From Moma to Mopa

Copyright 2010 Ben S. Pollock

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — My client Crystal Britches was sweltering in her plastic rain gear. It neared 90 this morning at the Fayetteville Farmers Market — nearly all the summer veggies were available but no musicians or sidewalk artists — but the forecast had projected rain.

“Hon’. I thought I’d find you here,” she said to me. “Let’s talk about the new art museum up the road. The name could be better.”

“Why wear that vinyl storm suit, Ms. Britches? It’s June 24th.”

“Hon’, you know to call me Crystal. The walkabout sauna helps me keep my figure. I’m the same size I was 40 years ago. And with my shorts, I can show off these old showgirl legs.”

We ran into one another on the Square. We usually do. A scheduled meeting wasn’t till the end of the week, but neither of us minded talking business casually, at a sleek conference table or on a shady bench tucked in a hosta bed.

What an awkward name for the very first world-class museum in Northwest Arkansas,” said Crystal. “It would be as bad as if I built one to show off my philanthropy. But if I had, it’d be simple. If it were me, Crystal Britches, Museum of American Art. That’s it. But it all boils down to being a Museum of Other People’s Art.

“But the set-up is by a foundation, and it’s one I don’t belong to, closely held. They’re listening to the Northwest Arkansas Council. They’re the sort that thinks of an acronym then the words for it. Mopa, Museum of Ozark Pride — and Academy.”

“Oh,” I said. “It’s like Moma, New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Moma, Mopa do roll off the tongue. Better than naming it for a stream that people used to mistake for a drainage ditch. But ‘Ozark Pride?’ We have a few good artists but not enough to fill a world-class museum or get people to travel to it. And what’s with the ‘Academy’?”

“Mr. Vale, classes are for money. Even the best museums in the Age of the Internet don’t make that much money in admission or donations. Look at the Little Rock situation with the Arkansas Arts Center. Who knew people were sick of mummies?

“That’s obvious. Steve Martin sang “King Tut” in the ’70s, before he moved to novels and banjo. The academy makes sense — the Art Institute of Chicago, hello? — but if the Ozarkers want to sell out, the arts school is going to have to include ‘Modeling’ and ‘Winning Auditions for Reality TV.'”

“Noah, what I want is for you to help me present to the Northwest Arkansas Council another Mopa, one that truly will bring people in from around the continent: Museum of Other People’s Art.”

“Why put in Bentonville a Museum of Other People’s Art?” I ask, picturing the usual Crystal Britches’ presentation. She’s in these groups because of her bucks, not because she’s a team player. Part of her cares, and another part can afford to poke holes. “Why not a site in Rogers?”

“Hon’, isn’t Mopa what museums are by definition? There’s pictures — and sculptures and alleged multimedia art, too — owned by Other People. Or were owned by them until a museum bought them or was given them. Or loaned to them. Too, these are pictures you’d never have in your own home — they’re too big or too expensive or too weird for your living room. But not for Other People.

“If this was a historical assemblage of other ages, nations or tribes, then it’d be Museum of Other Peoples’ Art.”

“Now Mr. Vale, you’re joking. Don’t confuse the business executives. You with your public relations expertise know better than that. No apostrophe. Expand on the home idea, though. Some fancy people have showcase homes. They host cocktail parties; you probably see them on charity home or garden tours. Classy oils and bronzes. And they always really live in the den with the big TV that’s off-limits to us. Other People’s Art attracts both creatives and voyeurs.”

“Mopa still is pretty generic, Crystal. Moma is New York, the others have clarifying terms, like the Fort Worth Moma.”

“Noah, that’s easy. For the letterhead, the website and incorporation, it’ll be the Ozark Museum of Other People’s Art. But it’ll be Mopa for sho -”

I shot her a look.

“Oh, hon’, we’ll just tell tell folks the first ‘O’ is silent in Mopa. Just like ‘opossum.'”

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