Brand building through storytelling

Coming up: the great American art road trip

When it became clear that my husband’s bum knee had irreversibly ended our hiking vacations, we began to cast about for alternatives. At first I wasn’t sure we’d ever find one. I missed our sweaty rambles through the vineyards of southern France, along the cliffs of Cornwall and up the impossibly rugged Umbrian hill that St. Francis used to climb. “Just think–he did this in sandals!” I exclaimed, halfway to the top and already winded in my moisture-wicking shirt and Gore-Tex boots. I missed that moment, too. Loss burnished everything about those trips–even sheep droppings, flooded trails and the jaunty Irish tour guide who assured our bedraggled, footsore group that the pub was just around the next bend when in fact we were going to have to hoof it for at least another hour.

Two developments shifted my focus from what had been to what still might be: the meditation practice I began last fall (more on that another time) and the effort my husband invested in planning a thoroughly different kind of trip that promises to be equally rich in discovery. Next month we’re going on a road trip to California. Yes, in the depths of winter. The trip has a theme: art museums. Wherever we go, we’ve always kept an eye out for museums and we’ve explored our share of the finest in the world, but not until now have we built an adventure around art.

This one begins at the Detroit Institute of Arts, a favourite of ours for the spectacular and monumentally ambitious mural cycle by Diego Rivera (too often known these days as Mr. Frida Kahlo). Toronto friends roll their eyes in horror when we urge them to visit this gem of a museum less than five hours away by car. You’d think we had suggested they dumpster-dive for their next meal. Honestly, folks, I don’t understand why you line up for blockbuster shows so crowded, you can barely see the paintings, when down the road in Detroit, you can contemplate Rivera’s masterwork in peace with a free iPad tour that illuminates every detail.

Okay, back to our route. It then winds through Ohio for museums in Dayton and Cincinnati, south to Memphis for Graceland (a museum of American talent and tragedy on a grand scale) and onward to Bentonville, Arkansas for the eye-popping new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which left us hungry for more when we stopped there last winter. Why Bentonville, known until now as the corporate seat of Walmart? Well, nothing like big money to create a big artistic statement–and Walmart heiress Alice Walton has plenty of that, plus taste and vision. I’ve never before seen such meticulous attention paid to women artists who deserve to be better known. Oh, one more thing. Admission is free, along with a first-rate audioguide that far outstrips the ones you pay for almost everywhere else. Thank you, Alice.

We have at least a shot at 57 museums in five weeks, depending on the weather and unforeseen side trips to chicken shacks and barbecue joints deemed worthy of a detour. I could tell you more–much more–but it’s time to start chopping rosemary and onions. To be continued…

Posted by Rona

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