If you had looked at Worcester’s restaurant scene ten years ago, you would say that it “had potential.” Worcester has always had staple restaurants; notably, places like the El Morocco of yesteryear and restaurants, like 111 Chop House, that have stood the test of time. But, when Block 5 Bistro combined a contemporary atmosphere, an evolved twist to traditional American comfort food and an aggressive marketing plan, they can be credited with having jumpstarted Worcester’s vibrant foodie haven. Ten short years later, we see the cultural ecosystem facing a similar situation and, like how Block 5 swung the pendulum for food, the Worcester Art Museum is ringing the gong for art.
The Worcester Art Museum has a rich history in America: once being the third largest museum in the nation while also laying claim as the first Museum in the country to own multiple Monets. Its encyclopedic collection doesn’t just recognize art of the past, but it forges the future by taking an interest—and risk—by embracing contemporary art. All art is contemporary at one time and by that right the museum’s investment in photography, Asian prints, and folk art, allowed it to “get in the game” without the financial competition of larger museums.
In addition to their art collection, the Worcester Art Museum takes great pride in how it has become a part of the fabric of the city, working tirelessly with government, educational organizations and other cultural groups to ensure that art and culture will be as strong in Worcester as the food industry is. This became more apparent with the Worcester City Council’s recent endorsement of a plan to create the Salisbury Cultural District with the museum as one of its anchors and when Hollywood called on the Worcester Art Museum for on-site filming in two recent movies, The Maiden Heist with Morgan Freeman, Christopher Walken, and William H. Macy and the Academy Award nominated American Hustle staring Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence.
As an organization, however, the Worcester Art Museum has made it a strategic goal to have the museum be more accessible to visitors from around the world. This includes making milestones, like exhibit openings, less formal and stuffy and more fun. “The true nature of a museum isn’t its art, it’s how one experiences it,” Adam Rozan, Director of Audience Engagement said. “By creating a culture, an event, around a single piece of art, one is able to not only gain an understanding and appreciation for it, but it makes it more personal and more fun.”
This mindset is applied to events that, for generations, have always been perceived as stuffy and dry, including reshaping the museum’s top fundraiser, the auction, by turning it upside down as the Corporators Ball on June 13th.
The black tie event, named Festival of Lanterns (corresponding with the Samurai! exhibition) blends art, fashion, food, and fun with its philanthropic auction. Coming off of their 2014 Gala that corresponded with the Higgins Collection integration, the 2015 Gala rethinks how traditional auctions have traditionally worked. The sit-down dinner promises to serve a classic, yet decadent meal while the auction focuses not just on the tangible, but on the experience. “We are focused on creating experiences that money cannot buy… at least not on any other night,” says Nancy Jeppson, the Gala’s coordinator. “With auction items like our Director, Matthias Waschek, personally leading a trip to Europe’s premier fine art fair, or having the rarest of rare opportunities to dine with friends in one of the Museum’s galleries, each carefully curated auction item grants access to the art world in ways seldom offered.”
Anyone who has attended an exhibit opening in recent years knows that the museum has brought audience engagement to the forefront of their planning. In true WAM-fashion, once the auction and dinner are concluded a live band, headlined by the Boston Music Award’s Best Ongoing Residency, Tim Gearan, will transform the Renaissance Court into a rockin’ dance party while the other galleries in the museum will feature calming, classical favorites. Cupcakes provided by Sweet Kitchen & Bar will also be served during this after party event.
As Worcester has gone through careful growth in the food and beverage realm, the acceptance has opened the doors for other organizations to take risks in the hopes of introducing new experiences that add to the fabric of the city. With events like the Worcester Art Museum’s Corporators Ball corresponding with the city’s commitment to culture, we know that the city of Worcester sits at the cusp of exciting things about to happen.