Student Picks: A Tradition of Innovation
Published: Friday, September 14, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 14, 2012 15:09
Thanks to program developers Henriette Kets de Vries, Cunningham Center Manager and Taiga Ermansons, education program planner, Smith students from all disciplines can bring their visions to life in the Smith College Art Museum. The Student Picks program, beginning in 2008, allows students to assemble a one-day art exhibit, using “their own interests, personal or academic, as a framework for examining our collection of 16,000 prints, drawings and photographs,” said Julie Warchol. “I’m glad to say that Student Picks has been very successful … each year more and more students are excited to be taking part in the program.”
The Student Picks program serves the Smith College Art Museum’s primary mission to educate Smith students by providing them with a creative, “behind-the-scenes” way to engage with the museum. “While many students come to SCMA periodically for class visits or special events, Student Picks is remarkable because it gives students a sense of creative ownership over their museum’s collection,” said Warchol. “The benefits work both ways – seeing the student’s view, use and interpret our collection also teaches us, the museum staff, how to see the collection in a new and different light. With Student Picks, students are given a voice to truly show us what works of art they value.”
Acknowledging the misconception that only art history and studio arts majors need apply, Warchol clarified that in fact, “no art experience is required. Any and all Smith students are encouraged to enter,” and shares that, in the past, participants have come from majors spanning the humanities, sciences and social sciences. “Student Picks is not about knowing a lot about art or art history,” said Warchol, Curatorial Fellow at the Smith College Museum of Art. “It’s about applying your own ideas, viewpoints, and interests to our collection. It’s very open-ended.” Program organizers have people from these diverse disciplines in mind in assembling their program, and strive to provide students with ways to discuss art. “Student Picks winners partake in a fun workshop which introduces them to the SCMA collection,” said Warchol. This workshop is designed to help students get “comfortable with looking at and talking about art. All that you need to enter is a curious and enthusiastic attitude.”
There’s more to assembling an art show than choosing the works, but with Student Picks, the work is of the student’s choosing. The program’s organizers allow the students to participate as much or as little as they choose. “This open-ended nature of Student Picks is one of its greatest features,” said Warchol. At minimum, students in the Student Picks program have up to six meetings: one each with Warchol and the Post-Baccalaureate Curatorial Fellow two to three times in the month preceding their shows. At these meetings, the student’s general ideas regarding themes are discussed, artworks are selected and a title is created for the show.
“The student has complete creative control over the vision for their show,” said Warchol. Given free reign, it is hardly surprising that students in the Student Picks program have made some truly innovative display decisions in the past. Students in the past have taken advantage of the opportunity by writing labels, writing an introduction or concept statement, while some students just let the works speak for themselves. “There are plenty of wacky artworks to choose from,” said Warchol. “Some students in the past have taken some unconventional and fascinating approaches to the display and interpretation of their ‘picks’ – one student played music from a boombox that corresponded with the artworks, another paired poems with each image. I would love to continue to see students think outside the box and really make the show their own.”
Often, an individual interest dominates and governs a student’s picks. Past subjects have included, among other things, the female body, the Midwest, mental illness, the Wonders of the World, Spring, entropy and Japanese woodblock prints. “The great thing is that there is no right or wrong way to create their show,” said Warchol. “No joke. The student’s level of involvement is completely their choice, and the Cunningham Center staff supports them every step of the way.”
To participate, enter the lottery, which opened on Tuesday, Sept. 4 and will remain open through Friday, Sept. 21. The exhibitions are on display in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings and Photographs from 12 to 4 p.m. on the first Friday of every month in the academic year: October, November, December, February, March, April and May.