Paige Dansinger is Founding Director at Better World Museums, Horizon Art Museum, being part of the Launch Pad Program at Oculus.
If you ask her how it all started she would say that she was “just a girl” who went to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
But, she is not just ‘just a girl’. She is a brave woman that took risks, confronted failures; against all life challenges with its ups and downs, she is a strong positive voice, full of contagious energy, optimism, that inspires… to build unstoppably a Better World.
About 10 year after she got her Bachelor of Fine Arts, as a single mom, she started her Masters of Art and Art History. She worked her way up from being a security guard at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, worked in registration as a volunteer and an intern, also she was a student intern curator in the Judaica Department.
But, let’s hear the entire story directly from Paige .
TVA: You have a very fascinating story. You gave up some jobs to be an artist, obviously that was the right decision considering what you do now… But, can you tell a little bit more on how all this happened, how did you make these changes in your life?
Paige Daisinger: Yeah, well, I really just took a risk. Some people would say it’s really foolish of me …. So, it is said, that one has regrets in life because of the things one hasn’t tried, haven’t gone for, not the things that we tried and failed, right?
In different parts of my life I made decisions to just really take a risk – when I did that, the process of failing forward felt good. It was rewarding, even though it was hard and hurt and I was always facing the unknown or financial insecurities too.
Thanks to at different times in my life, whether it was my parents, or a good friend hooking me up with a good job opportunity or somebody recognising that my voice could lead. I didn’t do it all by myself. There were always people around me in the community.
Someone always believed in me enough, even when other people doubted me.
We have to stick to what our hearts tell us. My heart always told me to wake up the next day, keep creating more, keep connecting more, keep on with this vision.
It started out with the story of Me but then it grew into a story of We, my journey as an artist has had highs and lows. But all along as I’ve shared it, people who are like-minded have joined the journey in different beautiful ways. Whether it was as volunteers or exhibition artists or new creators in VR, or people who just come to events, becoming part of the movement.
Everyone of these people are integral to the success, the momentum going forward,
to make our mission of creating a Better World using Creative Technology into a reality.
I always have this core question in my art practice, about ‘so what?’ – why do we do this or why is there meaning?
That’s important to me, that’s always been a core tenant as well as my Jewish identity. The sense of faith and belief that tomorrow they’ll be Manna.
If you just keep on working forward, go forward on your journey, whether it’s an exodus exile, in passionate drive, whatever that journey is, that tomorrow there’ll be Manna and it’s always true.
Here we are. today. Yesterday was today, today is that tomorrow, and we’re sharing our Manna.
Paige Daisinger firstly met with VR, while she was visiting MET Digital Media Lab and she felt it like a natural tool for expression. Even without having a VR headset, together with her creative partner and artist, Hattie Ball created a VR experience for flowers and bees, watching it through Google Cardboard; that spun into Better World Museum first community collaboration. But, how did the Better World Museum start?
: Better World Museum was a brick and mortar space before it was ever a Virtual Reality.
It was a physical Museum, downtown Minneapolis.
We made this Outreach Programme to domestic violence shelters, worked with 65 survivors. Like me, who drew a purple flower, and each person we never shared our stories with.
We just drew this purple flower, each person over weeks and weeks that I would visit. It became so darn powerful ,so connecting.
There was an incredible support feeling when that person would hand back that iPad.
They just did something they had never tried before: they drew on an iPad. It was so new 2012 , people drew this purple flower and it was like super-connecting. We had this empathy bond that was really strong.
I knew that the experience of sharing digital drawing with each other for something that was meaningful, personal, there was an opportunity for more. So that purple flower for survivors was our first Community Partner virtual reality. But now it’s been recreated in Facebook Horizon by community members there.
When a community member was in crisis, I knew right away what to do. I started a new world around her, while she was sharing her story in her situation. I built a purple flower, I handed it to her and she felt safer.
I duplicated a bunch of flowers, so she was surrounded by purple flowers. Then we invited anyone in Horizon-beta at that time to make a purple flower if they wanted to support. The outpouring was phenomenal-men, women, both eagerly and with vulnerability and trusting, shared either a door to a new world they created about their personal experience or created a flower.
TVA: So this is the story of how the Better World Museums started, and then it’s slowly developed and it’s touching on so many other topics…
Oh yes, right… because every person has something that they’re healing from and are vulnerable. You know, there’s deaths and losses and somebody’s parents may have cancer, God forbid, a million stresses, inequalities in the world.
In 2016, somebody donated an Oculus Rift to the museum. This is where it really starts. This is where VR explodes for a better world museum.
The first thing I did was that I downloaded Tilt Brush and I drew a flower. Just a simple flower, a couple, a couple of flowers. I I posted a link on Twitter, Facebook in a couple of Facebook women’s groups, inviting anyone in the world to remix this flower if they had access to an Oculus.
Let me tell you about the atmosphere in America at that time, in 2016. We had just had our 45th presidential election, it didn’t go the way I or many women or people in my community felt like it should have gone. So the internet was rife with hostility, polarization and the opportunity for abuse.
But I trust the people in this world. The first person drew was from Ireland, she re-mixed the VR Garden, then another person from New York, someone in Arizona, southern California and so on. Until people all around the world started adding to this VR garden. It was really exciting!
It was shared at the TEDx Minneapolis as an art work installation, It was exciting to see what everyone online and everyone who walked in the museum added to this garden. Around that time I was reaching out to indigenous youth groups here in the city and the museum was located in a retail mall in the very centre of downtown Minneapolis. Inside of this indoor mall was the headquarters for large corporations. But right outside was for homeless shelters and the library. We have very cold winters in Minnesota and unsheltered people need a place to go inside. So the museum would act as a bridge.
That’s why we had an indoor edible garden in our museum. People could come in and have a place to be, but they also could learn how to draw in the VR garden. So, people were able to share; one a Holocaust survivor drew lines around a hummingbird, an indigenous woman through a bee, children drew water. So each person who added to it, contributed to creating equitable spaces and we were seeing each other within these more equitable spaces, there was a lot of value shared with that experience.
TVA: This is really an amazing story that you shared, and very impressive how all this developed. Also, the way in which you find a way to make people share those stories that are hard to share. It is crucial work. But, I also wanted to ask you a little bit about your work at Horizon Art museum, where you are actively involved.
At Horizon Art Museum, our core collection are women artists, then we do World Heritage Sites, such as Palmyra and popular artists installations. We engage our community members because we believe that world building is community building, so we have members in our community help us build our worlds as well.
That’s a way of teaching art history and engagement. Definitely for that we believe that everything from NPCs (editor’s note: non-playing characters) such as ZENOBIA that is named after the third century Queen Zenobia of Palmyra can help share the story as well.
Costuming is important, we have wearable. In the future it can be that people will be able to purchase these wearables in different ways, bring them into different games or platforms. As such to have a sense of belonging and identity, connected with storytelling, heritage and cultural identity. I think that all of the celebration is part of the future.
We focus on our community voices programme. We teach community members how to make interactive buttons to amplify and share their voices – that’s a really important part of a diverse community. We’ve taken gardens to a new level. We’ve been really focusing this summer on garden clubs ,virtual reality and getting people building, creating, growing together in new ways.
As part of the Horizon Accelerator Programme, I was selected to create a game and my creative partner for this project John Burns who’s also created the Giza Pyramid and Van Gogh’s bedroom for Horizon Art Museum.
We created Horizon Future Farms which are about growing, digging and planting vegetable harvesting vegetables to feed the community.
Our newest project which I am super-excited about is Melitta’s Garden is about growing female financial sustainable skills. 140,000 museum professionals have lost their employment over the last couple years because of COVID; Both museums and women have struggles; one of the struggles that women have are financial, economic equality that encompasses the entire world for women.
So I wanted to create a game about growing financial skills for women (but, anybody can play it).
Melitta, she actually works at Horizon Art Museum in the gift shop, she’s got a great boss, that’s me :D. Her dream is to buy a bicycle and be able to have her own independence, be able to ride that bike anytime she wants in the mountains.
When you pop into the world you are Melitta, you have an adorable pet named Pebblin who loves donuts. You only have a certain amount of money, you have a phone that tells you what your bank is, you get texts from your boss to come into work.
Ultimately, you have to decide if you’re going to quit your job at the museum, work in your garden and sell those garden vegetables at the market. You have to save, spend and share until you have enough money by the end of the six day a week to buy that bicycle.
That means that you have to decide if you’re going to buy fancy seeds at the store or pick apples someday because they’re free. Or if you’re going to buy those donuts in the morning because Pebblin is so cute, but gets a little cranky if she doesn’t get her donut. So you have to budget your money; there’s times that you need to share money with your community members or donate to a friend’s cause on your phone.
So there’s ways that you have to learn to create this ‘share, save, spend” mentality and sustain your life.
TVA: Sounds super interesting, let us know when it is finished, I want to try it out.
The game is for my Oculus Launchpad programme. I’m creating it in two formats. I’m grey boxing it all completely, making it a functioning game experience in Horizon, but also using Unity and eventually it will be uploaded in App Lab, downloadable for your Oculus.
And… as you already are used to, we come with our Non-Regular Crazy Shot Questions.
TVAYour Favourite book?
Oh, right now I’m reading Re-Inhabiting The Village– It was gifted to me by a virtual reality friend and community member.
What is your favourite woman artist?
Artemisia Gentileschi. I created world Artemisia in Horizon, it has wearables and museum LARPing, you’re able to reenact the works of art of the 17th century Baroque artists, rise and triumph over oppressive people and regimes throughout play in acting her allegorical, biblical and dramatic paintings.
My other favourite: Atsuko Tanaka, Japanese Gutai Artist. Her work, Electric Dresses, is my favourite work. I just really love her bravery. She wore this incandescent lightbulb dress and risked death to walk out in the statement piece.
I feel like I identify with both of these artists as risk takers and people who believed in their artwork.
TVA: Let’s imagine that you are able to time travel back and to meet artists who were brave enough to assume challenges… I think that in the end, what artists wanted was a better world… So let’s assume that you have this capacity to go back, what would you tell them about today’s society with how the situation of women in art has changed or did not change?
I think I would tell them that they would love Instagram, Creative Technology, virtual reality and making AR filters. Because it will just amplify the amazingness, the layers of their artwork. I don’t think any 17th century artists would not like innovation. I believe that women drive innovation, that I would tell them to celebrate their quest for more innovation and trust themselves, don’t let anyone say that they didn’t make those tools.
TVA: If one of these women will ask you what is the situation now in your century with women, art and technology? Because, tech environment was not friendly toward women, and also fine art was not very friendly. If we remember Guerilla Girls poster, well… maybe we are still there, maybe we have more women in museum, but from a sales point of view…not that ok…
I think that the journey continues on – still only like 3% of women creative technologists are black and brown people. So there’s a lot of work that still has to happen to create equality. I would say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry, it hasn’t gone further. I would say that I’m disappointed that there’s still a pay gap, that companies today, possibly some of the largest ones around us, still don’t have enough equity. The work is still ongoing and that we’re going to continue.
TVA: One last question because I saw that you remade some works in VR, such as Van Gogh. So, Is there an artist that you would never want to remake in VR?
: Yeah, Carl Andre – I hate that guy! His wife, artist Ana Mendieta – allegedly fell from her 34th-floor apartment. I’d hate to see his art recreated in VR, I don’t think he deserves to be in major exhibitions and I would block it. I would totally delete it if I could in VR or in the real world. I’d say that art needs to go back into main storage or be deaccessioned – there’s no room for abusers.
Short mentions. In 1988, Carl Andre was tried for the murder of Ana Mendieta and acquitted. The judge found Carl Andre not guilty on grounds of reasonable doubt, but the case remains controversial. Read more on nytimes also we recommend the collection of article about this case publish in The village Voice Feminists in the art world were critical about the acquittal and protested when a retrospective of his works were made. More about you can read on HYPEALLERGIC
The case of Carl Andre remains controversial. Unfortunately, this is not the single case of a murder in the fine art world. Internationally acclaimed artist Zwelethu Mthethwa who participated in the Venice Biennale, and had over 50 solo exhibitions, was charged in 2014 for the killing of a 23 years old woman Nokuphila Kumalo.
Recently, in 2020, Berlin curator Rebeccah Blum was killed by her partner, artist Saul Fletcher, who committed suicide afterwards.
You can also read on this topic more on Paige Dansinger website: Investigation: Museums and Domestic Abuse
We want to thank Paige Dansinger for the trust in sharing these important messages with us and our public as a risk taker, as a single-mother, as a person that creates connections and motivates us to make a better world, each day, with each our actions and with the power, talents that each of us have. We encourage you to visit her Museum, and for those who still wait in different corners of the world for access to Horizon, we leave you with the inspiring mISSION from the Better World Museum.