I have so enjoyed the past three sessions of "Creating Columbia", a "mini course" on the early history of Columbia offered by the Columbia Archives and led by Barbara Kellner. The most recent series of three classes is being offered again on three consecutive Thursdays, beginning on April 30th. Unlike the series I attended, this time around the classes are offered in the evening. I recommend them!
The subject for the session I attended this past Monday was, "Jim Rouse Juggles the Big Picture and Details". More than the previous sessions, this one gave me a sense of what Jim Rouse (the founder of Columbia) was like as a person. Barbara had collected a wonderful series of memos and stories that illustrated Rouse's involvement with little details like the decision to rent a film projector instead of purchasing one. But she also offered some illustrations of Rouse's capacity for Big Ideas, including some which were truly out-of-the-box.
My favorite was this one: Rouse had apparently been involved with conversations between the Baltimore Museum of Art and Joseph Hirshhorn, the financier who had amassed over the previous decades one of the largest private art collections. When it became clear that the BMA was not going to become the recipient of the Hirshhorn collection, Rouse started thinking. On January 19, 1966, he write a letter to Charles Parkhurst, the Director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, and suggested that the new community he was creating in Howard County could, as a whole, become the new Hirshhorn museum. He asked Mr. Parkhurst to forward his ideas to Mr. Hirshhorn which he supposedly did. Whatever Hirshhorn thought of the idea, he decided in the end to give his collection to the federal government. A new Smithsonian museum was the eventual result.
Barbara Kellner kindly send a copy of the letter Rouse wrote which reads in part:
Suppose the entire city of Columbia became the museum for the Hirshhorn collection! Suppose the main plazza at the edge of the lake in the heart of downtown was the sculpture garden. Suppose there was a permanent gallery designed into the main, enclosed mall retail center so that great art was brought elegantly and intimately into relationship with the marketplace. Suppose each of the nine Village Centers had small galleries and each of the nine Village Greens small sculpture gardens so that the collection was moving continually through the whole city. Suppose that art education in the schools, the junior college, and the university was integrally related to the collection. Might this not be an opportunity to infuse the population of a new city with great art in a way our country has never known? Might not such a development revolutionize in America the relationship between art and people? Might not this idea be so new and challenging that it would attract resources to assure the execution of such a plan at the highest standards and with the greatest possible effectiveness?
It really gave me a laugh to think of Hirshhorn's collection hung in the Columbia Mall--perhaps on those portable bulletin boards that they use for the exhibit of art made in the schools each year. But then I realized I had it backwards. Can we envision the Hirshorn Museum at the center of Columbia--with a Sears, a Macy's and a Nordstom's attached to the side? What if the elevators to the food court looked like the ones at the Hirshhorn museum? Best. Idea. Ever.