In 2016, we invited 41 people who don’t visit art museums to visit the RISD Museum as paid guest critics of the art and its institution. We extended this invitation as part of Look at Art. Get Paid., a socially engaged artwork that compensates folks for the time and energy required to visit, and invest in critiquing, a historically white-centered space. The project opens space for candid conversation about art and access without asking people to assimilate or donate their time to get a seat at the table. To read more about the origin and context of the program, see our website, lookatartgetpaid.org.
Many Look at Art. Get Paid. critics took detailed notes on their impressions, questions, and assessments during their visit to the RISD Museum. We are excited to present a new Chrome Extension that places these notes directly onto the RISD Museum’s website, bringing the voices of first-time museum visitors into conversation with the Museum’s voice.
A Chrome Extension is a piece of software that customizes a user’s experience while browsing with Chrome. This extension, titled risdmuseum.org/edit, can be downloaded for free here. Once downloaded, the extension will automatically display on the RISD Museum’s website. An on-off toggle allows users to experience the site uninterrupted at their convenience.
To realize the project, we brought in designer Lukas Eigler-Harding who built the site and critic Stephan McCants Jr. who advised the project.
A former graffiti artist, McCants is an expert at reading and writing on the urban landscape. He brings a unique ability to see—and subvert—hierarchies, be it on the street, in the museum’s galleries, or within the pages of the museum’s website.
Eigler-Harding, who has carved out a niche developing websites for cultural institutions, deftly set about building an interface to allow the museum’s site to be marked up.
Handwritten questions and sketches are scrawled over the pages on the RISD Museum website like editor’s notes. Next to the words “feel at home in the galleries,” on the museum’s Become a Member page, a handwritten comment reads: “It wasn’t the artwork but just the overall experience of the vibe in the room. It just didn’t feel like I was a part of the community.” In an audio clip on the same page, a critic explains, “People in our community, we wasn’t taught by our parents like, ‘Go to the museum.’ It was either, ‘Go to the library, go to school…’ We were limited [in] what we could do.”
What’s it like for Stephan seeing his handwriting on the RISD Museum’s website? “It’s like seeing my name on a building, or by the train-tracks—seeing it somewhere it’s not supposed to be.”
Maia Chao and Josephine Devanbu
Co-Creators, Look at Art. Get Paid.
Stephan McCants, of Providence, RI, has been working in retail for over ten years, and will probably start a business in that field. Currently, you can find him at Fully Rooted Juice & Kombucha. Stephan was introduced to art outside of standardized schooling through friends in graffiti crews. It was through this experience that he learned how to steal like an artist. Throughout the blog era Stephan used multiple platforms to display photography and things of the like. He tracks down sought-after fashion items and resells them in his spare time. He is depressed and living below the poverty line.
Lukas Eigler-Harding works as an artist, designer, and web developer composing sites, identities, research, and strategy with collaborators and clients.
Ruby Stenhouse is a writer and curator who contributed research to this project.