Throughout my time at the North Carolina Museum of Art, I often found myself wondering what consistently gets people in the doors, and, more important, what compels them to come back? While the answers to these questions may be different for each person, I’ve discovered that many patrons find the Museum to be a cathartic place, a space to both understand and feel understood. Inspired by the photoblog Humans of New York—which shares peoples’ stories while honoring their anonymity—the following post captures a few more remarkable, human stories found at the NCMA.
This is probably my tenth time here. We’re with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. That’s what I am to him. Once a week we do something together. I don’t even really read [the wall labels]; I just walk around. Sit and stare for a little while. It’s like meditation. It’s clean. It’s quiet. People are respectful. It doesn’t change that often, but I like to walk around and see if I see anything new.
Boy: I’m a good drawer. [I like to draw] a person. But a boy! [It makes me think of] a rainbow. A rainbow of circles. I like the blue color in there. I like the designs.
I migrated here five years ago. Originally I’m from the Dominican Republic. Migrating here was a punch in the gut, but I have to be adaptable. It was a cultural shock. Still is. Sometimes it catches me off guard, but it’s cool, though. The weather knocked me out of my socks. In the Dominican, true art is stuff like this. It’s the whole colonialism mentality we have, like the old white art is the “true” art. We have Dominican artists that are rising above, but they’re not as international. But we’re starting to make noise, especially the artists that come here and start making art in the States. It was difficult when I got here because my mom was an immigrant and said, “We came here for opportunities, for the land of the free and brave, for money.” And I said, “Ma’am, I just want to draw figure sticks.” As the years go by, she’s seeing that I really want to do this. [This political climate has me] scared. I’m legitimately scared. I just have to move forward. If I get screamed at, what am I gonna do? Just keep my head low. I speak up with my art more than anything. I study studio art at Appalachian State. Before, I came through here and thought, I need to know how to paint like this. I thought, How am I going to make money unless I paint like this? But there’s a hub for every kind of contemporary artist. They say, “You’re a woman, you’re an immigrant, you’re black—you have a voice. Use it how you want to.” I have to rewire a little bit, because I don’t have to do art like this. But that’s neocolonialism for you.
I came for some Instagram pictures. I’m a volunteer firefighter and looking for some side jobs. I never get to dress up, so I figured I’d come to the museum, maybe embrace my inner artist. I like this area. There’s a lot going on. I don’t know what you call that body of water, but it’s cool. I’m not usually the museum type. I was a U.S. history buff growing up. It was always interesting, and then I grew older and learned more about government and wanted to shy away. I was jaded a little bit. But I used to paint a lot when I was younger—I won first prize in a couple of fairs for oil painting, and I’ve always taken art classes. Maybe this is my motivation to get back into it. I don’t know. I prioritized other things and lost the fuel. When you’re younger, you like to explore and try new things. I feel like sometimes when you get older, you lose that. That’s why I got started in the fire service. When I was younger and the fire engines went by, I was the kid at the window. So now I’m doing it for real. But I could get back into painting, if I just picked up a brush.
I was introduced to art very, very early. I remember when I was six years old, my mother took me to a picture gallery for the very first time. This was in 1949, so immediately after the war, when most of the German museums were still not open. My mother told me, “Just be a good boy when I take you there,” because she wanted to go and had nowhere to leave me. So I had to go with her, but she had a knack of really bringing the art close to me. So from that time on, it was just a natural thing for me to go to museums. Art has really shaped my life. Since that time, whenever I go to a city, the art museum is the first thing I go to. You see, I am, so to speak, “collecting” American art museums. I’ve been to the States many times—I think this is my 43rd visit—and I’ve found this is my 129th art museum in the United States. This was the last American art museum on my list that I just had to see.