Saturday, January 26, 2008

Eating in the White House

One of the important lessons learned from the process of opening this museum - really creating a new institution - is that it cannot be done alone. We have written before about all of the generosity we have seen. People have shared information, sent us money and sent us things. So that is why I am confidently sharing our work behind the scenes so that those of you who may be able to help will know what we are doing, and thus know how to help us.

We are planning opening exhibits. We are looking for a model of an oil rig that might be found in the Gulf of Mexico; invitations, menus and other memorabilia for our White House exhibit; posters of food festivals in the South; and anything else that you think would be useful to us.

Thanks in advance.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

i get by with a little help from my friends, relatives and people i meet in the gym locker room

It still suprises me how positively the majority of people react to a museum they have never heard of and isn't open. And no, they aren't all related to me. Recently, the Tulsa, OK newspaper ran a short article about how we are seeking corn stories and I have been inundated (ok, maybe that's hyperbole...I've heard from 7 people) with stories, photos and suggestions about other people to contact. My aunt's in-laws recently had dinner at a local restaurant and noticed the model boats on display and asked the owner who did them, since I have been looking for something of that kind for the Louisiana exhibit. Recently in the ladies' locker room at my gym, a woman overheard me talking to a friend about work and offered a means of partnering with her job. And of course, I can't leave out my parents who have offered their support in a myriad of ways, not excluding a willingness to paint or lay flooring. I need to remember all of these moments when I get overwhelmed or feel like I am doing this alone. Not true at all.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Growing the Archive

I was so excited to open a package that came to SoFAB from cookbook author, Sheila E. Ainbinder, for our collection. Sheila wrote a cookbook in celebration of the opening of the Riverwalk in New Orleans in 1986, The Legends of Louisiana Cookbook: The Cuisine of New Orleans and Its Colorful History. The book was privately published in 1987. Later the book was reissued by Simon & Schuster in 1991. The package contained a copy of the original book and a copy of the nationally published book. All of this was great. We cannot have too many Southern cookbooks.

But Sheila sent us more. She sent us the notes from her cookbook, drafts of recipes, letters that she received from contributors of the book, galleys, and old menus. All of these documents flesh out the cookbook, making it not just a finished product, but a work developed and living. We cannot thank Sheila enough. Preserving all of the notes and behind the scenes material creates a treasure trove for researchers in the future. This is one of the important reasons for which SoFAB was created.

To all of the rest of you out there who have written articles, books and other materials about Southern food and drink, please remember to send us your papers. We will preserve and catalog them and make them available to researchers. It will also get them out of your attic, garage or closet.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Week in D.C.

I spent almost all of last week in Washington, D.C. on a fact finding museums mission. I arrived Monday morning (my flight left New Orleans at 6am ouch!) and met with some folks from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival a 2 week long celebration of culture held on the mall every summer. I told them about the museum and we explored ways we can partner in the future from creating shared online exhibits to using some of the oral and video documentation they collect every year in some of our future exhibits. They told me that one of the focuses for the 2010 festival is Alabama and plan to include the museum as they being to organize that portion of the festival. An interesting aside, one of the curators, Steve, and I had met previously, in October 2005 Atlanta, when I traveled there looking for assistance in creating a Katrina exhibit, back when we had no home, literally, and were all wondering what the future of the city, as well as the museum, would be. He seemed genuinely pleased that we had come through that time intact and would be opening soon. Nice surprise.

Tuesday, I met with Harold Closter, the Director of Affiliates about the possibility of the museum joining the Smithsonian as an affiliate museum. Though that won’t be possible in the next year, we did explore other ways we could collaborate with Smithsonian staff though partnering on programming. He was also enthusiastic about our project and seemed impressed with how far we have some in a relatively short time. He gave me some great suggestions on some reading matter in museum organization and theory, since I have been telling everyone that in creating this museum, I feel like I am back in graduate school, except without the loans…He also set up a meeting for me and my design team with Rosemary Fetter, the Director of the National Dentistry Museum in Baltimore. Yes, dentistry.

That afternoon I met with Lynn Breaux and Linda Busche from the Washington D.C. Restaurant Association and the National Restaurant Association respectively. We talked about SoFAB and how these organizations can benefit from our menu collection. Later, Linda interviewed me for an article in the NRA’s newsletter. A link will be posted on our website when the article comes out. We had a great meal at Nage where I had a delicious sunchoke cream soup.

Wednesday morning the rest of Team SoFAB arrived (as bleary-eyed as I had) and we headed to the Museum of the American Indian for a 4 hour behind the scenes tour led by Kerry Boyd, Director of Exhibit Design. Wow! It was daunting to see how much there was to do and how expensive things can be and how nice it would be to have a staff of 200….sigh. But he was so generous with his time and knowledge and I consoled myself that one day we will have all those resources but hopefully hang on to our ability to be scrappy and resourceful with what we have….

Thursday we began our day at the International Spy Museum and after walking through the exhibits, met with several folks from their staff who were full of ideas about marketing, ticketing, and design. Once again we were confronted with the realities of our budget and space, but once again took away many ideas of how to apply large scale choices to our model. We decided we needed a treat and walked around the corner to the recommended Zaytina, which serves small plates influenced by Greece, Turkey and Lebanon. What an amazing meal! And the staff was all so gracious and the chef, super friendly. They were all really excited about the museum opening, especially Megan who hails from Houston and promised to stop by the next time she headed home. So nice to get all that affirmation. After a great meal, we headed to the Postal Museum. I had been there alone on Monday and wanted the gang to see their exhibits which I thought were applicable to what our design would be. We got a nice tour by their education programmer who gave suggestions about kids programming for us.

Friday was an early day, heading to Baltimore. The National Museum of Dentistry was the first museum we visited that is on scale with SOFAB and it was reassuring to see exhibits we could draw from both in scale and scope. Rosemary was particularly helpful in giving direction about how to be a regional museum when you are located in one place and how to make connections around the country. Finally we walked down to the Inner Harbor and visited the American Visionary Arts Museum. We did not go to learn. We had no meetings. All we did was look and buy stuff at the gift shop. Then we all got a beer.

It was a very full week. We were all exhausted. We learned a ton. We learned what all we don’t know and what we do. And we are all very, very ready to begin.

Monday, January 7, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

I am not a New Year's resolution maker. I believe that if a resolution for change is in order, it should be made when realized, not triggered by the calendar. But I am looking at a blank calendar, lots of white space ready to be filled with events and happenings, and looking back at an old calendar crammed with events. It makes me realize that I should make one important resolution. I resolve to be more thankful, more appreciative, and more explicitly grateful.

As we come closer to realizing our goals for SoFAB, I know how many people have lifted us, carried us, handed us things, lent a hand, made meaningful suggestions, opened doors, made allowances, given us things, believed in us, and done so much to make our success possible. Thanks to all of you. The year 2008 will be my year of saying thanks more openly.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

black eyed peas...italian style

Yesterday I went to my friend, Jonno's, to eat the requisite New Year's Day food: Black eyed peas, pork and cabbage. In past years, at his house I would have a steaming bowl of lentils which I would eat while climbing the stairs...something that apparently brings luck in Italy, where Jonno's people come from. But Jonno had the luck to fall in love with a southern boy, Richard, who hails from Laurel, MS and who missed the food that he believed brought luck, so Jonno added the peas, pork and cabbage to the menu. Now the lentils are gone (well at least this year) and Richard and I have our standby's. Food is funny that way, I mean the ones you believe in. When I was studying Italian and later Spanish, I of course learned the curse words. But whenever I said them, they didn't have any resonance in me. I knew what I was saying and what it translated to in English, but it didn't feel as vulgar, powerful or taboo as the actual word in English. And no matter how much I enjoyed the new ritual of climing the stairs while eating lentils, I didn't actually believe it would bring me luck or money or health, the way that a tiny part of me believes that the peas, pork and cabbage do. I need to ask Jonno if he feels the same way or if in joining his life with Richard, he bought into that story as well. Anyway, wherever you are, I hope you ate something that made you happy, with friends you love and that whatever that food may be, that it brings you whatever luck and health and wealth you wish for in this new year.