could hear people sharing their stories, which was very powerful. For example, one young man at the jewelry station started talking about his life story and his plans for the future, and then he stayed there long enough that he began helping others with the jewelry making!
Once again, the portraits were a big hit and people lined up for those. Some people wanted their portraits done by all three artists! There were a lot of couples getting drawn together and people wanting to include their dogs in the portraits.
Incluseum: Did you do anything with organizations serving homeless adults between last year’s and this year’s PHC?
Mary Jo: No, not directly. We’ve been busy promoting the Family Access Membership Program (FAMP), which offers free Family level memberships to qualified, low-income families [See also the Incluseum’s blogpost on FAMP] and gearing up for a major exhibition opening November 2, Vanishing Ice, Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art, 1775 – 2012.
Participating in PHC does help build relationships in the community, though. I’ve regularly been encountering a gentleman who had gotten his portrait done with his dog last year, so it’s nice to be able to greet the man and his dog by name.
Incluseum: Will you participate next year? If so, is there anything that you would do differently?
Mary Jo: We are clearly planning on participating next year. In terms of doing anything differently…I probably wouldn’t increase our activities, but I would make sure that we are located in a good spot where people can access our activities a little more easily or at different times throughout the day. One of our volunteers noticed there were areas where more families would wait in line for medical services and so that could be a place where we could set up a station to engage the kids while their parents are waiting. So next year I’ll ask permission to set up closer to where people wait in line for services in the morning.
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Mary Jo Maute received her MA in Fine Art from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and completed certification course work to teach art K-12. She has been with the Whatcom Museum Education Department for 16 years – a program recognized throughout the region for its quality interactive curriculum-based education program including the People of the Sea & Cedar workshop, Art FUNdamentals and the annual high school Art Career Day. She also develops and coordinates a lively mix of public programming for all ages and interests including exhibition related lectures, artist workshops, and the popular Brown Bag Lunch Series. Maute embraces community partnerships, collaborating with Pickford Film Center, Kuntz and Company, Northwest Indian College Native Weavers conference, Allied Arts, Downtown Bellingham Partnership, Whatcom Poetry Series, Whatcom County Historical Society, Project Homeless Connect and others. She has served on the Washington Art Education Board as Museum Liaison and in 2001 co-produced the award-winning film Anna Jefferson: Northwest Native Basket Weaver. Ms. Maute recently attended the Visual Thinking Strategies Professional Development Institute 1. Prior to joining the Whatcom Museum staff, Ms. Maute was the Curator of Education at the Yellowstone Art Museum for seven years. She is a professional studio artist with many years’ experience as an Artist in the Schools.
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Why The Incluseum likes this project:
- This is a great example of how museums can seize opportunities and fit within an existing, local, community-based project.
- It allowed the Whatcom Museum to extend the reach of its resources and connect to a segment of its local community not typically served by the museum.
- The Whatcom Museum saw this as a chance to further its mission.
- Participation in such events can help establish new relationships and contribute to community building.
- This example demonstrates how social inclusion in museums can be inexpensive, simple, and low-key…while being of great value.