Davis Curricular Gallery utilized across disciplines

With the expansion of the Colby Museum in 2013, one of the many benefits to the college was the addition of the Davis Curricular Gallery. Designed as a space to foster the academic involvement of students and teachers in the museum, the Curricular Gallery enables artworks to be displayed for the duration of a semester. 

As a result of the opportunities offered by the gallery, professors from across disciplines can choose to incorporate into their courses works from Colby’s permanent collection or works on loan from other museums. This semester, the Curricular Gallery is supporting the Anthropology, Art, French, History and Spanish departments with the current installation.

Encompassing a vast span of media, the installation also ties in the interdisciplinary goals of the annual theme chosen by the Center for the Arts and Humanities. The 2014-2015 theme is Migrations, a theme around which a number of courses throughout the year are designed. The Curricular Gallery currently supports one of those courses for the remainder of this semester: Associate Professor of Art Tanya Sheehan’s Art and American Studies course “Photography and Migration”.

Of the other courses represented in the gallery are two of Professor of Art Veronique Plesch’s courses this semester. Her “Food in Art, Food as Art” seminar has two works on loan from the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, while her Surrealism course has a number of works on which students will be conducting research for the rest of the semester. As for how the introduction of the Curricular Gallery has affected the teaching of her courses, Plesch says, “We can really use it in our teaching and have students be able to constantly refer to it.” Talking about the papers her students in the Surrealism course will be writing toward the end of the semester, Plesch explains that without the gallery students would have a more challenging time formulating papers based off of the works displayed in the space.

The educational benefit of providing students with the chance to interact with the artwork is one on which most professors seem to agree. As such, one of the issues that faces the gallery every semester is deciding how much space to allocate to each course and for what length of time the artwork can be displayed. Currently, the museum hosts a variety of spaces other than the Curatorial Gallery that allow for the live viewing of artworks. The Landay Gallery, for example, provides a space where professors can temporarily look at artworks out of storage with their classes. Plesch explained that before the additions to the museum in 2013, the options were limited: “Before, all we had was a space like the Landay Gallery that was much smaller and not very good.” The introduction of the Curatorial Gallery thus allows professors like Plesch to have access to works for a full semester.

Curator of Academic Programs Shalini La Gall curates the gallery and is thus tasked with deciding which classes get the space for the full semester and which classes would be able to get by with more temporary displays, like those hosted by the Landay Gallery. “It’s a pretty competitive thing,” explained Le Gall. “I would say that sometimes there are classes, like art classes, that will need objects for the entire semester. So if there’s a justification for using something for the entire semester, in our curatorial meeting we will lobby for using those objects.”

For many classes though, the use of museum space can be limited to temporary installations. Plesch, for example, additionally used an area in the museum for her Surrealism course where works were hung for just two weeks. In cases like hers, these short-run installations are often used for student work that doesn’t act as the major project for the semester. Le Gall explained further that these decisions are “very much linked to how the gallery is going to be used and then is also linked to loans.”

These loans currently on display in the Curricular Gallery are a conscious decision on the part of the museum to increase crosspollination between the Colby collection and the collections of other museums in the area. In addition to the pieces Plesch is currently using from Bowdoin, there are several artworks on loan from the Hudson Museum at the University of Maine. The works come from one of the finest collections of pre-Colombian art in the country. The connections between institutions thus provide professors such as Charles A. Dana Professor of Spanish Luis Millones with the opportunity to benefit from the strengths of other collections. In his course “Narratives, Artifacts, and Monuments of Pre-Colombian Civilization,” Colby students thus gain access to some of the country’s finest pre-Colombian works through the Curricular Gallery.

As for the level of collaboration the museum has been engaged in with other Maine institutions, Le Gall said, “It’s something we’re developing, and growing, and trying to do more of.” For Plesch, the one aspect she would change in the future would be attempting to increase communication among professors with hopes of picking artworks that would benefit multiple classes at once.

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