by Elizabeth Merritt
June 26, 2014

Turning the Museum into a Personal Oracle

I'm always on the hunt for examples of people “hacking” museum content in interesting ways. Museum fans come up with amazing ways to use museums—things museum staff may not have thought of in a million years. This week, artist / educator / coach Laurie Phillips tells us about [Museum Sage], a social engagement that basically turns the museum into a giant Tarot deck, co-opting museum collections as signifiers onto which seekers can project their hopes and fears.


by Keith Spencer
January 15, 2015

An Off the Wall Night Offers Opportunities to Connect with PEM Collection

SALEM – A visit to the museum is not everyone’s idea of an exciting evening, but the Peabody Essex Museum was Off the Wall on Thursday as they launched their 2015 PEM/PM party series. The opportunity offered guests the chance to morph the museum’s collection into a personal oracle through the [Museum Sage] project, and engage with art in other unique and entertaining ways.

“The [Museum Sage] experience offers a new, exciting, and eye-opening way to appreciate and connect with the artwork of a museum,” said Doneeca Thurston, Adult Programs Coordinator of the Peabody Essex Museum. “We are one of the first museums in this area to work with the collective, and our patrons walked away with thoughtful answers and deeper connections to the collection.”


by Lisa Howie, Director, Bermuda National Gallery, 
June 2015

Finding Our Selves in Art

Did you know that the average time spent looking at a work of art is 3 seconds? Such a quick glance might also include an equally swift scan of the description on the wall. For a refreshing change to this paradigm of look-read-look, I experienced [Museum Sage], a creative concept by husband-wife duo Jon Spayde and Laurie Phillips. 

The essence of [Museum Sage] is to discover something(s) new about our selves through the close examination of an artwork. The process begins with the participant focusing on a personal question, however superficial or deep, such as: What colour should I paint my living room? or What is the purpose of my life? The participant is then paired with a guide (or oracle) and led to an artwork [or historical object]. 

My experience took place at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Blindfolded, I was walked through the galleries to a particular object, which I had selected randomly from a bag— not much different than choosing a Scrabble tile. Once I was standing in the right place, I removed the blindfold and discovered an object that came as quite a surprise: a beautiful decorative wooden piece, which I immediately described as “a cup for a giant.” In the next twenty minutes, I generated several layers of description and interpretation, all without looking at the text panel. It was an intense examination of looking closely, while keeping in mind my initial personal question.

The beauty and scale of the work reminded me of the artwork of Martin Puryear. This wooden cup suggested immense potential and its golden patina reminded me of honey flowing over. It was monumental and sturdy, mysterious and energized. I believed it held promise. Finally, I read the description: an untitled work by American artist Edward Allen Moulthrop (1916-2003) in poplar wood. Described as an “enormous chalice”, the object took on even richer qualities.

Although I am not going to reveal my question, I can confess that the experience was much more fulfilling than I had anticipated. I felt bonded to the artwork in unusual ways. My deliberation, encouraged with questions by the Guide, allowed me to go deeper and deeper into my ‘reading’ of the artwork, ultimately arriving at a most encouraging point of departure from my initial personal question. This crafted experience of [Museum Sage] might be recreated by simply allowing our selves to be drawn to an artwork. Once there, we can spend time observing the work closely (over several minutes) to discover why exactly we were drawn to it.

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by Hanne Appelbaum, Editor of Twin Cities Arts Reader
November 2016

Preview: Museum Sage

Museum Sage used to be called Art-o-mancy. Why the change?
The original name, Art-o-mancy, referred to the root word for divination: “mancy,” as in cartomancy (Tarot) or bibliomancy. It was a fun retro way to say that this practice is about using art to divine the future. However, we started to serve history and science museums as well and decided to go for a more inclusive name.

Has the programming changed at all with the name change?
Museum Sage was offered only by trained Guides with coaching skills. We’re still delivering it that way, but now we’ve added a self-guided app that we’ll be offering to museums in 2017.

What are some of the more surprising personal questions that people have expressed?
Some of the more memorable questions:
·       How can I open my heart to my wife more?
·       How do I let go of fear?
·       Should I leave my job?
·       How can I feel peaceful in the midst of so much conflict and tension at work?
·       Where should my creative project go next?
·       How do I deal with my daughter who’s a drug addict?
·       What’s the meaning of my life?
·       Am I overly involved with my cell phone, especially game-playing?
·       How do I take care of my body when I’m in so much pain?
·       Am I doing enough to make a future opportunity happen?

Has anyone ever asked the “Shall I date my co-worker?” question?Nobody has asked about dating their co-worker… yet.

Is this one question/session, or multiple questions?
Depends on how much time you have. Some people can’t decide on a question and let the art tell them what question they should have asked. It all works!

Do you have many people coming back with different questions?
Yes, once they try it and get a good result, people come back for more!

Are there any galleries that are off limits?
There are some collections on loan to the museum where they prohibit taking photos. We avoid those galleries since part of the process is taking a photo of the “Sager” with their artwork, as well as photographing the wall label so they can do more research online when they leave the museum.

Have you tried this in abstract painting galleries?
Yes, the Museum Sage process works well with abstract art. They’re similar to inkblots on a Rorschach psychological test.