We are expanding! Check out our programming while the museum is closed.

A Space for Dialogue: Mentoring Student Curators: From Idea to Exhibition

Hood Quarterly, summer 2008
Katherine Hart, Associate Director and Barbara C. & Harvey P. Hood 1918 Curator of Academic Programming, and Kristin Garcia, Assistant Curator of Academic and Student Programming

At the end of each academic year, Hood staff members ask the current senior interns to tell us what project they enjoyed most at the museum. They invariably comment that curating their own exhibition for the ongoing series A Space for Dialogue: Fresh Perspectives on the Permanent Collection from Dartmouth’s Students (SFD) was not only the best experience but also transformed the way in which they think about art and museums. During the SFD process, each intern completes a crash course on exhibitions, from choosing a concept and selecting objects to writing object labels and a brochure.

Craig Lee ’08, Mellon Special Project Intern, an avid student of architectural history who has chosen to work with architect Charles Moore’s drawings for the current Hood building, reports that “selecting items for my SFD really opened my eyes as to how accessible and open the collection of the Hood Museum is for students.” The most exhilarating, and sometimes most daunting, part of the process is that each intern has to choose the works for their display (usually four to six objects) from tens of thousands of works in the museum’s collection. The museum staff has always been impressed with students’ creativity in their exhibition themes as well as their ingenuity in grouping diverse objects, some of which have never before been on view. For example, in the first three SFD exhibitions this academic year alone, twelve previously unexhibited objects were displayed, including an ancient Egyptian jar from around 2250 BCE, a seventeenth-century Russian tankard, and prints by the Italian artist Castiglione, American artist Winslow Homer, and African American artist Romare Bearden.

Some students also take advantage of the sheer variety of the museum’s holdings. Ben O’Donnell ’08, Class of 1954 Intern, says, “In selecting the theme of my exhibit, I considered the general student, the potential art enthusiast who has perhaps not had the time or inclination yet to become acquainted with the museum. After searching the museum catalogue and considering such themes as sex or weaponry, I settled on ‘The Art of Drinking.’ The Hood has a robust collection of cups, glasses, and tankards, as well as prints and drawings by Hogarth, Grosz, and other heavyweights. The feedback I got from other students, many of them not students of art, was very positive.”

We have found that students’ coursework at Dartmouth has often inspired the conceptual framework for their installation. Melissa Fan’08, Levinson Student Intern, cites her senior art history major seminar on theory and method as an influence on the way she approached her SFD topic, in particular Hans-Georg Gadamer’s theory of each individual’s “historical horizon,” or culturally defined paradigm for viewing the world. She decided to work on the surrealist artists Joan Miró and Dorothea Tanning, finding that “how they define themselves in their work not only reflects personal desires, but reveals important events and the process of forming a self-identity that one presents to the world. I chose my objects because they involve self-portraiture and artistic collaboration, which simultaneously reveals how Miró and Tanning both define their own identities and how they want to be perceived by others.”

Homma Family Intern Virginia Deaton ’08 took American art with art history professor Mary Coffey her sophomore winter, which led to her choice of works related to the U.S. Civil War: “When I saw the [George] Barnard photograph of the burned out Atlanta, I knew that I wanted to use that.” Inspired by this detailed photograph of the scarred city, she chose the topic of the aftermath of the war and consumer-driven art.

Indeed, for some interns the SFD becomes one of the defining moments of their college career. Ben O’Donnell comments, “The Space for Dialogue experience has been one of the highlights of my time here as an undergraduate. The opportunity to organize, from the ground up, an entire exhibition engaged me in the world of museum curating tremendously.” As the SFD program continues, thanks in large part during its first six years to support from the Class of 1948 and now to generous endowments from the Class of 1967 and the Bonnie and Richard Reiss Jr. ’66 Education Access Fund, Dartmouth students will continue to use their creativity and learning to transform how the museum’s collections are seen.

Read more A Space for Dialogue stories

Hood Museum