WCMA-Ology makes summer learning fun

"Ologies" Summer Break Program Series kicks off tonight with Demonology (Demons) and Ornithology (Birds).

WILLIAMSTOWN — WCMA has gone to the birds — for tonight at least — when the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown kicks off its Summer Break Program Series, "Ologies," with a live Lanner falcon and Harris's hawk from New England Falconry, plus bird-named and musically inclined local band House Sparrow.

From 6 to 8 p.m., by the umbrellaed tables and sculptural seats of the outdoor patio, the "Ornithology" theme will deliver synthesized bird songs, bird-inspired poetry, feathered earring demo and even some grilled chicken Yakitori treats.

Earlier in the galleries at 5 p.m., wings of a different kind will unfold as Professor of Religion Jason Josephson Storm tackles "Demonology," how art portrays fallen angels and supernatural creatures.

Every Thursday, all summer long, "Ologies" will present two themes, with a mini-course in the galleries at 5 p.m., followed by a Patio Program at 6 p.m.

Local and visiting experts — professors, artists, musicians, bartenders — offer teaching moments as they dip into fields of knowledge from animal behavior and healing plants to liturgical praise and cocktails. Some patio sessions are performative, others installation based.

Five years ago, WCMA "dipped our toes into the idea" of simple gallery talks and socializing, said Kim Hugo, WCMA communications manager.

The expanded program now offers imaginative, engaging interpretations of WCMA's art, attracting 100 to 200 people weekly for edification, artistic insight and social discourse.

For the past three years, Nina Pelaez, assistant curator of public programs and interpretation, has brought the museum's eclectic collections to life, offering a "new and different lens" through which to look each week. She oversees some 70 talks, workshops and performances annually.

Two years ago, artist Lexa Walsh staged an elaborate participatory banquet as actors performed scenes from plays involving meals.

"Working with Lexa brought a lot of energy and possibility to what the series could be," said Pelaez. "From there, it could only keep growing."

The programs showcase what's special and unique about WCMA's work in a way that's accessible and builds community, Pelaez said. "I'm interested in creating programs that are fun, dynamic, quirky, surprising and playful."

On any given Thursday, the patio bustles with Williamstown and North Adams locals, plus regulars from the Hudson Valley, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and as far as New Hampshire and Vermont, many of them artists and people active in the creative community. It's one of the museum's most inter-generational programs.

"We have infant children, college-age students, interns, teenagers, up to retired folks and members of the college," Pelaez said. "It's just amazing to bring all these people together in one place."

"People new to the area have told me they found community in these programs," she added. One summering couple even decided to change their lodging location so they could attend.

While some themes — cosmology, ornithology, herbology, mixology — are easily recognizable, others like iamatology, agathology, typtology, kalology require further definition.

Pelaez found digging into all these "ologies" fascinating. "There are so many out there that are totally unheard of or unknown," she said. "The Wikipedia list is hundreds of words long."

Pelaez recruited collaborators to interpret themes, sometimes finding an "ology" to fit a presentation.

In "Doxology," local pastor and musician Mark Longhurst and Brad Wells, Grammy-winning Roomful of Teeth vocal ensemble director, will create an experiential musical response while moving among exhibits.

For "Iamatology," Natalie Falero, a Puerto Rican artist-in-residence at Mass MoCA, will create an immersive social sculpture and explore the intersection of mental health and sanctuary in the wake of her island's crisis.

Photographer artist Ben Ripley interprets "Typtology" with candle-lit glass images reflecting memory, mourning and social media. For "Kinesiology," two improvising musicians respond to the way people move on the patio. In "Bibliology," Brooklyn artist Andrew Beccone displays visual treasures found in discarded and outdated books.

While patrons can sample cocktails in "Mixology," and pair wines with artwork in "Enology," each week there will be complimentary beer, wine, popcorn and food bites, plus a different fruity cocktail (with and without wine) designed by Pelaez that she's sure will become a summer staple.

"All of the things we are doing on the patio are taking place amid that community-centered conversation and collaboration," Pelaez said. "People are coming together around really artful and creative experiences."

"It's a great opportunity for WCMA to share its uniqueness as an academic institution in a really fun way for the community to participate and learn with us," Hugo said. With a mission of making dynamic art experiences to incite new thinking about art, museums and the world, "this fits perfectly on all fronts."