If you’ve walked through the doors of the Mobile Museum of Art (4850 Museum Drive) after November 16, you’ve found a nasty surprise. The museum closed for at least a week citing “unexpected mechanical malfunction” as the cause.
Specifically, it was an issue with environmental controls, a critical part of protecting works of art from the humid environment of the central Gulf Coast. City of Mobile cultural affairs director Matt Anderson cited “one of the air conditioning coolers” as the culprit.
âWe still kept a few field trips that took place today and still had them on their routes because none of the areas the kids were going to be had any sensitive artwork,â Anderson said.
Anderson pointed to the rise in temperature and relative humidity after the temperature change the day before the mechanical failure. Staff have removed the artwork from affected areas of the facility. The pieces have been moved to on-site storage – the museum houses over 10,000 works – with its own environmental control.
“Johnson Controls is the company that has our maintenance contract, and it took them maybe half an hour [for repairs]. I was there earlier and sure enough the building was cooling down, âAnderson said.
A quick comparison with the experience of Hurricane Sally in 2020 was made. The mid-September storm cut power throughout the Mobile Bay area and left the museum in the dark in hot and humid conditions. According to Anderson, the museum was not a priority for Alabama Power because “there weren’t really any residents on this outcrop. [of the power grid]. âHe called Alabama Power.
âEvery time I told them the scale and scale of the operation that we had there, they made it happen very quickly,â Anderson said.
There is a significant investment in this almost 60 year old operation. Beyond its $ 15 million renovation in 2002, there is a long-term effort.
âI mean, obviously, the installation, but the collection, which is owned by the Mobile Museum of Art Board, the price of that collection would be hard to quantify,â Anderson said.
Anderson said the plan was to keep the museum closed for a week to ensure no further issues developed.
The next big museum event is not affected since it is not on museum grounds at all. Historian Scotty Kirkland will appear at the Marx Library at the University of Southern Alabama on December 2, at 6 p.m., for a discussion on the history of Mobile Civil Rights. A former curator at the History Museum of Mobile, Kirkland has authored a book on the civil rights history of the city of Azalea for a decade. Its appearance is in conjunction with the museum exhibit assembled from Gordon Parks’ 1956 Life magazine image on racial segregation.
âThe photos of the parks have a quality ‘for every man, every city’,â Kirkland said. “It belies the idea that Mobile was somehow radically different – and by ‘different’, defined as ‘better’ – than other southern cities of the 1950s.”
Kirkland recounted a dramatic night months before Parks arrived, two years after Brown’s blow against the Board of Education against separate schools. On the rainy evening of March 2, Mobile Mayor Joe Langan held an inaugural assembly at city hall with 145 attendees, a group that then set up a biracial committee. Across town, 1,000 restless Mobilians attended a meeting of the local White Citizens Council and recruited 145 new members that evening.
âThey’re reported the next day, the two front-page rallies in Mobile’s newspapers, but only one of those accounts really persists. I’ll explain a bit why this is the case, âKirkland said.
The historian has used the personal experiences of two men who came of age at this time as insightful illustrations. One was Israel Lewis, a member of the Africatown Lewis family descended from the Clotilda survivors. Although Lewis was born in rural black belt Hale County, his parents returned to the Mobile area when he was 12.
His white counterpart, David Alsobrook, was a few years younger but was still struck by what the times showed. Like when a black employee at Brookley Field moved his family to a previously all-white working-class neighborhood.
âDavid vividly remembered going to see the burnt cross on their lawn being cut down,â Kirkland said.
Parks’ nifty photos accompanied an article titled “Open and Hidden.”
âIn Mobile, there is an open version of some of these events and a more hidden and obscured version,â Kirkland said.
The parks exhibition ends on December 30.
RSVPs to the Kirkland assembly are strongly encouraged. Those with COVID-19 issues can attend through Zoom. To access the feed or RSVP, go to mobilemuseumofart.com.
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