PAMM Director Franklin Sirmans: Museums as arenas for discussion

PAMM Director Franklin Sirmans highlighted his vision for museums in society during his keynote address at The Communications Network Conference on Friday.

“We have a movement of people not just in this country, but around the world that see visual art and see museums as arenas for discussion and arenas for things to happen, and places for people to be in dialogue and to be inspired in ways that they are not able to do in other spaces,” said Sirmans. “We need our civic commons and I think this is the perfect place for us to have a real 21st-century museum that thinks in a way that is more progressive than in the past.”

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PAMM’s mission is to be a leader in the presentation, study, interpretation, and care of international modern and contemporary art, while representing Miami-Dade County and reflecting the unique viewpoint of its peoples. PAMM strives to be best-in-class in presenting and collecting art from the U.S. Latino experience, the African diaspora, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

Sirmans explained that in his view, museums serve a role beyond the collection and display of artworks. Alongside libraries, schools, concert halls, and stadiums, museums are “town halls” or gathering places for the people. They are places that offer opportunities for the healthy exchange of ideas paramount to citizens, promoting inclusivity across our communities, backgrounds, and experiences.

Daphne Moore of The Walton Family Foundation read part of PAMM’s mission statement that explains how the museum aims to facilitate catalytic engagements with the most progressive visual arts of our time.

“You are facilitating these tough conversations. Can you tell us how you are doing that and how art serves as a launch pad?” asked Moore.

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“I think one of the reasons why I was attracted to art history in the first place was the fact that there’s this space, there’s a space to make considerations of time, of place, of our world that can be on the probing side, that can be on the uncomfortable side, that can be on the tough side,” said Sirmans. “That it’s a space for us to talk about things that we might not be comfortable with, and that artists are the ones that first and foremost are taking us to that place. I guess a lot of the curatorial aspect, in particular, was about wanting to be around artists and wanting to be around people who thought that they could change the world, and change the world with simply their hands. You know — what they are doing in the studio.”

With art as the starting point, Sirmans explained how the museum builds community and creates a space for conversation and dialogue through its exhibitions and robust arts education programming.

PAMM is the largest provider of arts education outside of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, reaching more than 160,000 children since opening in its Herzog & de Meuron-designed building in December 2013. In April 2017, Miami-Dade County Public Schools recognized PAMM’s arts education programs with its prestigious Superintendent’s Choice Award.

The museum also has an extensive outreach program, delivering free art experiences throughout Miami-Dade County.

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Throughout its history, PAMM has actively sought ways to enrich the lives of the diverse communities that make up Miami-Dade County, through its dedication to progressive arts education and programs. Two days each month, visitors can enter the museum free of charge and meet with PAMM’s teaching artists to engage in free art-making activities inspired by its exhibitions.

Innovative programming, such as PAMM’s recently launched Art Detectives program with community partners—an exciting new arts education program that promotes critical and timely dialogue between local middle school students and police officers—enables PAMM to effect positive change within Miami-Dade County. In February 2017, the museum launched its new PAMM Free Community Night on the first Thursday of each month. Reflecting PAMM’s mission and vision of serving as a place for community conversation and dialogue, this program immediately reached new audiences and met record-breaking attendance numbers.

Recent exhibitions have also contributed to consistent growth in visitation at PAMM. The 2016 blockbuster exhibition, Julio Le Parc: Form into Action drew a record-breaking 132,249 visitors. Other successful shows include Ai Weiwei: According to What? and Poetics of Relation.

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Through its exhibitions and programs, Sirmans explained how PAMM aims to encourage everyone to see art as an incentive for genuine human interaction, communication, and exchange, with the museum’s dedicated and exceptional staff working daily in service to the community.

Moore then discussed PAMM’s recent decision to open its doors to the community following Hurricane Irma. To relieve some of the stress from Hurricane Irma, PAMM invited South Florida residents to enjoy a day at the museum with free admission on Thursday, September 14 and Friday, September 15. PAMM was fortunate to sustain no major damage from Hurricane Irma. While the museum was spared, the museum joined the community in wishing the best for those who were not as fortunate. In addition to free admission, visitors also had a chance to engage with PAMM’s teaching artists, who provided free art-making activities on both days.

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PAMM also teamed up with Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade and Feeding South Florida to collect supplies for those in need. Visitors who brought items to PAMM through September 26, 2017, received free admission during regular museum hours.

“That is the kind of thing that is at the core of our mission. As much as we want to reflect the world around us through the exhibitions and programs, we also have an absolute duty to Miami and to our local community,” said Sirmans. “It is kind of an ethos for our entire organization. If we can help our community, then we want to.”

PAMM is currently collecting relief supplies in partnership with Third Horizon Caribbean Film Festival and The Miami Foundation to assist people in the Caribbean impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Visitors who bring in donated goods until October 15, 2017, from the list provided by the U.S. Caribbean Strong Relief Fund, will receive free admission to the museum.

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