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  • Writer's pictureJoAnn Gustave

"Being Seen", A day at the museum.

Updated: Dec 10, 2021

Right before the pandemic hit, February 20,2020 to be exact, I brought Jonathan to the Ringling Museum to watch our first drum circle led by Haitian-American artist Inez Barlatier. The family event held in the courtyard of Ca'd'Zan got us to dance, awakened my son's unbeknownst (at least to me) rhythm and I promised myself to come back to discover more of the museum grounds which are amongst Sarasota's top must-see list. Less than a month later, the world as we knew it turned upside down and all my foreseeable plans kind of loomed into darkness along with everyone else's.

For a while, my creativity stalled, my passion for travel eluded and all I did was take planned events off of my list as things got worse the more time went by. Navigating a new world with Covid, watching the news keep count of lives lost and trying to reorganize my life all the while caring for a super active toddler took a huge toll on my mental health. So many things happened this year, things that will surely go down in history in the way they reshape our society and be talked about for generations to come.

At home, I started a 2020 scrapbook for Jonathan where I've added photographs and front page news covers that one day he will perhaps get to discover and see how the year unfolded through his mother's eyes.

I also decided a short while ago to dedicate the rest of the year to roam around town and find things that bring me joy. Last week, in search of local wanderlust, I decided to give the museum another try. I was pleasantly surprised to see that not only did the museum start welcoming guests back safely, but they acquired a collection of photographs from a number of artists of Color that will be displayed until the beginning of next year.

Getting to the Ringling was not a grand task, we only drove for 15 minutes and met with my friend Nathan who is also a photographer. The check-in process was smooth and even though the staff wore masks, they welcomed us with a lot of warmth and kindness. The lobby was not overly crowded, but a few guests stood in line with minds just as curious as ours.

The first exhibit we saw was located at the museum's entrance and featured a glass expo in the 2 year old Kotler-Coville Glass Pavilion. With a toddler in tow, I spent the least amount of time in there but saw enough to recommend it to anyone who appreciates glass art. We moved on to the Original 21 galleries and strolled through each room as Jonathan tried to interpret scenes from different paintings dating back to the late Middle Ages.

When we finally arrived in the room where the pictures were showcased, Jonathan's first reaction was that of surprise, then he just stood there in awe contemplating Endia Beal's work which consists of photographs highlighting Black women in the corporate work space. "Is that you mom?" Jonathan exclaimed! Of course it wasn't me but my son's face lit up the minute he saw someone who looked like me. We talked about each picture for a while then worked our way to the play ground area where I let him play in the sand, the water fountain and where he met a new friend from Colombia on the swing.

It may seem like a regular day for anyone else reading this post but Jonathan's behavior that day struck me in a way I have tried to dissect since then. I have to explain why I felt this way. Before going to the museum, I looked up their social media pages to see if there had been any updates on COVID protocol and stumbled upon a very interesting post. On the museum's Instagram page one user wrote in response to their BLM movement support post: "So disappointed and disgusted by this post. Just be a museum. Display art. No need to make political or social commentary." This prompted so many questions in my mind which led me to question what exactly do people think a museum's role should be?

What role does a museum play in our society? That is a question I hope to have an answer to in the near future but to my son at least, It means Being Seen!

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