Friday, April 7, 2017

City of Knowledge, City of Angels

Puebla, Mexico peaked sometime in the 17th century. It was the capital of New Spain, home to the regal pilgrims of the Spanish Conquest. To call them pilgrims doesn’t capture their wealth. The Cathedral is among the finest in Mexico –with artesans by the thousands participating in it’s heavenly construction.

Puebla is home to the first library in the Americas (the Palafoxiana named for a revered bishop who established Puebla’s commitment to religion, culture and education). This is a city that was born leading with culture and what is happening today is nothing short of a renaissance.

In the last three years eight museums have opened in the City of Angels. Eight! Museums and collections honoring music, the art of marionettes, regional history, international art and contemporary art all built, funded and opened by the Cultural Offices of the state. The commitment to preservation and restoration, education and technology is overwhelming. The Governor and Mayor stand proudly with each opening: they know a commitment to culture leads to a city that flourishes in business, education and knowledge just as it did 500 years ago.

International Pritzker-prize winning architects? Yes.

Hiring Curators from the Middle East to tell a story of Ceramics in Mexico? Yes.

Hiring the best designers for three-dimensional video auditoriums? Yes.

Latest innovations in museum educational technologies? Yes.

Building libraries and starting from scratch? Absolutely.

  • At the Casa de la Musica de Vienna you can stand in a Virtual Reality booth and conduct an orchestra in Vienna, Austria—the VR audience responds to the cadence of your baton work.
  • At the Museo de Cultura Regional you can hover a model of the volcano and see it evolve over the millennia just before taking a virtual tour of the major churches in the area.
  • At the Museo Internacional de Barroco you can experience the best collections of the world in a context of Baroque art and the brilliant theory that we, today in 2017 are in a new era of Baroque sensibility.

Puebla is home to over 300 Universities. The city is polishing off its 500 year old moniker as a City of Knowledge. Puebla is happening – one entrepreneur recently opened a multi-story car museum just a few blocks from the historic Cathedral.

This flourishing is what happens when visionaries Lead with Culture. Similarly, The Dallas Arts District is a burgeoning example of a city with a commitment to public private partnerships making culture happen one block, one museum at a time. 

The Crow Collection of Asian Art is honored to partner with the International Museum of the Baroque. Our partner-exhibition: Clay Between Two Seas is open until August. American Airlines has a direct flight and a seat for you from Dallas to Puebla. This City of Knowledge in the foothills of a guardian volcano (El Popo) waits to share her secrets with you. 

The Pony and the Pritzker Prize Winner

The drive from Mexico City to Puebla takes about an hour and a half, in decent traffic. I was on my way to visit the International Museum of the Baroque and the opening of Clay Between Two Seas from Baghdad to Puebla, the third stop on a tour that included the Franz Mayer Museum (Mexico City) and the Crow Collection of Asian Art (Dallas, Texas).

I’d noticed the dust a breakfast: a thin layer of dust covered the table where I ate. I’m sure it settled just a few moments before I sat down. On the drive, up and over the mountains between Mexico City and Puebla we met this dust again. The country side looks unseasonable dry, I think, it should be glossy and green. Spring. The grasses and trees stood thirsty and parched. 

We motor along, and I puzzle at the curiosities along the way: the “well stations” every few miles: at one I see a woman washing her hair; the immensity of village after village, little black water tanks on the top of each home: can that possibly be enough water for a family? I ponder; the absence of mountain retreats or trail heads.

Just inside of the toll booth as we near Puebla amid the thousands of homes, dry and dusty, a tall skyscraper stands mid-construction: an anomaly and a contrast to the tired landscape around it. This tower is in the middle of nowhere. The contrasts of Puebla begin to give themselves away.

Before we reach the brand-new Hilton Garden Hotel just across from the International Museum of the Baroque I see at least six new towers in Puebla City (the new section of a very old town dating to 1520) that have popped up like beanstalks since my visit one year ago. The architecture, perhaps inspired by the verve of Pritzker Prize winner Toyo Ito’s masterpiece at the Museum of the Baroque is whimsical and nervy: the lines of the building bulging out on unexpected floors.

The familiar is nearby, though: off in the distance through a curtain of dust I can barely see El Popo the guardian volcano of these sacred lands. I see the silhouette of the church at the top of the pyramid in Cholula. I see the markings of the old downtown, and debate the conveniences of a new American hotel versus the charm of the colonial city.

Just before the opening Emilia and I meet our driver in the porte cochere of the hotel to cross the ten-lane highway to the undulating museum just on the other side. As I situated dress and coat and closed the door, I look up and see an old Mexican farmer walking across the valet lane, pulling a Shetland pony. They hustled against a backdrop of traffic and the hike/bike lanes (Puebla innovation) weaving in and around the highway. I watched the shimmer of the horse’s yellow mane and tale and wondered out loud “where could they possibly be going?”. The city changes but some old horses still have to get home.

A few minutes later we arrived to a reception of dozens of media: reporters and photographers, TV and cameramen. Unexpectedly I was ushered to stand with the giants of this project: the Mayor, the Governor’s wife, the Ministers of Education, Culture and Tourism, a few other luminaries and my dear friends the Museum Director and the Exhibition Curator. While I feigned attention through several speeches in Spanish (must learn Spanish immediately) I nervously wrote a speech in my head just in case I should be called to the podium to speak. Curiosity, Compassion and Companions…Curiosity, Compassion…Companions. My mnemonic device only made trying to remember the order and intention harder. I took some deep, mindful breaths, re-positioned my hands and listened fervently for my name in Spanish. It did not come.

Next, I found myself standing at a white ribbon, with scissors in my hand cutting open the entrance to the exhibition. I love Mexican ceremony. We then followed the curator and at the case with the loan objects from the Crow Collection I had my day in the sun: the curator and the Minister of Culture asked me to share our role in the project. Flash bulbs popping, cameras going, the buzz of reporters wanting one more photograph of these leaders –fortunately my spontaneous speech writing paid off, and the Crow Collection objects lit a little light for these museum goers in Puebla.

Hours later after the festivities came to a close and I encountered a meaningful lesson from my friend and the Ambassador (also the new Director of the Baroque: Ambassador Jorge Alberto Lozoya), I looked out at the night lights of Puebla from the fourteenth floor of the hotel. I looked at my dress and heels, vintage clutch and necklace sitting on the desk in the crisp room—fragrant with the scent of recent and fast construction. 

I thought about the Shetland pony and wondered which light in this long dark landscape of glowing lights must mark his little stable—his home at least for a little while.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Fierce Urgency of Now

It’s evening in Mexico City and I am on a mission. Since my first visit I’ve had many happy returns to Mexico. I’ve cherished the friendships with our board members from Mexico and the treasured friends I’ve come to love along the way.

I am the Director of an Asian Art Museum so you may ask, 

Why Mexico? Why now?

It took me a few years to figure this out, but this museum where I work, The Crow Collection of Asian Art is a place where yes, art is exhibited and visitors visit, but this museum is also a place where compassion happens everyday. 

We’re up to a lot more than art.

Back in August when I was here with a small business delegation hosted by the Mayors of Dallas / Fort Worth, Dallas Mayor Michael Rawlings led one of the press conferences with the news of our then upcoming exhibition Clay Between Two Seas: From the Abbasid Courts to Puebla de los Angeles. He stated clearly and compassionately: “we are building bridges, not walls”.

A few hours later a reporter from Dallas called and asked me about his quote. I elaborated on the important work of creating new access points for understanding Mexico’s vital role in history: a convener of knowledge and innovations from across the globe. Asia has been in the dialogues of Mexico’s history for hundreds of years. And these stories, relayed by reporters in 2017 and printed in the same papers with declarations about a wall become more critical than ever.

Since our first exhibition exploring Asia in Mexico in 2002 (exquisite ivories commissioned from China for New Spain) our museum has been committed to the international story of Asia. Asia is not a place bound by borders: Asia is in the world and of the world: offering a vital provenance to world trade and international dialogues. Asia “happened” to the world because of open borders, access, entrepreneurial, curious and willing explorers.

I am a curious and willing explorer. And I am back in Mexico looking for Asia. Tomorrow we will celebrate the opening of Clay Between Two Seas with our partner museum the totally fabulous International Museum of the Baroque led by the incomparable Ambassador Jorge Alberto Lozoya.

We will celebrate, and I will begin a new exploration: for the next exhibition honoring Asia’s rich history in Mexico. Each person I meet this week, each collection I learn about, each image that is sent to me and each story that is shared is a bridge. A bridge representing compassion in action: sharing content and cultural histories IS compassion in action.

Tomorrow Ambassador Lozoya and I will begin a new story. And in a couple of years we will bring it back to Dallas: a vibrant international city with a beautiful population that is 42% Hispanic and home to over 350,000 Asian-Americans. 

And this new story becomes a story that belongs to everyone. And every person who visits this future exhibition I can’t even begin to imagine yet becomes a bridge to greater cultural understanding and more compassion in the world. And the time is now. 

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there "is" such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and postive action.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.