Back in March, The Guardian published an explanatory article about “goblin mode,” a lifestyle trend roughly defined as “slob and give up.”
The topic has since surfaced in English-language journalism.
Whether you’re reassured or repelled by other people’s stories of consuming reality TV, eating weird and unbalanced meals, or neglecting personal hygiene, the leprechaun vibe is more than a catchphrase. It’s a symptom of the world we live in, a world that sometimes pushes us to the edge of our mental well-being.
“My ability to slip into goblin mode predates the pandemic,” Natasha Radmehr wrote in the Sunday Times, “and is usually a sign that I’ve pushed myself to the point of exhaustion.” But of course COVID-19 has 19 brought a new level of despair. Cases of depression and anxiety have skyrocketed and people have left the workforce in frightening numbers, citing burnout and family priorities.
This is a hard pill for the arts and culture sector. As of July 2021, cultural nonprofits had already lost an estimated $17.9 billion to social distancing. Revenue is now partially recovering, but COVID disruptions are no longer the only consideration. The pandemic has taught people to stay at home, to say no, to brace themselves against the sensory overload of the outside world.
Content fatigue is real, now more than ever. And our industry is a major content provider.
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As director of the George Read II House & Gardens at Old New Castle, a National Historic Landmark of the Delaware Historical Society, I and our team often ask myself: who cares? Why should this house be a museum and what kind of experience do we expect the visitors to have?
International research suggests that people visit museums not to learn per se, but to enhance their well-being. Whether you’re coming to the Read House for a tour or a drink in the garden, you should feel refreshed, not tired.
We’ll start with something simple: look and feel. According to neuroscientists, sensory experiences that inspire awe can help us overcome our psychological and physical limitations and come to terms with our own mortality. That seems especially salient in these times of goblin gloom.
The 1804 Read House has been described in dozens of books and magazines as one of America’s finest homes. Visitors agree.
Sunlight floods the rooms through huge windows that overlook the Delaware River. Long ago it was Delaware’s largest residence at 14,000 square feet. But as a frequent visitor once remarked, it’s “not so big that you can’t imagine living there”.
Imagination is the key. Historians and curators do it every day, even if they don’t always admit it.
Imagination also guided Philip and Lydia Laird, who restored the house in the 1920s. From wallpaper painted with New Castle scenes to kitschy colonial “tap rooms” in the basement, they mixed historical preservation with whimsy. All of this was the setting for legendary Prohibition-era parties packed with their many cousins and friends from Laird and du Pont.
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Today, imagination helps us to see ourselves better and also to discover perspectives and people never before celebrated in Read House lore.
Sometimes contemporary artists lead the way. Photographers and models have added new levels of visual storytelling to our historical spaces. Hollywood hair artists have created wigs that honor Augustus Jamot, the Haitian-American hairstylist and luxury retailer the Reads rely on for discerning tastes.
And a 9 foot dress once stood in our 11 foot garden windows. For those outside at the annual LIT for the Holidays party, it was an ‘aha’ moment at George Read II and his tendency to take design elements to the extreme.
Guides at the Read House will not lecture you; They give you space to perceive things and invite you to a conversation. You’ll probably laugh at our fake 1990s food – proof that curatorial decisions are always a product of their own time. And by the end, you might be speculating about Sylvia Rice, the veteran African-American chef, and how tedious it must have been to use George Read’s ultra-hi-tech kitchen (for the time).
Visitors often leave with the note that they have learned to see the material world around them in new ways.
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As we emerge from the pandemic, let’s allow ourselves to just start. We deserve it after all we’ve been through, and it can take us to powerful places of empathy and discovery.
To visit or support the Read House & Gardens, visit readhouseandgardens.org or find us on Instagram and Facebook.
Brenton Grom is Director of the George Read II House & Gardens and Director of the Harry N. Baetjer III Junior Fellows Program