In June 2008, Phil Terry, founder of the Reading Odyssey and founder and CEO of Collaborative Gain, held an experiment. He wanted to know what would happen if museum and gallery visitors changed the way they looked at art. Instead of breezing past hundreds of artworks in the standard 8 seconds, he wondered what would happen if people looked slowly at just a few.
For his pilot test, Phil decided to look slowly for one hour at Hans Hoffman’s Fantasia hanging as part of The Jewish Museum‘s 2008 Action/Abstraction exhibition. It was a surprisingly powerful experience that Phil thought others should have – that it would help them learn how to look at and love art (and also get over the feeling of intimidation that many experience).
A year later, in the summer of 2009, Phil continued the experiment: he asked four people to join him at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and look at another small set of works, slowly.
That second experiment was such a success – and feedback was so positive – that a few months later, in October 2009, Phil organized a third test with friends around the world who organized clandestine slow viewing in 16 museums and galleries in the US, Canada and Europe.
That third test worked. People loved the experience of looking slowly and the host’s job as facilitator couldn’t have been easier: all they had to do was pick a few pieces of art and get out of the way.
After that third test, Phil launched Slow Art Day with a volunteer team who in the early years worked hard to establish the event and overcome museum resistance. Volunteers built a database of museums around the world coordinating remotely with each other and using then-new collaboration tools like Google Docs and Sheets.
Within several years, the event became established and today museum educators, curators and directors have now made it an official part of their annual programming. Further, some museums now do regular weekly or monthly slow viewing sessions.