The nine-year-old not-for-profit’s unconventional rules help achieve the goal to “broaden awareness of both the differences and common ground between cultures,” as described in its vision and mission statement.
“It’s an easy way to get kids involved,” said Mose Olenik, museum administrator. “They get very excited about being able to touch things and try on things.”
“They can actually play musical instruments from around the world and learn that this instrument is similar to a flute [they] have, but this one is from Africa or Guatemala,” she added. “So even though their culture may be different in a lot of ways, it also may be similar in a lot of ways.”
The museum encourages participation right from the start of the exhibit, where, in the same room as the gift shop, visitors can represent their ancestry by placing butterfly stickers on a colorful wall map or weave strands of fabric on a loom, putting their touch on a tapestry that, when complete, will be sent to a local nursing home.
The main part of the exhibition, however, awaits upstairs, where glass cases practically overflow with cultural artifacts. Among the everyday objects, visitors will find a Ukrainian bread served on Easter Sunday, a Bedouin woman’s embellished face veil and a Mexican corn husk doll with a vibrant red skirt.
The room also contains two interactive spaces geared toward children: a dress-up area and a corner with marionettes. On the third floor they can also explore a host of musical instruments from around the world or use the open space to work on a puzzle.
Most of the items on display were donated by founders David Blair and Linda Marsella, two Harvard-educated teachers who taught and traveled internationally, accumulating artifacts along the way.
“Linda loved to buy things and she would always say, ‘How can a child learn something from this?’” Olenik said.
“We have many items that are just fun and they’re items that people live with,” she added. “We aren’t a fine arts gallery; we’re a gallery of folk art — how people live, how people celebrate, how they dress, how they take care of their dead.”
The museum is housed in the former Baptist Church, built in the 19th century. Over time, it underwent many transformations, housing shops, an art gallery, a ballet school, a newsroom and a marionette theater. In 1999 a fire destroyed the interior, and two years later Blair and Marsella bought the building and founded the not-for-profit. In the space’s evolution they found inspiration for the museum’s name, the Spanish word for butterfly.
“They first saw the museum as this burnt-out space and then saw that they could make it into something beautiful, something that they really had a vision and a dream about,” Olenik said. “She [Marsella] saw the butterfly as a symbol of transition and rebirth.”
Marsella died in 2007, but her legacy lives on at the Mariposa Museum, which is celebrating its ninth anniversary with a weekend of special events. On Friday, July 1, the museum will open two new exhibits, “Adornments” and “The Art of Balinese Woodcarving, Wayan Siada and Family.” At a concert on the same evening, Frank Wallace of Duo LiveOak will perform “Epitafio a un pajaro,” a song based on a poem by Federico García Lorca that he composed in Marsella’s memory.
In the new exhibits and other activities, the museum has stayed true to Marsella’s mission to help — not force — people to understand other cultures, said Olenik.
“There’s not a lot of diversity in this area, and so for us to bring in programs, a culture might seem very foreign. But to be able to teach people about it so they’ll have a different respect going out than they did coming in, or a different understanding, that’s what really gets us excited and that’s what Linda wanted this museum to do.”