Holiday season means a lot of things — travel, guests and gifts, mostly. Discussing local activities for their few days in town, visiting relatives asked about the new riverside building of glass and concrete near the cruise terminal.
“That’s the GulfQuest Maritime Museum. It was open for about a year but closed not long ago, Y’all just missed it,” we said.
I told what I encountered there in researching a review this past March. One guest’s face lit up at my description of GulfQuest’s animated 6-foot globe, before it added to his disappointment.
Inevitably, we broached its demise, the mismanaged projections and widespread blame. It arose again Thanksgiving Day, when they told a table of Mobilians their regret for GulfQuest’s unavailability.
“It was too expensive at $30,” a local’s voice rang.
“It was only $18,” I answered. Urban legends can be frustrating and damaging.
“That’s still too expensive,” they replied.
I thought about the aforementioned meal when we first told our guests of the museum. The entrees we enjoyed that night were about $5 more than GulfQuest’s entrance fee.
The following evening the four of us went to see a first-run feature film. Tickets and concessions added up to around $70, even with military discounts.
On Saturday, we all watched as 100,000-plus fans paid three figures to fill a football stadium for a rivalry game. Come January, 40,000 of us will pay an average of $20 to watch another Senior Bowl with little at stake.
I don’t want to rehash ground well covered in Lagniappe in past months, but I can’t help but see recurring themes in GulfQuest’s shortfall. It’s a familiar refrain because it remains pertinent.
Our cultural institutions cannot last without vibrant and enthusiastic support from locals. It’s why we’ve seen quasi-religious exhibits in our science museum and Mardi Gras in our art museum, because it stirs up the home folks.
Does that mean the Crescent City’s World War II Museum is packed with New Orleanians every day? No, but it sits in a far larger metropolitan area, one of the South’s great cultural centers and tourist destinations. New Orleans had 9.78 million visitors in 2015, about 16 times the Mobile metropolitan population.
So it is up to Mobilians to keep our cultural endeavors thriving, except maybe when occasional blockbuster exhibits visit. We have to spark the enthusiasm. We have to be our own cavalry.
There’s a number of ways to add to the cultural cause, especially this time of year. Get creative with gifts beyond making your own cards or wrapping paper. Personally tailor them to support local intellectual enterprise.
Yeah, you could buy art for someone but that’s a pricey gamble unless you undoubtedly, positively, absolutely know of a particular painting or sculpture they desire. That’s rarely inexpensive.
There is an Artwalk in downtown Mobile on Friday, Dec. 9. The event is loaded with small businesses and vendors who would appreciate your investment in their passion far more than a big-box store or faceless online retailer, and would be willing to help find something within your price range.
Books are a fantastic gift that can be catered to everyone’s particular area of interest. Downtown’s Bienville Books and Fairhope’s Page & Palette are ideal starting points. Browse through the selection of local authors and you can find autographed copies.
What about gifting a membership in one of our local performance organizations? Try Mobile Symphony Orchestra, Mobile Opera, Mobile Ballet, Mobile Chamber Music, the Mystic Order of the Jazz Obsessed (MOJO), Joe Jefferson Playhouse, Mobile Theatre Guild, Theatre 98 or others and the money helps support year-long performances.
The same could be said for memberships at the Mobile Carnival Museum, Eastern Shore Art Center (ESAC), Mobile Arts Council, Mobile Museum of Art (MMoA), the History Museum of Mobile, the Gulf Coast Exploreum, Alabama Contemporary Art Center and others. Their websites have information.
If you want to be bolder, enroll someone you know in classes or workshops at MMoA, ESAC, Cathedral Square Gallery, Innova Arts or Sumi-E Society. Plenty of other organizations teach creative skills, too.
What about donations in someone’s name to groups that have proven instrumental in their lives, maybe the Azalea City Center for the Performing Arts or Playhouse in the Park? The best gifts are those that give to the greatest number of people.
We’ve heard about Mobile’s soon-to-be-turned tourism corner for about three decades now. If that magical day ever dawns, those long-awaited guests need to find the most robust cultural scene possible. And that’s on us.