A few weeks ago, a woman from the East African nation of Burundi found herself visiting our newest exhibition, Women Hold Up Half the Sky. She was part of a small entourage traveling with the African Union Ambassador to the U.S. As the group walked through the gallery with the Skirball’s Museum Director, Robert Kirschner, the Burundian woman suddenly stopped in her tracks, listening intently. She thought she must be imagining it, for what she heard were the voices of girls singing a traditional Burundian lullaby. Where was that sound coming from, so far away from home? Bob assured her that the music was in fact part of the commissioned audio installation Amplify, by multimedia artist Ben Rubin, designed specifically to amplify the voices of women and girls that often go unheard. Moved by the idea of the project and the music from her homeland, our visitor asked if she could listen again.
This story quickly made its way around the Skirball, as stories tend to do around here. On any given day, at any moment—while grabbing a cup of coffee, rushing across the courtyard for a meeting, working a lecture or concert—any one of us staff or volunteers hears about… well, all sorts of things. Baby hummingbirds abandoned on campus and lovingly rescued by security staff and Noah’s Ark facilitators. A shy teen who found his voice participating in the Skirball’s spoken-word residency and, on the last day of the program, read a surprisingly emotional poem before a crowd of fellow high schoolers. A curator’s eye-opening visit to the L.A. home of a legendary émigré artist whose lesser-known work in film may well be the subject of an upcoming exhibition (spoiler alert not needed; we’ll tell you about it when we can). Negotiations underway for a double-bill concert starring Algerian Jewish pianist Maurice El Medioni and Cuban percussionist Roberto Rodriguez, whose joint album Descarga Oriental blew our programming team away.
The thing is: It’s all very well and good to come in on Monday to hear weekend attendance figures. But what really gets the Skirball going is a report that a sixtysomething gentleman spent Saturday in our galleries… on a JDate. That one made me smile all day.
At the Skirball, we tell stories and we like to hear them. It’s built into the culture of the place, our very mission, and it comes from the very top. Skirball Founding President and CEO Uri D. Herscher reminds us that telling stories is what brings life to our memories, our values, our family histories, and our heritages. It’s what fuels the Skirball.
SkirBlog: Stories from the Skirball Cultural Center is dedicated to the tradition of storytelling, which does so much to connect past, present, and future, as well as individuals, generations, communities, and cultures. We hope you’ll keep reading the kinds of stories we’ve been yearning to tell but didn’t have any good place to tell them. More importantly, we hope you’ll share your stories with us, too, and join us in celebrating special moments in our lives, whether personal or historical, everyday or extraordinary.