#86: Wendy Littlepage
As director of the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys for ten years and counting, Wendy Littlepage tackles miniature problems with big ideas, making the most of the museum’s microscopic collection while constantly exploring new ways to bring visitors into her small, small world. A museum director with an interest in helping decide how and why cultural institutions are funded, she’s now facing what might be the challenge of her career: securing and moving the DMMDT into a new permanent home. How’s that going? Find out more by reading her 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Wendy Littlepage: I’m a music person. If I need to get something done, if I need to re-center, if I need to get some instant energy, it all comes down to the music I’m listening to. I think I’ve written most of my SCFD grants to a combination of Matson Jones, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake and the Black Angels.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
I’m sentimental, so I would like to have my closest friends from all the places I’ve lived. It seems so hard to find time to catch up when everyone is scattered all over the country with families and kids. Most of them have never even met, and I can’t think of a better night than one spent with the people who I truly love.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
I like the collaboration between institutions and individuals and getting people outside the museum community working on and presenting programming in museums. I think it creates a new perspective into collections and draws in new audiences. Museum programming can really connect people to exhibits. I really like what the Denver Art Museum team is doing. From children’s plays, hands-on stations and Spanish-language programming to artists in residence, and wrestling on final Fridays, they invite multiple perspectives on their traditional institution.
I think there’s an assumption that all museum work is cool and fun. I do mountains of paperwork. Archiving and collections is precise, careful work. The Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys is currently in a historic cottage owned by History Colorado. I have spent days hauling out buckets of water from flooding in our basement and cleaning up miller moths from windowsills and the skylight. I don’t actually get to play with cool old toys all day.
How about globally?
I think it is so important that the museum community is tackling the issues of diversity, equity and accessibility. Nationally, museum visitation is down. One of the few places it has gone up is Colorado. People surveyed say they feel that museums are not for them, that they are not welcome. If people just don’t like museums, that’s fine, but I never want people to feel unwelcome.
I dislike quirky or edgy just for the sake of being quirky or edgy. Getting lost in the quest to be cool can draw resources from established programming. The pressure to do something weird comes from funders and peers. It can be fun to plan, but it can strain small organizations who try to maintain daily programming at the same time. People frequently say they feel like they are visiting their grandmother’s house when they come to the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys. That cozy vibe is part of what makes us a success.
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
The Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys runs on a really small budget, so some exhibit trends are just something we don’t have capacity for. I believe in working on perfecting the basics rather than having interactive pieces that don’t work. I worry about institutions that rely on technology and bells and whistles over featuring collections. There’s a fine line between interactive displays that add to objects and ones that overwhelm.
The Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys is working on finding a new location, and the board is committed to making it a more accessible building. Making museums more accessible to all people is one of my favorite museum trends. Low-sensory days, multilingual signs, sign-language interpretation at events, keeping admission costs down, and diverse exhibits and staff all help make museums places for everyone, and I think that’s exciting.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
I’d really like to find the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys the perfect home. People often dismiss our collection as not really art and not “important” history, but I disagree. The things we play with and the things we give children to play with say a lot about our culture and society.
I’d like to work at a larger institution again. I enjoyed being part of the Wampanoag Homesite at Plimoth Plantation Living History Museum. I also am interested in the funding and advocacy sides of arts and culture. Funding is so competitive; how can funders encourage trends like collaboration, accessibility and diversity? How can we continue to make the arts part of our communities and support artists and organizations?
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as a creative?
Over the past five years, we’ve doubled the number of people served at the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys. It has been exhausting, but really fun. I’m also glad I was part of the Science and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) re-authorization process. Learning more about all of the organizations, examining how this major local funder works and beginning conversations about changes that might improve the outcomes for both organizations and citizens was interesting.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
I have seen all but two Buntport Theater shows. If anyone hasn’t been, they should go. I have never been able to explain what their work is like in general terms; they always seem to be trying something new. Their shows are clever and surprising, and they’re some of the nicest people in town. Their season starts October 27, and their original shows usually run for a few weeks.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
First up is the museum’s annual Fall Show and Sale. We’ll have some amazing miniaturists teaching classes, exhibiting work and selling items in the sales room on September 6 through 10.
The Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys has to find a new home. My list includes finding a new building, packing and moving the collection, continuing to serve as much of the community as possible, building interest in small-scale arts and minis, and some general prayer to any possible funding gods/goddesses.
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Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
There are so many incomparable disciplines! Generally I’m interested to see what composer Jessica Mays will do next. We’re losing her to the New York Philharmonic, but I suppose we shouldn’t begrudge NYC her talents. I think Warm Cookies of the Revolution is working on Rube Goldberg machines. I loved Ian Fisher’s show at Robischon Gallery and am excited to see what he does next. SCFD has committed $750,000 to a diversity fund. I’m interested to see how that will work and what impact it will have on our community.
More specifically, there have been amazing miniatures artisans in Colorado for decades, but most of them are unknown to the general public. People like George Becker (fine wood work), Ed Chol (painting) and Sue Ressigue (knitting) have created some of the most impressive art pieces I’ve seen in Colorado. Miniaturists Bear and Alisa Limvere of Standing People Design are constantly coming up with beautiful new turned-wood pieces. They’ve been making a name for themselves in the miniatures community. I suggest checking out the museum or our upcoming Fall Show and Sale to see some of the best local artisans around.
The DMMDT’s 37th annual Fall Dollhouse Miniatures Show and Sale runs September 6-10, at the Doubletree by Hilton DTC, 7801 East Orchard Road in Greenwood Village. Public show hours are on September 9 and 10, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Learn more about fees, workshops and registration online. Get to know more about the museum’s ongoing workshops and exhibits at the DMMDT website.