Sharing special stories at pop-up museums

By Matthew Doyen

This article is courtesy of Act Locally Waco, a local organization that aims to “build channels of communication that facilitate community participation, collaboration and the free flow of information and ideas with the end result of making Waco a great place to live for every person of every level of income.” Like their Facebook page to stay up-to-date on things to do in Waco, and for more insightful words about Waco from locals.

I love Harry Potter. My friends love Harry Potter. We watch the movies, listen to the audiobooks, and read the tattered paperbacks. We are so magically spellbound by the series not only because of our (continued-into-adulthood) desire to attend Hogwarts, but also because of the way that Rowling shares her story. She is a magnificent storyteller and believes that “there’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.” We are transported when we hear her story, but also when we grasp our wand replicas, flick them in the air, and pronounce “Wingardium Leviosa.”

Certain objects, like a wand, or a medal, or a toy, are so powerful that they can tell a story in a few sentences that can be just as emotional as a seven book saga. They can make us make us laugh, make us cry, and make us think. The best part is that while not everyone has a wizarding world in their mind, everyone does have a treasured object in their possession. Susan Mullaly, former assistant professor of art at Baylor, emphasized this point in her book What I Keep. In it, members of the Church Under the Bridge are photographed with an item that they have kept safe against all odds. It is overtly simple, but extremely moving. For the past couple of months, the Museum Association of Waco has been attempting to temporarily collect and display more of our cherished objects and to share the stories that are connected to them. The concept is called a pop-up museum and its success is up to us.

Our first pop-up museum was in the Local History Room at the Waco-McLennan Central Library on Austin Avenue. The library’s theme for the month was You Are Where You Live so we asked participants to answer a simple question with an object: What does Waco mean to you? We received eleven extraordinary objects that were displayed for two weeks. Unassuming things like a wedding invitation and a medal told the adventurous stories of meeting new friends and conquering new endeavors. The proud owner of a Bearathon medal wrote, “During my time in grad school, my friends have bonded over our journey to running the Bearathon. We have trained hard, run many miles, and have consumed many carbs! This medal represents our accomplishments and our great experiences together.” Another participant who brought a wedding invitation shared a similar story. “When I came to Texas, I didn’t know a single person. It was scary. But then some amazing people invited me into their lives. This wedding invitation represents one of the many memories I have made with them.”

Our second pop-up museum was at the Ball Performing Arts Center for McLennan Community College’s Hansel and Gretel opera performance. To relate to the theme of the opera, we asked participants to bring an item that reminded them of a childhood memory. We received seven very special objects and their stories. Many of the objects referenced some of the most important people that we have in our lives: our grandparents. One participant wrote about a dog fence topper that “was mounted on the fence in my grandparent’s backyard. We spent so much time playing in their backyard growing up. When they died and we sold their house, each grandkid kept one of these dogs.” The owner of a Rubik’s Cube mimicked that common sentiment. “I got my first Rubik’s Cube from my grandmother and ‘solved’ it by taking off the stickers and putting them in the right spots. Later, I learned how to solve one. Today, I still love doing puzzles!”

Our next pop-up museum will be held on Saturday, April 22 at the Farmer’s Market. Theme will be PLAY! We are inviting everyone to bring an item that can be played with and enjoyed by others. In the end, objects can make it easier to share personal stories and to connect with foreign strangers (and, if you’re Lord Voldemort, to live forever). We used to proudly share them during kindergarten show-and-tells, but have since had fewer opportunities to do so. The Museum Association of Waco is trying to change that through the hosting of its pop-up museums. We hope to see you at one soon with your precious object and your amazing story!

Matthew Doyen is the coordinator of the Museum Association of Waco’s Traveling Community Museum. He will (hopefully) graduate from Baylor University in May with an MA in Museum Studies. When not looking for his next paying adventure, he enjoys exploring Waco’s food scene and hanging with his majestic dog, Tex.