On Sept. 14, The Polk Museum of Art hosted an event called “Return to the 19th Century: A Night at the Museum”. The event itself is in conjunction with the current exhibition at the museum, Across the Atlantic: American Impressionism through the French Lens.
The event made fantastical and compelling promises of a carnival inside the museum. Polk Museum wanted to combine French and American Impressionism and then have a night of both French and American entertainment from the late-19th and early-20th century.
“Our goal with Return to the 19th Century was to bridge the gap between American and French Impressionism,” John Gould, Florida Southern alumnus and Curatorial Intern at the Polk Museum said. “Just as American Impressionists were inspired by the French Movement, we combine both in the form of cabaret, music and dance.”
After being asked about the event, his experience with the event and how he contributed to the event, Gould said: “This is the first Passport event held at the museum and the first to collaborate with the music and dance departments. Learning about the era we focused on was educational and insightful, and bringing it to life was fun and exciting. I helped conceive the initial idea for the event, did an early draft, the grant proposal that funded it and had a small role in its execution.”
The night started off with a performance from the Florida Southern Mocappellas, in which they sang a fifteen minute set in the galleries.
Carnival style foods such as cotton candy were available, as well as cocktails created by Revival in downtown Lakeland. These beverages were inspired by drinks savored in French and American cabarets.
There were carnival games such as balloon darts, bottle ring, face painting station and an art scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt was overseen by people such as Betty Johnson, a volunteer tour guide at the Polk Museum.
“Return to the 19th Century was a magical event consisting of art, performance and had the ambiance of a carnival,” Johnson said. “This event was definitely enjoyed by the youngest who are seeing art through new eyes, and by the experienced connoisseur of art.”
The scavenger hunt would take viewers through the galleries, where attendees could appreciate works such as Homeward Way by Charles Paul Gruppe.
Spectators could watch the movement on the canvases transfer out into the galleries as FSC dancers performed among the art. Once a dancer finished in one corner of the gallery, another dancer would begin their dance and send onlookers spinning in circles to catch the motion in each corner.
Participants could also sit in the auditorium and enjoy magician Matt Durham’s impressive and comedic show, where he included audience members by calling them onto the stage and deeming them his personal assistants.
For a more relaxing atmosphere, people could walk through the exhibit as FSC students played the piano. Other events of the night consisted of a performance from members of the Florida Dance Theatre, Florida Southern dancers and a French Cabaret.
Throughout the night museum-goers were able to experience the exhibition personally by taking pictures with an Impressionist-inspired background and literally inserting themselves into the art.
The event threw audiences into a world full of expression from the late-19th and early-20th century. Learning about both the French and American Impressionist movement in a setting where one can experience both French and American culture makes the whole process very personal, and as a result allowed people to relate to the art hanging on the walls of the museum.