Nearly every museum director seeks higher attendance and groups eager to stand in front of an artwork. Often, they turn to mobile apps to lure visitors. But they usually don’t want those crowds at their house. In the middle of the night.
AFC’s friend Deana Haggag, the Executive Director of The Contemporary, has made a career out of bringing art programming to unexpected places. From dystopian food trucks to vacant museums, Haggag and The Contemporary team have a curatorial knack for surprising the public with artwork in unusual contexts. But now, the public is unexpectedly showing up at her home, thanks to a mural and the strange logic of Pokémon GO.
Haggag lives on a quiet, mostly-residential block in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood—an otherwise bustling shopping district—in a rowhouse owned by her fiancé, Matt Zernhelt. For reasons that were unknown to the couple, their house became marked as a Pokémon “gym,” a real-world location that game players must visit to battle each other. Pokémon gyms are typically points of interest selected by the app developer’s algorithm from Google’s database of institutions, public art, or historical markers. There are quite a few in the neighborhood, making it a popular destination for players. Now there’s a stream of strangers wandering into the yard, onto the porch, and even knocking on the front door. Most notably, one man crashed into Haggag’s parked car attempting to play Pokémon while driving. She’s understandably irritated by the uninvited attention:
“It’s been surreal. My friend told me I should hang a sign that says ‘pokemongo away’ on the front porch. I have not yet tried that. So far, I’ve only been glaring at players from my window and complaining endlessly to anyone who will listen (which is becoming a smaller and smaller list).”
Neither Deana nor Matt have the Pokémon app, so they were confused as to why their home was deemed a point of interest. At first, they speculated that the game might have erroneously identified it as the physical address of The Contemporary, as the house briefly served as the museum’s mailing address while they were between office spaces. I stopped by to investigate, and found that the app had selected their house as the “Great Blue Heron, Fishing Gym” on account of a mural Matt commissioned from street artist Stefan Ways before Deana moved in. Case closed.
This apparently isn’t an uncommon problem—Pokémon’s developers Niantic have agreed to remove locations such as The Holocaust Memorial Museum frome the game. [We’ve talked about another type of “inappropriate location” to catch Pokémon in an extremely, extremely NSFW post] Luckily for Deana and Matt, there’s now a form to request an address be removed from the game, but that can take a while to process.
In the mean time, Deana’s message to Pokémon fans is clear:
“Please stop coming to my house—or in the very least know that you are also collecting my ill will on your quest to ‘collect them all or whatever.’”