My Fulbright Story: Arts & Museums

If I had to name the most surprising cultural difference that I’ve observed between the United States and Australia, I would say the ‘emphasis on patronage’.

In its traditional sense, the idea of patronage is about elevating artists ‘to a new level of social and cultural importance’, and this has largely allowed the Arts to flourish throughout history. 

But patronage in the United States seems to be on another level. 

In fact, in 2011 alone, $13 billion dollars was donated to ‘Arts, Culture, and the Humanities’ where ~ 75% of donations stemmed from individual philanthropic contributions.

Couple this with over 100 years of philanthropic activity and you get a world-class arts and culture scene. 

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Named after arguably the most famous arts collector and philanthropist in the U.S., Isabella Gardner lived and breathed music and art. 

An avid traveller and well-read individual, Isabella used her personal wealth to accumulate some of the finest pieces in the world and following her death in 1924, left her museum ‘for the education and enjoyment of the public forever.

Today, the beauty of this museum resides in the sprawling courtyard, eclectic collection of all kinds of art, intimate music concert series, and the juxtaposition of an adjacent centre filled with modern art. 

Museum of Fine Art (MFA)

When I first stepped into the MFA, I thought to myself, ‘this is easily at least two to three times bigger than any museum I’ve been to in Australia.

Later, I realised that MFA is among the top 20 biggest art museums in the world with near 500,000 pieces of art from across the globe and centuries filling its over 20,000 square meters of prime real estate. 

It certainly deserves the title of being ‘one of the most comprehensive art museums in the world.’

What’s even better is that entry is free for local college students! And on weekends, you’ll likely see aspiring artists sketching away several meters behind one of countless artistic masterpieces. 

Symphony Hall

Home to Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops, the Symphony Hall also welcomes dozens of the finest musicians today. 

Lang Lang, Janine Jensen, Mitsuko Uchida, Sheku Kanneh-Mason are just some artists scheduled to perform in the upcoming months, not to mention, the famous Boston Speakers Series that have hosted influential figures like Theresa May and Bill Nye.

Coming from an island nation and city where we would count our blessings for being able to witness some of the world’s best musicians, the Symphony Hall’s calendar of events is enviable. 

I was fortunate enough to attend a concert featuring Joshua Bell and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. I can still remember the standing ovation when they performed at the Sydney Opera House in 2017. It was a flagship event of the year whereas Boston locals are privileged to attend as though it’s ‘just another night at the symphony’!

Boston Ballet

In addition to Mikko Nissinen’s inspired direction of Tchaikovsky’s infamous Swan Lake, the most memorable moment from watching the Boston Ballet was seeing the company’s leadership in advancing diversity and inclusion.

It’s not often that you see people of colour gracing the stage, let alone given solos (at least when we consider major European ballet companies). 

Other companies around the world should take heed in how such inclusivity can positively transform the Arts industry for generations to come. 

Brava Boston Ballet!

Music Livestreams

One of the upsides to the COVID-19 pandemic is that society at large is beginning to consider equitable alternatives to traditional practices and embrace initiatives that are more accessible to a wider audience.

As a result, I’ve been fortunate to watch several live streamed musical concerts in the comfort of my home including acclaimed Pinchas Zukerman with the Houston Symphony Orchestra and Boston local and emerging artist George Li at the Gilmore Piano Festival (both live streams made possible thanks to generous philanthropy).

Special mentions

Other museums that are well worth the trip and which have benefited from substantial philanthropic efforts include Boston Tea Party Museum and the Museum of Science

At the Boston Tea Party Museum, history truly comes to life thanks to dedicated actors in period costume and state-of-the-art theatrics.

Similarly, the Museum of Science has a spectacular display of exhibitions and artefacts which really puts awe into awe-inspiring. Some of my favourites include ‘Wicked Smart’, an exhibition that showcases some of the amazing innovations developed at home in Boston, the lightning show featuring the world’s biggest (and original) Van de Graaff generator, as well as the ‘Engineering Design Workshop’ which introduces people from all ages to the basic concepts of computer programming. 

Where would you like to visit? Let me know in the comments below!

This post is not sponsored. All views are my own.

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