♦ Educational Programming: the Anderson Art Gallery & the Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art

I have a lot of sympathy with Mr. Leases position, and I believe that controversial shows can provide educational benefits exactly because they challenge traditional values.
-
Aaron Ellrich
 
Every university museum across the globe plays a role in shaping society.  Whether in Europe, Asia, South America or North America, university museums provide both students and their communities with beautiful works of art.  Inspiring future generations by providing educational programs and lectures, every museum shares similarities and differences within their mission statement.
[1]  Some promote contemporary works of art while others, focusing on their permanent collection, take the traditional route by representing a more reserved approach.[2]  Yet each establishment has one thing in common which is to encourage their visitors to think and engage with the artwork(s) on display. Understanding that each person is complex in his or her own way, by working with students and their community, the university museum develops a symbiotic relationship with every individual, influencing that person.[3]  Therefore this essay shall focus on the two university museums found within in the city of Richmond, Virginia: the Anderson Gallery at Virginia Commonwealth University, and The Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art at the University of Richmond.  Examining how each museum involves itself with their students and community, I will cover their most prominent educational programs, compare and contrast their methods of reaching their students and community, and conclude with a brief explanation of both institutions overall impact. 
 
Virginia Commonwealth University’s Anderson Gallery
Entrance to the Anderson Gallery (2011)
Beginning with the Anderson Galley at Virginia Commonwealth University, I find it is important to

address that 
VCU, as an institution, is known for its fine arts, and is home to one of the nation’s finest

sculpture programs
[4]

            After visiting the Anderson Gallery in the spring of 2011 I found that their focus and mission is

to incorporate more contemporary exhibitions, providing their students and community with a greater

understanding of contemporary art.[5] The gallery’s current director, Ashley Kistler, highlights that the

Anderson Gallery’s primary function is to be used as an educational resource for both university students

and the Richmond community. While the gallery itself emphasizes new media and installation art, Kistler

believes that her shows are “cutting edge” and that the Anderson Gallery is one of Richmond’s only

galleries that addresses the contemporary style.

With a long experience in municipal museums such as the Visual Arts Center in Richmond, in an open discussion she had with out class, Kistler also spoke out about the academic freedom she finds at Virginia Commonwealth University.[6]  Able to expand the gallery’s educational programming through striking exhibitions, her drive to provide a wide array of contemporary work is something that she believes stands out within university art museums. Afterward I found her distinction between civic versus the university museum discussed more and more in books and articles.  Addressing the same question at the College Art Association conference in 2006, Sharon Corwin, Director of the Colby College Museum of Art, asked her peers, “Are all college and university art museums teaching [civic] museums now?”[7]  Responding to Mrs. Corwin, Sheryl Conkelton of Moore College Art and Design addressed that civic museums have been looking for new ways in educating their visitors. 

So can university museums teach civic museums a thing or two about educational programming?  Before answering this I would like to look at how the Anderson Gallery functions internally. 

During the same discussion, current Exhibition Manager of the Anderson, Michael Lease, addressed the fact that the staff use the gallery as a way of communicating new ideas, stressing that some of these ideas could be controversial.[8]   I have a lot of sympathy with Mr. Lease's position, and I believe that controversial shows can provide, to some degree, educational benefits because they challenge traditional values. Controversial shows are the very ones that bring about new experiences; and as each visitor reflects on their emotions, whether good or bad, emotions are what leave a lasting impression. Indeed, tapping into the emotions of their visitors, is one of the central aims and touchstones of Anderson Gallery's approach to educational programming.  I believe this because presenting such striking exhibitions can evoke new thoughts that may reflect how we, as human beings, evolve and experience life through time and space.

Aside from the emotional experiences found at the Anderson Gallery, they also provide traditional educational opportunities for their university students.  Holding student shows for their Fine Art graduates in Spring, a new approach by the gallery also incorporates the university’s Museum Studies program.  Beginning in 2005, the Anderson Gallery now provides, every other year, graduates of VCU’s Museum Studies program the opportunity to set up and curate their very own show at the Anderson Gallery.  Using the gallery’s permanent collection to mount student-organized exhibitions, current coordinator and Collections Specialist Traci Horne assists these students by demonstrating how to analyze and promote a successful show.[9]  

Interior of Anderson Gallery: Above, Siemon Allen’s Records (2010).


            Continuing with educational programming, the Anderson Gallery’s cooperation between faculty members and students raises more art awareness by reaching out beyond the campus.[10] Collaborating with the Virginia Museum of Fine Art (V.M.F.A.), these two institutions actively engage all university students to experience art and, continuing with VCU’s efforts in assisting the Museum Studies program, the V.M.F.A. occasionally loans works of art to the Anderson Gallery for student development. [11]  Through this partnership with the V.M.F.A, students involved with VCU’s Museum Studies program are able to work with a variety of artwork(s) outside the Anderson Gallery’s permanent collection.  Handing these fragile pieces of art, in my view, is an important lesson that guides students in the Museum Studies program to a successful career because they are able to analyze, interpret, manage and experience fine art in a close and secure environment. 

With this partnership between the university and civic museum I would now like to answer the question I presented earlier.[12]  I believe both institutions (university and civic) can learn from each other; and there is no specific institution teaching one or the other because working together ultimately attains a higher rate of art educational understanding.

Having covered the inner workings of the Anderson Gallery I would now like to look at how the gallery and staff communicates with the greater Richmond area. 

According to Sabrina Hershey’s 2005 Master’s Project, she cited that many university museums have now realized the importance of reaching out to the community.[13] Ascending beyond campus grounds, VCU’s Anderson Gallery involves itself with Richmond’s First Friday’s Art Walk, promotes lectures, and holds community workshops. [14]  Gearing themselves towards the Richmond community, this outreach program by the Anderson Gallery allows the university to join in, and shape, the greater Richmond community by allowing others to admire great works of art.  Not separating themselves in any way form their community, their services highlight the importance of relational development with the community itself.[15]  Therefore collaborating outside the university itself Director Kistler’s goal for the gallery to act as a “hub” for art education can be seen in successful shows like, “The Beaded Prayers Project” (2009) by Sonya Clark.[16]  In this show the Anderson Gallery engaged people of all ages and backgrounds to come into the gallery, create their own beaded packets that contained their prayers, wishes, hopes or dreams, and attach it to the 70 2' x 2' panels which are arranged on the wall in a quilt-like pattern.[17] 


The University of Richmond’s Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art

The Modlin Center for the Arts (2011)
Located no more then six miles from VCU’s Anderson Gallery, the University of Richmond’s Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art is just one of three parts of the university’s art holdings.  Including a Print Study Center and Gallery of Design from Nature, the university’s gothic architecture is very striking when arriving on campus, differing dramatically from VCU’s modern architecture.  The Harnett Museum of Art actively operates as a research and educational facility with a primary mission to present their students, and the greater Richmond area, with educational opportunities.[18]

Aside from the Anderson Gallery’s focus on contemporary artwork and installations, the Harnett Museum of Art displays a variety of works.[19]  Containing a permanent collection that dates further back then VCU’s nineteenth and twentieth-century collection, the Harnett holds rare pieces like the fifteenth-century German artist Albrecht Dürer.[20]  With this older collectionthe Harnett is able to provide a wider range of educational benefits for both university students and visitors.  Coupling this with the Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center and the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, students, faculty members and visitors are able to experience art from a wide range of mediums.[21]

Looking into the Harnett’s collections management and exhibitions, unlike the Anderson Gallery’s commitment to generating new ideas through mixed media and installations the Harnett museum promotes art education by providing their visitors with a more comprehensive introduction to art and art history.[22]  Holding roughly twelve to nineteen temporary exhibitions a year, the University of Richmond’s Harnett Museum of Art expresses a diversity which, I must admit, the Anderson Galley is lacking.[23]  Opening up more fields of research and exploration, the Harnett museum’s attempt to display a variety of artwork enables students and visitors the opportunity to experience differing works of art that range from diverse artistic canons.[24]       

Investing in student development, the University of Richmond and the Harnett Museum of Art honor their studio majors with an annual senior show.  Part of the students senior capstone, this program educates students in the business of working in the art field, writing resumes, and exhibiting and selling art.[25]  Providing the necessary skills for post-graduation, Elizabeth Schlatter, who is the current Deputy Director and Curator of Exhibitions at the Harnett Museum of Art, expressed that these Fine Art students must also show their works in other galleries outside the University of Richmond.[26]  Believing this experience to be an important step in students communicating with other intuitions, Schlatter also commented on the University of Richmond’s summer fellowship program, known as the Harnett Summer Research Fellowship.  This ten week summer course provides students with a focused opportunity to closely work with artwork and museum specialists.  In this course, those who participate are able to select an area of interest and, working with the three on campus museums, organize their very own show by using the permanent collection and studio space provided by the University of Richmond.

So what are some of the differences between the Harnett Museum of Art and the Anderson Gallery?

When it comes to student relations, as explained earlier the Anderson Gallery shows a strong collaboration with the V.M.F.A..  Looking at the Harnett Museum of Art, while they do have art educational programs they tend to stay within the university itself.  In a discussion with Schlatter, she stated that although the Harnett Museum of Art does occasionally reach out beyond the campus and interact with other institutions, this is something they hope to expand on in the future.[27]  Therefore focusing on art education within their university grounds over establishing relationships with other institutions, I believe the Anderson Gallery is much more active in reaching out due to their affiliation with the V.M.F.A. and others.[28] 

Having discussed how the Harnett museum interacts with their university students, I would now like to elaborate upon what the museum offers the greater Richmond community.

The Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature


Committing themselves to their community, like the Anderson Gallery the Harnett Museum of Art incorporates educational programs that reach out to the Richmond community.  Holding gallery talks, symposia, professional lectures and workshops that are open to the public, the Harnett Museum distinguishes itself as a one of Richmond’s hidden jewels.  I say hidden because, not centrally located in downtown Richmond like the Anderson Gallery, its location outside the city tends to curtail itself from the everyday eye.[29]  However, still an extraordinary educational facility, the Harnett Museum has much to offer through their professional staff and guided tours.  Contacting their Coordinator of Museum Visitor and Tour Services, Hayley Sykes-Ludden, I asked her what they had planned for the future when it came to educating the greater Richmond area.  In response she made it clear that all university museums have “always maintained strong links” with community groups and that the Harnett’s future plans were to “specifically target groups within the university community” and greater Richmond area.  Also wishing to “build relationships that will foster long term programs for visits, field trips and educational programming”, Hayley concluded that one of their most successful shows was “Surface Tension” (2010) because it made use of their permanent collection while creating a “teachers resource kit” that established what K-12 teachers needed from museum programs.[30]  

Conclusion

At the College Art Associations conference in 2006, Deputy Director for Collections and Education at Yale University, Pamela Franks, stated how the university museum can be a seen as a “crucial doorway” for both university students and the community.[31]  Similar to how Hayley Sykes-Ludden sees the Harnett Museum of Art building relationships with the greater Richmond community, by interfacing with both students and the community I have come to the conclusion that both the Anderson Gallery and the Harnett Museum of Art, while holding similarities and differences in their exhibition style and educational programming, present themselves as being commited to community outreach. Seeing both institutions as that doorway described by Pamela Franks, it is through these differences in each institution that students, faculty members, and the greater Richmond area can appreciate and understand art.  Referring back to my discussion with Hayley Sykes-Ludden, I asked her what she thought the Harnett museum was missing when it came to educational programming.  In response she wrote that the museum, in her eyes, was not “missing anything” because they are in the process of building programs that will educate students, faculty and staff, as well as the Richmond community; and declared that the Harnett is currently working on a list of programs that will ensure a “broad based appeal” that facilitates visitors from all backgrounds.[32] 

Looking at how the Anderson Gallery uses their studio space as a means of communicating new ideas, Director Ashley Kistler stated that the Anderson Gallery always looks forward to seeing and hearing for their students and visitors and that they are always open for news ideas and future development.[33]  Living in the city of Richmond I can verify that there is a variety of artwork available to be viewed; so when visitors walk through the doors of both institutions I believe Director Wyona Lynch-McWhite of Fuller Craft Museum would be proud of the Anderson Gallery and the Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art when she stated how the university’s museums ultimate mission should be—“above everything else”—education with variety.[34]


                                                                  



[1] A formal, sometimes brief, statement about an organizations goals and purpose.


[2] When referring to “reserved approach” I mean that the museum shows works that are non-contemporary.


[3] Lanette McNeil. “The Educational Role of the Art museum and its Collection in the Teaching of Undergraduate and Graduate Students”. Richmond VA: Virginia Commonwealth University, 2010. Pg. 10.


[4] Within the public institutional division, VCU’s art program was ranked number one in 2010.     http://www.vcu.edu/arts/overview/national_rankings.shtml  (accessed April 2, 2011).

 

[5] Discussion held at the Anderson Gallery on January 26, 2011.  Speakers, Director Ashley Kistler, Exhibition Manager Michael Lease, and Gallery Coordinator and Collections Specialist Traci Horne.

 

[6] Kistler’s discussion about her “academic freedom” highlighted that the university museum (notably the public institutions) have more freedoms verses municipal centers.  She discussed that her experience with municipal centers were very strict when it came to displaying art because they rely, mainly upon, private benefactors.    

 

[8] Discussion held at the Anderson Gallery on the January 26, 2011.

 

[9] The Anderson Gallery’s permanent collection ranges from nineteenth and twentieth-century art.

 

[10] Bonnie Pittman. “Excellence and Equity: Education and the Public Dimensions of Museums,” A Report from the American Association of Museums, 1992: 2.  In this article Pittman discusses the importance of the museum reaching out into the community and incorporating the public through diversity and leadership.

 

[11] In the fall of 2010 I attended two VCU Museum Studies shows held at the V.M.F.A.  These graduate students were graded by VCU Professor Dr. Margaret Lindauer in how well they curated specific pieces of artwork while in the presence of a large party.

 

   [12] Question on page four: “could university museums teach civic museums a thing or two about educational programming?” 

 

[13] Sabrina Hershey. The Effectiveness of the College or University Art Museum in Serving the Student Body. University of Oregon, 2005. https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1794/948/hershey_masters%20project.pdf?sequence=1.  PG. 22.

 

[14] A popular arts and culture program found in the city of Richmond, Virginia.

 

[15]Bonnie Pittman. “Excellence and Equity: Education and the Public Dimensions of Museums,” A Report from the American Association of Museums, 1992: 5-7.  Pittman expresses that commitment to education is central and part of a museums public service, and, that by doing this museums can be an integral part of the human experience.

 

[16] Sonya Clark was a professor of Textile Design at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is now
Chair of the Craft/Material Studios Department at VCU School of the Arts in Richmond, Virginia.

 

[17] http://www.beadedprayersproject.com/overview.html. (accessed April 4, 2011).

 

[18] http://museumcollections.richmond.edu/IT_2?sid=25678&x=460605&x=460606 (accessed March 5, 2011).  This includes traveling exhibitions, lectures, gallery talks, workshops, concerts and symposiums.

 

[19] This “variety” includes contemporary, modern, historical works and artifacts.

 

[20]“The Monstrous Pig of Landser”, (circa 1496) by Albrecht Durer.

 

[21] Along with the Harnett’s permanent collection of fine art, the Print Study Center is dedicated to works on paper while Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature contains over 100,000 pieces ranging from Jurassic dinosaur fossils, contemporary glass art, Pre-Columbian vessels, ancient coins, Hindu art, Oceanic art, and rare gems minerals, prehistoric shells, coral, and fluorescent rocks.

 

[22] By stating “comprehensive” I mean that the Harnett tends to stick to traditional exhibition shows which are more understandable: that is, they hold shows that everyone, art connoisseur or not, can readily understand.  

 

[23] I state this because the Anderson Gallery focuses solely on contemporary art.

 

[24] Bonnie Pittman. “Excellence and Equity: Education and the Public Dimensions of Museums,” A Report from the American Association of Museums, 1992: 6.  An important aspect of the museum is to reflect social pluralism and include diversity within the museum setting.  This would include representing a wide array of art.

 

[25] http://museums.richmond.edu/education-and-research/opportunities/space.html (accessed March 7, 2011).

 

[26] Elizabeth Schlatter interview by Aaron Ellrich, March 23, 2011.  In my discussion with Schlatter she addressed that other institutions their Fine Art majors show their artwork at can be the University of Virginia.

 

[27] Elizabeth Schlatter interview by Aaron Ellrich, March 23, 2011.  Expanding more, the Harnett Museum has now worked with the V.M.F.A.’s American Art curator Dr. Sylvia Yount in a joint exhibition titled, “Civil War Drawings from the Becker Collection”, (2011).     

 

[28] In referring to “others”, while attending VCU in the fall of 2010, Richmond’s Wilton House approached VCU.  Asking Dr. Lindauer to set up a class that had students organize, and propose, their own exhibition for the Wilton House, those students who proposed the strongest exhibition were awarded by the Wilton House the opportunity to show their proposed exhibition; all expenses paid for by the Wilton House. 

 

[29] One of the problems I noticed when visiting the University of Richmond is that there are not many roadside signs that direct the visitor to their campus.

 

[30] Email discussion with Hayley Sykes-Ludden, Coordinator of Museum Visitor and Tour Services at the University of Richmond.  (April 4, 2011).

 

[31] Anna Hammond, Ian Berry, Sheryl Conkelton, Sharon Corwin, Pamela  Franks, Katherine Hart, Wyona Lynch-McWhite, Charles Reeve and John Stomberg. “The Role of the University Art Museum and Gallery.” Art Journal 65 (Fall 2006): 20-39.

 

[32] Email discussion with Hayley Sykes-Ludden, Coordinator of Museum Visitor and Tour Services at the University of Richmond.  (April 4, 2011).

 

[33] Discussion held at the Anderson Gallery on the January 26, 2011. 

 

[34] Anna Hammond, Ian Berry, Sheryl Conkelton, Sharon Corwin, Pamela  Franks, Katherine Hart, Wyona Lynch-McWhite, Charles Reeve and John Stomberg. “The Role of the University Art Museum and Gallery.” Art Journal 65 (Fall 2006): 20-39.

 

 

Bibliography


Discussion held at the Anderson Gallery on January 26, 2011.  Speakers, Director Ashley Kistler, Exhibition Manager Michael Lease, and Gallery Coordinator and Collections Specialist Traci Horne.Hammond, Anna, Ian Berry, Sheryl Conkelton, Sharon Corwin, Pamela  Franks, Katherine Hart, Wyona Lynch-McWhite, Charles Reeve and John Stomberg. “The Role of the University Art Museum and Gallery.” Art Journal 65 (Fall 2006): 20-39.

Hershey, Sabrina. The Effectiveness of the College or University Art Museum in Serving the Student Body. University of Oregon, 2005.

McNeil, Lanette. “The Educational Role of the Art museum and its Collection in the Teaching of Undergraduate and Graduate Students”. Richmond VA: Virginia Commonwealth University, 2010.

Pittman, Bonnie. “Excellence and Equity: Education and the Public Dimensions of Museums,” A Report from the American Association of Museums, 1992. 

Schlatter, Elizabeth.  Deputy Director and Curator of Exhibitions at the University of Richmond’s Harnett Museum of Art.  Interview by Aaron Ellrich, March 23, 2011.

Sykes-Ludden, Hayley.  Email discussion.  Coordinator of Museum Visitor and Tour Services at the University of Richmond.  (April 4, 2011).