From Tyler Green's Modern and Contemporary Art Blog:
On a quiet midweek afternoon in late November 2008, I was wandering through the Cincinnati Art Museum. There was unusual degree of activity afoot. Something was about to happen in the museum's main hall. Whatever it was seemed fairly significant and official: Seemingly everyone was wearing suits with ties that looked like American flags or nice red-white-and-blue dresses that looked like they'd been purchased for the still-mystifying patriotic occasion. People were alternately congratulatory and nervous. Obsessed with seeing the entire museum before it closed a couple hours hence, I initially paid the hubbub little notice and made a beeline for the paintings galleries.
Eventually I overheard someone explain the cause of the hullabaloo: Scores of immigrants would be taking the oath of citizenship in a ceremony held in the center of the museum. Having never seen something like this before, I pulled myself away from a notable Courbet to watch the brief ceremony. After brief remarks from various Official Figures, scores of middle-aged folks stood, raised their right hands and took the oath of citizenship.
When two people get married, two people are the focus of the scene and the people around them serve as extras. This was different. Dozens of people took the oath together, creating dozens of focal points, dozens of points of poignancy. They weren't just expressing joy, they were clearly full of pride - and most of them were sharing that with multiple generations of their red-white-and-blue clad families. The museum guard who stood to the left of me as we watched from the museum's second floor cried. (OK, I did too.)
Art museums try lots of things to get people in the doors: They launch allegedly populist exhibitions of dubious merit. They host after-hours, mating-dance parties. The put sports cars just inside their front doors and pretend that's meaningful. (Ahem, Cincinnati.) They think that they need to put up a multi-story sculpture of a train by a semi-famous artist so that people will think that the museum is a community landmark, a place of importance.
On a chilly weekday in February, the Cincinnati Art Museum trumped all that by doing what an art museum should do: Present itself as the center of its community, as a gathering place for a special experience, as a place where the largesse and generosity of several previous generations of a community are on view and available to welcome that community's most recent generation. The art museum made itself available, and as a result the visitors and new citizens made themselves available to the art. I'd bet $100 that everyone who took their oath of citizenship at the Cincy museum that day will not just go back to the museum, but that they will value the place for the rest of their lives. So will their kids. Sometimes the best things museums do are the simplest - and they don't cost $25 million.