The Johnson Museum of Art will celebrate its 50th anniversary with an open house event on Saturday, Sept. 23, where attendees can enjoy live performances, make art and try Cornell Dairy’s limited-edition ice cream flavor “Cosmos Swirl,” named after the museum’s celestial light installation.
Annmarie Ventura, the museum’s assistant director of student engagement and public programs, said although it is fairly young by museum standards, the Johnson Museum is an important cultural bedrock for the local community.
“Fifty years is not that long in the grand scheme of museums being around,” Ventura said. “But what [the museum] did for the community, both on the Cornell campus and in Tompkins County, is offer people a place to have a really world class informal education.”
The Johnson Museum engages Ithaca through various programs and opens its doors to everyone with free admission.
“It’s the only art museum [in the area] until you get to Syracuse,” Ventura said. “We have an amazingly robust K-12 outreach program… We engage with classes on campus and [create] access to this really important collection of work. This experience really does touch the lives of a lot of people in and around our area.”
In accordance with the museum’s mission, the Johnson Museum aims to connect people with art. This Saturday, members of the greater Ithaca community are invited to witness performances from Cornell Lion Dance, Fall Creek Brass Band and a reading from Tompkins County Poet Laureate Janie Bibbie.
“[It’ll be a] big open house block party,” Ventura said. “I know we’re sharing a day with Insectapalooza so we’ll see what our foot traffic ends up being.”
While supplies last, visitors will be able to taste perhaps the real “star” of the show “Cosmos Swirl,” Cornell Dairy’s specialty flavor made in anticipation of the open house celebration.
Janette Robbins, financial sales marketing coordinator of Cornell Dairy, worked with Ventura to bring the flavor to life.
“The ice-cream is a chocolate based ice cream with a marshmallow swirl — kind of that dark sky with a galaxy swirl,” Robbins said. “It’ll have many white chocolate chips in it [resembling] the stars.”
This past July, Ventura sent a survey to her fellow staff members asking that they brainstorm ice-cream flavor ideas that were “art/museum related.” The results were filled with imaginative wordplay.
Registrar Matt Conway proposed “Walking Man-go” — a mango flavor based on Alberto Giacometti’s “Walking Man.” Amanda Schaufler, the security and visitor services administrative assistant, proposed “(Strawberry) Fields in the Month of June” based on Charles-François Daubigny’s “Fields in the Month of June.”
“It really was a collaborative team effort,” Ventura said.
“Cosmos Swirl” was inspired by artist Leo Villareal’s “Cosmos,” a site-specific light installation at the Johnson Museum that pays tribute to Prof. Carl Sagan, astronomy, one of Cornell’s most prominent faculty members, and his PBS series “Cosmos.” The artwork can be seen twinkling aglow from both campus and the city of Ithaca.
“The light installation has become part of the building,” Ventura said. “How it’s known, how it’s identified — I liked the idea of acknowledging that it’s significant to the history of the Johnson [Museum].”
In an interview with Medium, Villareal said his experience at Burning Man — a week-long festival in the Nevada desert — prompted him to navigate profound disorientation by creating a beacon for himself with 16 programmed strobe lights, an experience that inspired many of his light installations.
“I was thinking about this idea of the Johnson [Museum] being a beacon,” Ventura said. “And you can see [Cosmos] from downtown. I like that parallel with Villareal’s story.”
In coming days, Cosmos Swirl will be available first come, first serve at the Dairy Bar.
“We are making 12 three gallon tubs for the event at the Johnson Museum and then there will be about 40 three-gallon tubs that will be available at the Dairy Bar only,” Robbins said. “People can come visit the Dairy Bar starting Sept. 23 and taste Cosmos Swirl there until it’s gone. You would think 40 three-gallon tubs would last a long time, but they go really fast.”
Robbins said she was excited for people to try the Johnson Museum’s specialty flavor.
“It’s always fun to roll out those new flavors,” she said. “Everyone gets excited. It’s ice cream.”