I sat down with the Coral Gables Museum director Christine Rupp to talk about the culture and history that is exemplified within the museum. The following are some questions asked and her answers:
What inspired you to become the first employee for the Coral Gables Museum in 2007?
I was actually asked to do it. I have experience in consulting for non-profits. I have a legal in accounting background as well, and so when the board of directors was put together to create the museum, they were actually just borrowing an administrative assistant from the City of Coral Gables because it is a partner in this project, since they are the landlord and the building owner.
As the project progressed and things got more complex, they were looking for an administrator and so I had done some work for a couple of the board members and they recommended me for the job, and my first title was actually “administrative coordinator.”
Coral Gables is a community rich in history. Do you feel this is reflected within the museum?
The museum itself is based on architecture, urban design and planning, sustainable development and preservation, both architectural and environmental, so as the mission of the museum evolved to focus on those subjects, what we did was choose subject matter that really reflected Coral Gables.
Since we have to be called “The Coral Gables Museum” because of the contract with the city, we thought that if we could cue on those things that set Coral Gables apart and then expand on those to an even international level, then we would be keeping consistent with the city and also be able to be relevant as far as the international community is concerned. We have a gallery dedicated to the history of Coral Gables with a focus on its architecture and design as well.
Through partnerships, such as the museum’s partnership with Shenandoah Museum Magnet School, how does the museum incorporate community involvement into its organization?
Being a younger, smaller museum, we knew we really had to engage the community and one of the best ways to do that is to engage schools. Even before we opened as a museum, we established partnerships with schools in the area that focus on the same thing that the museum does.
We do school tours for students. We have partnered with a school in North Miami called WJ Bryan, which is also a historical school, so what those kids do is they come here and they visit our building, which was the old police and fire station, and then they go visit the new police and fire station. They get to see the importance of preserving an old building and then they see the contemporary version of that.
Does the museum hold any future plans to expand community involvement?
We are always looking for new programming. Some of the more popular things that we do here include engaging in “First Friday Gallery Night,” which is a longstanding tradition in Coral Gables. We also do a “Second Saturday Family Day” that gives free admission to families in the afternoon, and we have a variety of events.
We do downtown walking tours; we do monthly bike tours, and we recently partnered with Miami-Dade County’s eco-tourism department to do a Coral Gables waterway canoe tour. One of the things we are most proud of is how we have connected to the cycling community. We have a number of bike racks on site and we really do promote cycling here.
In what ways have you operated the museum in an “eco-friendly” manner?
We are LEED certified, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, so we have to be very sensitive to recycling here, water usage, cleaning products, and all of those things are done sustainably in an environmentally friendly way.
What does your museum have to offer for all age demographics?
We do a variety of camps here, including Teacher Work Day camps and spring, summer and winter break camps. We have Family Day, which is geared toward children as well.
Our school tours are for kids of all ages and we also have tour techs that are appropriate for preschoolers through high school students.
We are actually working with Miami-Dade Public Schools to develop a program that is geared more towards high school students, and it will teach about architecture and greendesign. Aside from that, every year we host a gallery with the Coral Gables photography contest, which is open for teenagers and adults. It is free to enter, and anyone can enter, and if your photograph is chosen as one of the submissions then it is exhibited here in the gallery, so that connects to people of all ages.
As a member of the Coral Gables K-8 EESAC, what do you hope children will gain from taking part in the classes and school visits that the museum offers?
We have always had a relationship with Coral Gables Elementary School and we really promoted their school here. We donated all of the images and texts from their exhibit to the school, so now they’re able to create a little gallery space at the school that explains the history of the school.
What sets Coral Gables Museum aside from the rest of the local galleries and museums in the Greater Miami area?
Our museum has a unique focus. We aren’t really an art museum or a history museum; we call ourselves a “civic arts” museum, which means that we can still integrate art and history into our exhibits, so with this broad mission statement that we have, we can do a lot of creative things.
We’re not pigeonholed by being a certain type of museum. Also, our community outreach is unparalleled, and it makes us very proud. We really try to think out of the box to engage people in what we offer.
What is the significance behind the museum’s architecture?
The building was designed by a wellrenowned architect who also designed Coral Gable’s City Hall, and this building was designed during the Great Depression. It is a WPA building, which is an acronym for Works Progress Administration, and that was a depression-era government program to put people back to work. This building was constructed by young men who were trying to feed their families. The coral stone was mined in Key Largo, then taken to Matheson Hammock Park and cut into beautiful slabs.
Are there any future plans for expansion in exhibits for the museum?
We are very aggressive with our exhibit plans. In our main gallery space, we present a minimum of three exhibitions a year, and in our smaller spaces we normally have exhibitions up for two months. We are always trying to refresh the exhibits shown. As far as square-footage is concerned, we are pretty limited. We really can’t expand right now, but in the future we would love to.
Are your exhibitions site-specific or do they have an international range?
We like to encompass an international collection. Right now, in our large gallery space, we are hosting an exhibition about all the stadiums from host cities that were constructed for the World Cup. We have wonderful images of the stadiums’ architectural renderings, and then we have cultural information about the host cities because in many instances the culture of the host city influenced the design of the stadium, and it’s a beautiful story.
What is the selection process for the exhibitions showcased in the museum?
We get calls on the daily basis from people wanting to show their works in the museum galleries and we have to stay true to our mission, so whatever we showcase has to have some focus on architecture and design, sustainability, or preservation, whether it is environmental or historical. We also like to work with people from the Miami area. We also look at things that we think will appeal to the people.
For anyone who has a passion for art, what advice would you give them to channel this passion into a career?
First of all, make sure you are getting to know the community and landing someplace you want to be. It is very important to be energetic, enthusiastic and connect with the community, and get to know people who are leaders in those particular fields. It is important to get that grounding, to educate yourself and to take the time to get out there and meet people.
Do you feel that exposure to the arts is an important part of the community, along with society as a whole? If so, why?
Absolutely. The arts provide a wonderful outlet from the daily stress and how we are all connected all the time. I think if you can disconnect, put your device down, and go to a gallery, see a performance, take a photography class, whatever you want to do, then you can let your brain wonder a little bit. It is so important, especially for kids, because once they’re just playing and being kids, then they can just be free, and I think adults should do the same thing.
Why would you encourage citizens to visit your particular museum?
They will learn about their community, the history of Coral Gables, architecture and design, and how well-planned architecture and design influence the health of a community. We teach people that they can make a difference in their communities. We show people how everyone deserves to live in a helpful place, and I hope that is what people will learn from us.
Claudia Vera is a junior at Miami Palmetto Senior High School. She is the Focus section editor on The Panther Newspaper. Claudia hopes to pursue a career that can channel her passion for both art and journalism.