As one does, I searched for some coffee shops near the museum prior to heading out and the choices were as narrow as the hours of operation. I had to run through some logistics: how much museum time needed vs travel time vs time at the coffee shop vs what time would I wake up that day? So many unknowns. Typically I would hit up the museum early and then thoughtfully reflect on my experience and review my photos over coffee and (hopefully) an amazing pastry of some sort. Who doesn’t need a snack and caffeine jolt after walking for a few hours and taking in all that inspiration and visual stimuli?! It’s physically and mentally taxing! You have to be strategic about these things. That’s not to say I don’t have some kind of caffeine at home before heading out - even an athlete needs to stay hydrated before, during, and after their sport. If only we could walk around a museum with a coffee beverage of our choice… maybe one day. Because I headed out mid-morning and many coffee shops are closing earlier these days, the coffee came first.
The CAFE: Pressed Coffee Bar & Eatery
I chose Pressed Coffee Bar based on hours of operation - they were open! - and proximity to the museum and this place did not disappoint. Conveniently located between…nothing; you can’t miss it. They even have some *free* parking spots available so you don’t have to figure it out. (Cue the singing angels!!) This house-turned-modern-coffee-shop has all the charm and character you’d want to be surrounded by while sipping a latte and devouring a pastry - much more charm and character than their generic website would imply. From the substantial oak bar (was it oak, idk) to the variety of flavored syrups displayed behind it, there was a bit of a saloon aesthetic - this, along with the grand staircase coupled with steampunk industrial light fixtures and checkerboard flooring, it was a great combination of classic with modern. Also plenty of seating options with breathing room.
I ascended the grand staircase with my coffee and snack to check out the second floor. I chose an empty room marked reserved because, obviously, it was not. I like the ambient soundtrack of a coffee shop but this place was almost pin-drop quiet. A couple people came and went and there was a gentle murmur of a few people downstairs but not the bustling coffee shop noise you’d anticipate- which is not a negative by any means, just an observation.
A couple things could have contributed; it was a cold day, I don't believe school was in session, and they don’t seem to be located in a particularly high traffic area. Any other day could be totally different! There were signs of life though in the notes left on a display board from whomever had reserved the room prior to my arrival in the room. I was enjoying the quiet snowy scene outside and the solitude of having an entire 2nd floor coffee shop to myself but I was starting to get a little anxious about having enough time at the museum. I stayed about the length of time it takes (me) to drink a latte and made my way to the Butler Institute.
The MUSEUM: The Butler Institute of American Art
I have been told that Youngstown is only on the map for a few things: the school, the museum, and its connection to some sort of organized crime / mob something or other…? I know there’s a school. I can confirm there is a museum. I don't know anything about that last one.
After I parked in the parking lot for free (YAY!) I entered through the majestic grand doors and stopped short when the volunteer docent bolted upright from her folding chair. She greeted me and then, glancing past me, asked if I came by myself. I said yes.
She frowned and asked again, you didn’t come with anyone? I said yep, by myself. Appearing anxious, she questioned again, you aren’t with them? Knowing full well I arrived by myself I was still compelled to follow her outstretched arm to where she pointed so assuredly past me to confirm I did not know whoever had just come in after me. I affirmed, no. Convinced by the quizzical look on the couples' face behind me as they looked to me, to the docent and then to each other, she shrugged me off and proceeded to greet the couple and give them the museum overview. Dang. Only parties of two or more get an introduction to the museum. Potential solo travelers - take note!
I gave a nod to the security guard and headed right, into what I think was a recent acquisitions gallery. This gallery was eclectic, a definite juxtaposition after passing through the stately entrance but the lack of apparent theme or time period did align with the awkward confrontation with the on-duty docent.
This museum has a pretty impressive and diverse collection and the layout made me feel like I was wandering through a hotel. There were a few standout pieces that I really enjoyed but I would say the hidden gem of the Butler Institute and what makes it stand apart from other museums is the Technology gallery. Located somewhat apart from the museum and ends in a basement, the reason for the location will become obvious when you partake in the multi-sensory experience. I would call it a kinetic gallery because a technology gallery sounds kinda dull and these works of art are anything but - they move, glow, radiate, shine and emit all kinds of sound - technology sure, but these days it just makes me think of cell phone apps and VR - kinetic gallery is a more appropriate state of mind!! I almost missed it because it's entrance is a small narrow hallway, so it feels like a detour, but I knew I was on my way to something cool when the space opened up to a brightly lit atrium and a Nam Jun Paik is there to greet you along with faint sounds of ticks, taps and whistles beckoning the visitors curiosity. I spent more time in this catacomb than the rest of the museum.
I found myself wishing I had known about it sooner, and l wished I hadn't wasted more of my time on the hotel lobby collection! I watched, listened and interacted with the pieces (when permissible), they were so engaging and different - it’s a shame the Butler down plays this area - there is so much potential for some really cool things here. I couldn’t meander for long though because I had to make sure I reviewed the gift shop before it closed. As it was, a museum guard was turning off the artwork just a few paces behind me anyway. They weren’t exactly closing yet, he was just being proactive in making sure he left on time. It felt like I was being stalked ever so lightly; he was very patient even if I double-backed to take another look at a piece.
If I have time, and if the museum isn’t that large, I will usually re-trace my steps through he museum, kind of like a quick visual summary, to take another look at any work that made an impression on me or that i want to view again, this usually happens on the way to the gift shop but in this case i was parked on the other side of the museum so the gift shop came first. Since museums like to have you exit through the gift shop I like to think of this as the credits of the museum, this is their final impression - what they want to leave you with in addition to an overpriced pencil or mug. I’m happy to indulge in these overpriced souvenirs (I love a good museum library!) and I have seen some amazing gift shops that have things as beautiful and interesting as what's on exhibit. I think they are often a reflection of the museum in some ways - kind of like how a person's car can be a reflection of how they keep their home. My impression - this gift shop was a cluttered mess. I walked around quickly and left not wanting to get swallowed up by this mess of cheap tchotchkes. There might have been some nice things in there but they were obscured.
I was lucky to have escaped the gift shop mildly unscathed but I was engulfed by an entire wedding party that spread like wildfire over the gallery between me and the exit. Clearly it must have been the photographer's idea to photograph there because no one in the wedding party seemed to understand that you don’t actually touch artwork in a museum and many seemed incredibly out of their comfort zone…including the “bride & groom". I lowered my head and barreled through the crowd and emerged once again in the recent acquisition gallery where I presumably started, only this time there were two very chatty docents in the room. One of them asked me if I knew who John Mellencamp was, the creator of the piece I happened to be in front of. I smiled and said yes- her face soured convinced i was lying to her, so I added, he’s a singer. She responded with a look as if I just ruined the punchline to her best joke. I had very clearly reached time of death on this visit.