First Day at Berkeley
The rest of the fellows and I began our journey in California on April 23rd, 2017 in Berkeley, located on the shore of San Francisco Bay. Berkeley was founded on April 4th, 1878, named after the philosopher George Berkeley, and is considered to be one of the most liberal cities in the world. A short walk from the center of town brought us to the University of California, Berkeley. UC Berkeley was founded on March 23rd, 1868, and is considered to be the best public university in the United States (U.S. News Rankings 2016-2017).
On our first day on the Berkeley campus, we visited the Hearst Museum. The museum was founded in 1901, and mainly sponsored by the Hearst family. The Hearst is not an ordinary museum, as it focuses not only on displaying art, but also on researching items and studying their effect on society. Today the combined number of all the items in Hearst stands at approximately 3.8 million pieces. During our visit the museum hosted the “People Made These Things” exhibition. The main goal of this exhibition was to raise questions about the people behind the art. For example, why do we know so much about some of the people who created the items we often use, but so little about others? Why sometimes does it matter to us who created these items, and sometimes it makes no difference?
From the many interesting items we saw, one in particular caught my eye. We saw a grave in the shape of a chicken, shown in Figure 1. The grave was made by the people of the Ga tribe in Ghana, West Africa. A tradition in this tribe is that people who are wealthy could choose to be buried in a grave that has a unique shape that symbolizes something dear to them. For example, one of the graves had a shape of a chicken, while another grave could have a shape of an airplane. Another fascinating item in this exhibition was a set of arrowheads that told the personal story of a man called Ishi. Ishi was a Native American who survived when the rest of his tribe, the Yahi, was murdered by settlers. In the year 1911, anthropologist Alfred Kroeber encountered Ishi, and invited him to live in the museum. In fact Alfred even gave Ishi his name. Because Alfred feared that the Native American culture could vanish from the face of the earth, Alfred documented how Ishi made items. The arrowheads that are shown Figure 2 are a prime example of the types of items Ishi created during his stay at the museum.
There is no doubt that the Hearst museum has a significant historical and sentimental value. With that being said, in order for us to continue to visit and enjoy this museum we need to think about innovative ways to fund the museum’s operations. So far the museum relied on donations, however, it will be a challenge to maintain the museum on donations alone over time. That is, we need to think about sustainable models to finance the outgoing expenses of the museum. One suggestion is to conduct various payed events, such as seminars for young artists, exhibitions of local artists, etc. Another suggestion is to partner with various museums across the state and borrow form them unique items for a limited time. By expanding the scope of items presented, the museum might be able to attract more crowed. Lastly, I would suggest looking at successful museums across the nation and the world, and learn from them their best practices.