Thursday, December 22, 2011

University Art Museums and Galleries: A Student Perspective, Part II

Accessing Art on Campus

An integral part of any education is hands-on experience, particularly at the university level, where students are preparing themselves for future careers.  This hands-on experience can translate differently from field to field, however, any school would seem horribly negligent to offer a major in chemistry without including access to a laboratory, or a medical degree without experience in an actual hospital.  For a student majoring in the arts, hands-on experience means access and exposure to art objects.  However, often this fundamental access is viewed as merely secondary to other university concerns.  In order to correct this, universities must realize what an asset art collections are to their campuses.  Where a chemistry lab is only truly essential to a science major, an art museum or gallery may play host to the education of all categories of students, faculty, and the community at large.  Exposure to art can inspire persons from all walks of life, and easy access to these objects should be a great concern of the universities. 

In educating Art majors, obviously art would play an essential part.  Merely viewing works in the pages of a textbook, however, is not enough.  To understand the impasto of a Rembrandt, the sheer size of a Gericault, the tactile qualities of an African mask, students must be able to view these items in person.  No photograph or slide can due proper justice to the real physicality of a work of art.  Student access to art is a necessary practicum, especially in the study of art.  The position of an art collection, and the gallery or museum space that holds it must be viewed as an essential part of the university campus.  This connection between art object and art education must be respected and promoted.  A student researching a work of art has as much right to access as a student researching science or medicine.  Any neglect on the part of a university to create such an atmosphere is to seriously impair the abilities of its student, and to limit their educational tools.  Art objects are a vital necessity on any liberal arts campus, and access to these objects should be considered in all university development. 

Access to works of art should extend beyond art majors and faculty, public access should be guaranteed as well.  Football stadiums and basketball courts open the campus up to the surrounding community, but a university art museum or gallery could offer another means of connection.  Exposure to special exhibitions, permanent collections, artist talks, and objects on loan opens a gateway to the public, inviting them into the academic side of the campus, and creating a connection to the outside world.  Just as the public and the campus may come together to cheer on the university team, so to can they come together to discuss an art exhibition.  If a university utilizes these possibilities, the opportunity to establish an open and multi-faceted dialogue between all sides of the campus and the public at large could exist. 

It is important to recognize artworks as a vital part of any campus, whether it is a work by a master painter, or a student-created sculpture on the quad.  Access should be guaranteed to these objects, and pains should be taken to integrate collections into a more active role in campus life. 

by Taylor Horak
B.A. Student, Art History
Virginia Commonwealth University
Department of Art History, School of the Arts

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Winter VAM Voice Sneak-Peek

Soon, our members will be receiving the Winter 2011 edition of the VAM Voice newsmagazine, complete with annual report. We've focused this edition of the Voice around the idea of advocacy and the importance of being an advocate for your museum. VAM got a legislator's perspective on this, and we're giving you a sneak peek, below. Members can look for the full newsmagazine in your email-box soon!

Many thanks to legislator David L. Bulova for answering the following questions for us. Mr. Bulova represents Fairfax City and parts of Fairfax County in the Virginia House of Delegates, 37th District. Find out more at

What do you know about the museums in your district? Would hearing from your museum constituents be of interest/helpful to you?

I have several wonderful museums and historic properties located in my district, including the Blenheim House in the City of Fairfax (c. 1858-60), the Fairfax County Courthouse (c. 1799), and Mount Gilead in historic Centreville (c. 1785). All three are integral parts of the character of the surrounding communities. Hearing from my museum constituents and the historic preservation community is very helpful to me. In fact, it is how I became aware of the need for HB1963, which passed in 2011 and allows local governments to create resident curator programs to manage historic properties.

From your perspective as a legislator, what is the most helpful information a museum constituent can provide for you? 

Museums are an important part of protecting our cultural heritage and it is important that we make the investments necessary to preserve historic objects and properties for future generations. Especially in tight budget times it is critical to hear from constituents about the importance of museums, and their contribution to our economy, since they are competing with many other services and programs throughout Virginia. It is also helpful to hear about creative ideas for preservation and programming that do not involve funding, or that capitalize on public-private partnerships. The resident curator program was a great example of out-of-the-box thinking.
What would be your advice to a person who has never been involved in the advocacy process, but is interested in starting?

Make an appointment to sit down with your legislator several months before session, which starts on the second Wednesday of January. Most legislators love to discuss the legislative process and can help a constituent develop an advocacy plan. Before making an appointment, think through what you are interested in accomplishing. Do you have a specific idea? Do you want to create greater awareness? Remember that in Virginia, legislators are part time and only meet a couple of months out of the year. If you have a specific idea, think through whether it will cost money and who will likely support or oppose the idea. Touch base with other stakeholders to see what they think as well. Be patient and understand that your legislator will help out if at all possible, but that legislators also need to be strategic about what they introduce, and when. Timing is everything, especially when trying to get an idea through the committee system. Finally, remember that advocacy is about relationship building. Stay in touch with your legislator and invite him or her to special events and functions in the museum community. Your legislator won’t be able to make all of these events, but will appreciate being given the opportunity to participate.