Creative reuse in partnership with Mural Arts and Monument Lab.

Shelley Bernstein
Aug 2, 2017 · 5 min read

We hope you’ll join us in welcoming Mural Arts Philadelphia to the Barnes as we collaborate on Monument Lab, a citywide public art and history project. As part of our collaboration, the Monument Lab Field Research Office is now residing at our former guest services center.

Our former guest services center is transformed into Monument Lab’s Field Research Office. Monument Lab staff will be working from this location and hosting open office hours during select dates in August and September.

Monument Lab staff are hosting public hours, so anyone can drop in to learn more about the project, engage with Mural Arts staff, and submit proposals for their vision of what a monument in Philadelphia should be.

What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia? Come visit during public office hours and share your monumental ideas.

This is an interesting story in our visitor experience trajectory because of how much it is woven into a year’s worth of work. As you read on, you’ll find the roots of this project are running through many of the initatives we’ve been deploying. It demonstrates holistic thinking sitting alongside strategic planning; that moment when audience development and visitor experience come together. If you had spoken to me a year ago, I wouldn’t have had this answer, but the story became clear as we went along and we’re excited to see how this develops.

How did we get here?

Pop up ice cream helped us see traffic patterns around the building and experimented with alternate uses like this cafe setup right outside.

In working through this larger project, we’ve been talking quite a bit about a potential creative reuse of our “guest services center.” Known internally as the GSC, this is a small building that sits at the perimeter of our site and it was once used for guest ticketing. The idea was that visitors would arrive at the GSC to purchase tickets and the proceed to the building entrance, but not all paths on the site flow directly to this building, so some guests would bypass it totally while others would find it. This meant we were inefficiently staffing two locations for ticketing — the GSC and our main lobby — and visitors had mixed messaging about their arrival moment.

The move to mobile ticketing means our staff can ticket anywhere using mobile devices, so fixed locations are much less necessary.

In addition, the upgrade to mobile ticketing ended up streamlining our process. Staff now have the ability to perform ticketing and check in transactions anywhere on our site. We quickly found, that “locations” were no longer needed. Instead, we could staff any location as determined by the demands of any given situation using mobile desks and/or mobile devices. We found we didn’t need the GSC location for ticketing at all and this presented us with an enormous opportunity.

Creative Reuse

Because this building is uniquely situated at the edge of our site, we believe this is an ideal place of activation; the building has the ability to function as a critical bridge to communities near us. If done well, there is the chance to create transference from inside to outside and vice versa.

The original seed of this idea came from Maren Larsen, a Drexel student who was part of our 2x4 program. She suggested we use the GSC as an artist studio — specifically selecting an artist who had ties to communities that we most wanted to reach. The artist could activate the space, hold open studio hours, work directly in various communities, and bring all of these components together at the Barnes through the use of this small building. We took this idea and ran a couple of experiments as we saw moments arise.

Tania Bruguera working on her mud suit for Displacement.

As part of our Person of the Crowd exhibition, artist Tania Bruguera re-created her mud suit for her piece, Displacement. She used the GSC as a studio and then started her walk throughout the city from this location.

The most interesting thing about this experiment was seeing people react to what was going on inside; it was clearly evident that people took notice.

In another example, a horse sculpture for our current exhibition Mohamed Bourouissa: Urban Riders, was prepped and varnished inside the GSC. In both situations, we could see people passing by both on the street and to/from the Barnes reacting to the activities within the building.


We approached Mural Arts about the prospect. The scope of their work throughout the city is unparalleled. Given our desire to use the building as a bridge, they were a perfect partner because bridging through art is what they do every day. As just one idea of many that were proposed, they suggested using the building as a hub for their upcoming, city-wide activation, Monument Lab.

And, so, here we are. This summer the GSC will be serving as a research field office where Monument Lab staff will be working during the day and hosting open office hours for public participation. This fall, the building will transform as the project does and will likely host an artist project and/or artists at the site.

Similar to our partnership with Indego Bike Share, we see this work with Mural Arts as a long standing relationship; one that will grow and change over time. The staff at Mural Arts work holistically, so how things grow will be informed by the current activation allowing us to think about the best reuses for the GSC as we continue to move forward.

Barnes Foundation

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