It can be a lonely world out there for art museums, from confronting budget troubles to organizing endless shows, dealing with an apathetic public, and informing visitors that they can’t actually touch the art. Fortunately, the Nationwide Museum Mascot Project is here to help bring a little bit more pizazz to the stern façades of our country’s august art institutions. A DIY band of museum cheerleaders, the Mascot Project is embarking on a 2012 Summer Tour, alighting outside museums to engage visitors and staff alike with a combination of silly costumes, pro-museum picketing, corn dog giveaways, and public workshops.
The crew, helmed by Brian Dick and Christen Sperry-Garcia, has appeared at the Orange County Museum of Art, NADA Hudson, the San Diego Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others, in costumes slapped together from garbage bags, paper plates, and deconstructed piñatas. The mascot project started as a way to promote an event at a San Diego performance art space through an impromptu parade, but the pair quickly graduated to bigger venues.
For the SDMA’s “Inside the Wave” exhibition, which examined artists acting in social spaces, Dick proposed “mascotting” a museum for the first time. The institution agreed, but they were “kind of fuddy-duddy,” the artist recalled. “Initially there’s suspicion, but if you’re there long enough there’s acceptance,” he told ARTINFO. “We’re kind of integrating with the museum."
That integration isn’t always asked for or encouraged. Though they pitched to LACMA about making an official appearance, the museum was uncomfortable with the Mascot Project disrupting their carefully managed branding. Dick and Sperry-Garcia showed up anyway, taking up residence in a far corner of the museum’s campus, much to the delight of a group of Japanese tourists (though not, perhaps, director Michael Govan). Their appearances are about “50-50 invited and not,” said Sperry-Garcia.
The audience’s reaction is mixed. “Kids will be immediately engaged,” Sperry-Garcia noted, but art students and younger artists “tend to be confused and skeptical” about their antics. This combination suits the performance, which “has an element of prank, but it’s also ambiguous,” Dick explained. “We know the museums don’t really want or need mascot promotion,” he continued — “They don’t think they need it,” interjected Christen — “but we’re committed to the idea of promoting them.” The duo's enthusiasm is in earnest. “We’re never going to make fun of anyone," Dick added.
With the proceeds from their listing on the Kickstarter-style funding site USA Projects, Mascot Project hopes to hit museums across the United States on their grand 2012 Summer Tour, their first time taking the costumes on the road. “I’m not sure if we’re a rock band or what,” Dick laughed.