An interview with Anne McCarthy on WordPress’s coolest new project: the Museum of Block Art

Anne McCarthy is one of the creators of the Museum of Block Art (MOBA), an online museum that showcases art created with the WordPress block editor. 

screenshot of the museum of block art

Anne McCarthy is one of the creators of the Museum of Block Art (MOBA), an online museum that showcases art created with the WordPress block editor.  Visitors not only have the chance to view the art but create art themselves.  This is a part of an initiative to make more people aware of the wonders of WordPress and to get more people into showing off their creative skills in a new way.  One of the most beautiful things about the MOBA is that it helps those who may not be as talented with a paintbrush to show off their WordPress and artistic skills.

A little about Anne in her own words: “I’ve used WordPress since 2011 when I worked at UNC Chapel Hill as a work study student on the campus’ multisite. I never looked back and eventually joined Automattic in 2014, the same year I went to my very first WordCamp in Raleigh, NC. As for hobbies, I love to take photos, hike, woodcarve (recent hobby), lifechat (aka have deep, meaningful convos), play soccer, lift weights, and generally be outside away from screens. I collect quotes and have been redefining the concept of home through nomading where I try to create “little homes” in various spots. I’m very proudly LGBTQ+ and eternally grateful for those who came before me to fight battles for the rights I now get to benefit from.”

Nyasha: “I’ve been reading up on the Museum of Block Art initiative and I just want to say I think it is wonderful! Just in a few words, can you tell me a little bit about why you all started this project and what you hope it brings to the WordPress community?”

Anne: “Thank you for saying that. I really wasn’t sure how it might land in the community. 

As for why this was started, I wanted people to see WordPress in a new way and to show off what’s now possible by turning that notion of “powered by WordPress” on its head. It’s common to hear folks say they can spot a WordPress site a mile away — could you look at this art and say the same? Underpinning all of this too is the heavy loss of inspiration without in person time together and I’ve been on the hunt trying to find ways to create community creatively since the pandemic started. This aligned so perfectly to give folks a chance to show off their skills, explore new tools in WordPress 5.8 and 5.9, and create something beautiful for the whole community to enjoy safely from afar. Plus, I happen to love museums and often find myself walking away from them wildly scribbling, wanting to paint, wanting to pick up my camera with new energy. I’m a terrible drawer and decent photographer though so it doesn’t go far whereas, with this project, there’s a very real sense that anyone can create something cool and truly see how it’s made with the markup. To both bring people together and along while demystifying and democratizing it all felt so compelling. I hope it brings whimsy, inspiration, and a sense of connection to the WordPress community.”

Nyasha: “Responding to you about not knowing how it would land in the community: Speaking for myself the best thing about this project is that it reminds us that we are artists.  Even those us of who are not designers, or the best at Front End work.  We still create masterpieces in the form of code, websites, apps, etc.  I think you have created that link that makes us go to ourselves, “Hey we are making art!” And I for one am very grateful for it. 

Thank you for your response, giving the chance for everyone to make art is an incredible gift.

Since you have released the site, what has been some of the best feedback that you have received?”

Anne: “Wow. The feedback you just gave is among some of the best. I’ve mainly gotten feedback around how straight up cool it is. That seems to be the main word I hear from folks across the project (very cool, this is so cool, super cool, etc). I think it’s striking an element of both the coolness factor and a “I can do this”, which I love. Most of it has been private thus far!

This feature too meant a lot:

Nyasha: “I’m happy to hear that! You deserve the feedback.  As someone who loves art and museums as well but who is also not the best person with a paintbrush, haha I think alternative art mediums are amazing and make accessibility even more possible. 

Thank you for sharing that feedback with me from Post Status!

What are your short-term and long-term goals for the museum?”

Anne: “Haha! Glad I’m not alone there. 

Whew, what a question. I haven’t thought much about it in some ways due to the fact that I wasn’t quite sure if this would be received well in the community. It’s firmly in side project territory as I have bigger, more important work to do around the FSE Outreach Program, co-release coordinating for 6.0, etc. In the short term though, I’d love to just get the word out about what’s possible with WordPress’ tools today (ironically wrote a post about a version of this yesterday), leave people with a smile, and encourage folks to embrace their inner artist by sharing their creations. I plan to do that mainly through outreach to folks using #WPBlockArt, interviews like this, and perhaps a YouTube video on the project! Long term, I think it would be neat to explore a few things:

  • Print out the art and have it at WordPress events adorning the walls. 
  • Offer a way to order the art/print it out (could be a fun use of eCommerce). Perhaps could be connected with the WordPress swag store?!
  • Open up submissions and see what rolls in. Would likely need to involve having some reviewers in that case to keep the quality high. 
  • Add an “art” section to the Pattern directory to bake the art into the new WordPress tooling for people to display. Might not be terribly practical though. 
  • Have an art “hackathon” of sorts where we push for submissions.
  • Have an art refresh/switch out “exhibits” based on new tools released in each upcoming release as the options for creativity continue to grow. 
  • Get submissions from artists far outside the WordPress realm. I was hoping to get John Maeda (former Automattician and leader of computational design) to get involved for example. 

That’s somewhat off the top of my head and not at all in the works. If I had to pick one thing from this list that’s most feasible, it’s getting things printed for a WordCamp since I could likely do that myself with permission from organizers to place them around with a description :)”

Nyasha: “Wow! I think that is an amazing list!  I love the merch part the most.  I think having a piece of digital art in your hand would be a source of joy for a lot of fellow artists.  The art hackathon would also be pretty cool.  I think this has the potential to bring a lot of people in the tech community together.  Non-coders with coders, artists with the non artists, etc. 

I wish I had a side project this cool haha!

What was the hardest part about getting the museum together?”

Anne: “Right?! Something about making it physical again and “holding a piece of WordPress” feels really wildly awesome. Exactly as you said, being able to have non-coders, artists, etc find a new medium for creativity here also sparks so many ideas and excitement for me. I really love the ways technology can bring people together and unlock new opportunities. 

The hardest part was getting people to submit art and engage with the initial idea before the site was built/submissions flowed in. I got a lot of looks of confusion and meh reactions to something I could so clearly see as being pretty rad. About half of the people I contacted ended up submitting and I think it helped once I had more examples in hand. This deeply impacted the timeline as I initially wanted to launch alongside WordPress 5.9 but it simply wouldn’t have been feasible (perhaps it would have launched with only 10-12 submissions). So much is happening in the world and in the WordPress world so asking people to take time outside of sheer existence for an open source project felt like a lot. It’s part of why sponsored contributors are so heavily featured since they tended to have more time to give. 

Outside of that, Bea, the designer who did the site, saved me from having the issue of a beautiful site. I think if she hadn’t been a part of this, it would have launched okay but might not have landed in the same compelling way.”

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Nyasha is the Editorial Director at MasterWP and a software developer at Howard Development & Consulting, the company behind WP Wallet.

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