This fall, Karen Kurczynski, associate professor in the department of history of art and architecture, will launch “Making Art Yours,” a new program in collaboration with the University Museum of Contemporary Art. Funded in part by a Campus Climate Grant, the project will gather small groups of students - about ten each, including students of color, first-generation college students, and others who may not feel like the art museum is “their” space, into the UMCA for a personal conversation about art.
According to Kurczysnki, this project aims to do what museums across the country are trying to do in various ways; to invite people into the art museum from working-class communities, communities of color, and other groups whose experiences are not adequately addressed or represented in the art world or the museum world. “We intend to introduce the University Museum of Contemporary Art to first-year students especially, encouraging them to be aware of a resource on campus that is both free and undervalued, where the small staff works hard to produce exhibitions and programs able to connect with audiences of all types - beyond just the privileged, typically white audiences who often go to art museums,” says Kurczynski.
Kurczynski’s intention is to support meaningful conversations and insights, using art as a way to reflect on personal experiences and societal issues: “The UMCA and the history of art and architecture believe that contemporary art provides a unique way to open up dialogues across diverse groups of people, through artists’ unexpected ways of engaging with the material world and with society. We care deeply about diversity, inclusion, and equity in our respective fields, and we want to take a proactive approach to inviting more students from underprivileged backgrounds and students of color into our classes and into the museum. We hope this program will allow students to see the museum as a space of learning and encountering new perspectives, and invite them to consider studying art and art history in the future.”
Participants in “Making Art Yours” will receive a stipend to act as art critics and reflect on the museum’s presentation based on their own life experience. “The range of students’ own experiences needs to be better engaged by museums in order to provide them more productive learning experiences,” Kurczynski explains. “This will be a conversation about how identity and social experience connects concretely to the art on display, considering identity in intersectional terms so gender and sexuality, among other issues, will also be a part of the conversation.”
Kurczynski hopes the project will help the museum and the history of art and architecture department address the ways it might more actively connect with more diverse audiences. She points out that, of equal importance, the project will also provide students with new academic skills at close observation, translating complex visual experiences into language, and critical reflection about art, culture, and identity through a lens of mutual recognition and respect.