Night at the museum
A new academic program offering introduced this past year is already seeing success among students and the wider artistic community. Museum and curatorial studies is a new degree minor option — the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada among undergraduate programs.
The minor aims to provide a wider understanding of the cultural production of museums and their communities and incorporates material from several of Mount Allison’s extensive campus resources in the field, including the Fine Arts, Arts, and Commerce programs, the Owens Art Gallery, Colville House, and Mount Allison’s Libraries and Archives, as well as visiting artists and curators.
Fine Arts Professor Anne Koval specializes in art history and curatorial practice and has taught in the Fine Arts department for nearly 20 years. She says the new minor grew directly from students’ interests and needs.
“Students were already interested in this area of study through our course offerings. We’ve seen many continue on to graduate programs in art conservation and museum studies, and go on to work in the field,” Koval says. “It’s exciting to be working with students and departments across the University to provide this kind of educational experience and preparation in the areas of museum studies and curating.”
It was recently reported by Hill Strategies Research Inc. that there were more than 800,000 cultural workers in Canada. In 2018 the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage recommended the Department of Canadian Heritage collaborate with the museum sector and post-secondary institutions to develop a steady supply of museum professionals and specialists.
Many Mount Allison graduates have gone on to work in different fields of arts administration, including Emily Falvey (’97), who returned to campus in 2018 as director/curator of the Owens Art Gallery. Falvey replaced long-time director/curator, Gemey Kelly, who retired in 2018.
“The Owens has always been known as a teaching gallery; it’s a tradition we’re very proud of,” says Falvey. “Building a formal minor in the area of museum and curatorial studies enables us to continue working with departments across campus and build on experiential learning and internship opportunities for students in the gallery. This kind of experience is not normally part of an undergraduate education.”
The Owens welcomes student interns each year who gain experience in a number of areas, including community outreach, conservation, and organizing exhibitions.
Other graduates on the Owens team include Lucy MacDonald (’98), curator of education and community outreach; Rachel Thornton (’15), curator of digital engagement; and Jane Tisdale (’89), who oversees the Owens’ Painting Conservation Lab, the only conservation lab in the province.
MacDonald taught a new course, Museums, Education, and Engagement, during the Winter 2019 term. She worked to provide real-world experience, assigning students a project to create audio descriptions for blind and low-vision visitors for an exhibition of the late Mary Pratt’s (’57, LLD ’92) paintings.
“Students took on the project with seriousness,” says MacDonald. “It was exciting to see their efforts become part of a gallery exhibition.”
Runa Nishiyama of Tokyo, Japan, became the first student to graduate with the new minor in 2019, earning her Bachelor of Arts, majoring in art history and classical studies, and minoring in museum and curatorial studies. She is completing her Master of Art at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, UK.
“Being able to solidify my minor in museum and curatorial studies has really assisted in my plans for future study and work in this field,” says Nishiyama. “These courses helped me connect my interests in art and business over my time at Mount Allison and I am excited to have this formally recognized as part of my degree.”