Recess | Campus Arts

Nasher to offer new concentration in museum studies

Students now have even more of an opportunity to interact with the Nasher Museum with the introduction of a Museum Theory and Practice concentration for the Art History major.

The concentration offers students interested in pursuing a career in museum studies an opportunity to get more experience in working in museums. It was initially proposed as a certificate, but was only approved as a concentration this January due to the fact that the concentration is primarily focused in the art history department and is not interdisciplinary.

“Students will be able to get a major, but they will be able as part of their coursework to take a core group of classes that will give them more experience in the concerns around museums and maybe explore the possibility of a museum career in the future,” said Marianne Wardle, Andrew W. Mellon curator of academic programs at the Nasher.

Although the Nasher is involved in the academic life of Duke through Bass Connections and class visits, the concentration will be the first curriculum-based program created by the museum.

Wardle initially proposed the idea of a museum studies certificate five years ago. At this time, only one course was available in the field of museum studies, and this course was only available to seniors and graduate students.

“A lot of students didn’t know how to explore the idea of a museum as a career, and they weren’t really sure how to figure that out,” Wardle said.

When Sarah Schroth became director of the Nasher in 2013, she took interest in Wardle’s suggestion, and the two began speaking to the Art, Art History Visual Studies Department. With the help of Director of Undergraduate Studies Neil F. McWilliam, they came up with requirements for the concentration.

The concentration involves the creation of three new courses, all operating out of the Nasher.

Museum Theory and Practice will be co-taught by Wardle and Schroth. The class will focus on an introduction to museum theory and provides basic information for students who may not have had any previous exposure to museum studies. The course is based off of the museum studies course that had been previously only available to seniors and graduate students.

The Museum Object will be taught by Wardle and will focus on objects being shown at museums and how to make these objects, which are three-dimensional but hidden behind glass cases, accessible to museum visitors.

“I have found that here at Duke, students learn to analyze text and manage historical sources really really well, but they don’t think of material objects as primary sources quite as frequently,” Wardle said. “This can give them a chance to really think through all kinds of angles of an object.”

Students will also get practical experience with object maintenance, working on condition reports and talking to registrars and conservators about the objects.

The History and Theory of Curatorial Practice, taught by Marshall Price, Nancy Hanks curator of modern and contemporary art, will focus on the history of exhibition-making. The seminar will provide students with an introduction to curatorial practice and theory and study local exhibitions at the Nasher and at other museums in the Triangle. It will focus on contemporary art and look at the curatorial discipline has evolved in the last few years.

A course entitled Curatorial Practicum will also be available, in which students will be able to collectively curate their own small exhibit to display at the Nasher.

Two internship courses through the Nasher are also available, where students can work in a department at the Nasher and assist in activities ranging from research to writing labels for art to database work.

Students must take four courses for their concentration, including Museum Internship 1 and either Museum Theory and Practice or the Museum Object. The new courses are all being released over the next two years, meaning that the Class of 2018 will be the first class able to graduate with the concentration.

Students pursuing the concentration are advised by Wardle in addition to a separate advisor for the art history major. Students will meet with Wardle when they declare their concentration, after they complete their first internship and after they have completed the program, at which time they can receive career advice.

Though the Nasher is an art museum, the skills students learn when pursuing a museum studies concentration are applicable in other areas of the arts, including non-profit work and work at other kinds of museums.

“I’m really hoping that other students in allied fields will take the classes because there are a lot of jobs that all kinds of museums have, and it doesn’t really matter if it’s an art museum or a history museum or a science museum,” Wardle said.

Students interested in the business or logistical side of running a museum or in non-profit art work will also be exposed to learning basic skills that could help in these fields, like raising funds or communicating effectively.

The concentration will expose students to certain jobs available at all museums, like curators and registrars, and teach students important skills like how to raise money and communicate effectively.

“It’s really wonderful to be able to offer a sort of introduction to the museum field for undergraduates,” Price said. “It’s something that a lot of people aren’t aware of or just aren’t knowledgeable about.”


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