February 23, 2011

Most museums tell its patrons “hands off” — but two Penn alumni think otherwise.

2003 College graduates George Scheer and Stephanie Sherman are the founders of Elsewhere Collaborative, a living art museum in Greensboro, N.C., that actively encourages its guests to touch everything and anything they please.

Scheer, a communication major in his time at Penn, explained that a “living art museum” defines itself as a constantly transforming institution. “It’s the kind of museum that you don’t come back for exhibitions, but you come to watch people in the midst of the process and transformations,” Scheer said.

When Scheer’s grandmother passed away in 1997, she left behind a 12,000 square-foot thrift store riddled with the treasures she accumulated over fifty years. Scheer, Sherman and 2004 College graduate Josh Boyette purchased and transformed the space into a nonprofit, “living” museum.

A collaborative fiction project while at Penn greatly inspired the museum founders. “We were interested in how groups of writers could create collaborative plots,” Sherman said.

“We realized how we began to embody the characters in our stories and mirror them. We thought maybe we could begin exploring how objects and the organization of objects could unfold into a social narrative,” Scheer added.

The three decided to keep all of Gray’s items in the space and transform them into art. Now, guests and artists from around the world come in daily to alter and transform the recovered thrift store items into masterpieces.

The museum has expanded to include a residency program, internships and apprenticeships. To Sherman’s delight, the prestigious Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts awarded Elsewhere a $60,000 support grant.

At noon on Tuesday, Sherman spoke to students at the Kelly Writers House about her innovative project.

“People were really interested in the concept of the set and the collection,” Sherman said, adding that “it was really fun.”

College senior Rivka Fogel, who works at the Writers House and helped run the event, noted that the turnout was impressive. She said that she was greatly inspired by Sherman’s presentation, as she explains, “A lot of the theory is really interesting to me as a contemporary poet.”

“It’s a really interesting convergence of art,” she added.

College freshman Ari Cohen, a Writers House Hub member and advisee of Writers House director Al Filreis, was excited at the opportunity to hear Sherman speak. The Elsewhere museum “goes along with the philosophy of the Writers House — creation should be something that’s observed and that people learn from, and it can be a community effort.”