by Sasha Parfenova
Nearly a decade ago, J.C. Cannistaro invested in the Plumbing Museum with a mission to preserve the heritage of the plumbing industry and build community. Since opening its doors in Watertown, the museum has made significant strides in living up to its founding mission, finding success in new and interesting ways. Today, the attendance has more than doubled to a thousand visitors annually, attracting audiences from a diverse range of sources.
Over the past few decades, art and technology have become more intertwined than ever before. As a result, exciting opportunities for collaboration and creativity are popping up in many places, and artists are taking full advantage. Today, cutting-edge artists partner with local tech businesses to utilize commercial technology and create innovative works that push boundaries of traditional media.
In 2016, inspired by the John Michael Kohler Arts/Industry program, the Plumbing Museum launched an innovative fellowship for local artists: the Manoog Family Artist-in-Residency program (Manoog Family AIR). Named after the founding family of the Plumbing Museum, the primary goal of the program is to support and invest in emerging artists and provide them with opportunities to utilize industrial materials and equipment. Participating artists receive full access to a studio workspace, fabrication and welding resources, exhibition opportunities, and a stipend for supplies.
The demand for artist residencies that provide artists with time and space to create new works is on the rise. Today, there are roughly 500 artist residency programs in the states, while the number of applications for these programs in North America exceed 80,000 annually. Programs that combine art and technology are especially rare.
Developing, launching, and running the Manoog Family Artist Residency required investments of time and energy, but that effort was significantly rewarded as the residency was making a big difference not only for the professional development of emerging artists, but also for the museum and Cannistraro. The art exhibition projects provide visitors with new insights and perspectives into the museum’s collections and exhibits as well as opportunities for unique learning experiences. For Cannistraro, committing to the arts lets people inside and outside the company know that it values and promotes innovative thinking and a creative culture.
To date, nine local artists have successfully completed the residency program creating new artworks in photography, sculpture, video, and mixed media installations.
The residency has had a significant influence on involving the local community with new exhibitions, attracting a more-diverse mix of visitors, and cultivating community partners. For example, the museum has become a popular spot for local homeschool field trips. In Massachusetts, there are approximately 30,000 kids that are home schooled, and many families join local homeschool communities to attend group field trips and other extracurricular activities. Responding to the demand, the Plumbing Museum proposed to design a series of extracurricular art and music activities for the homeschool visitors in an effort to increase community outreach. The proposal was submitted to the Watertown Community Foundation, and the museum was awarded an Institutional Support Grant. Children’s art classes and music events emphasized creative problem-solving and experimentation and included activities in drawing, painting, sculpture, and mixed media.
The outcome of this grant project exceeded expectations. The Plumbing Museum engaged strong participation in all the project activities and proved itself as an adaptable venue for diverse community programming. The long-term strategic plans are to continue building relationships with peer organizations, organizing and hosting special events, and developing the Plumbing Museum as a place for discovery, inspiration, and learning.
Sasha Parfenova is the museum program manager at The Plumbing Museum located at J.C. Cannistraro’s headquarters in Watertown, Mass.