Route 66 was America’s mother road, passing through 8 states, connecting east to west. The road was decommissioned in 1985, however, Tulsa is looking to be its premier destination with the new Route 66 Experience, an interpretive center dedicated to teaching about the history of Route 66.
Museum Science and Management students were asked to design the interpretive center’s education department. Everything from lesson plans to outreach programs to job descriptions, the team built the department from the ground up.
When challenged with this question, my mind begins to flip through scenarios, or maybe dichotomies would be a better word. What is truth and what is not? Is it even that simple?
The annual TEDxUniversityofTulsa event took place on Friday and this year’s theme was Truth And Dare. Each speaker challenged the notion of “truth” and dared the audience to evaluate their own definitions of the word. Museum Science and Management student, Zachary Qualls challenged museums to ask the honest questions about our history. An important topic when looking at the recent trend to hide unpleasant strains in America’s past. Qualls gave a stirring personal narrative about his trip to North Carolina, where he visited important historical Cherokee sites with a Cherokee colleague. Qualls was dared to examine history from another group’s perspective, a dare that altered his perspective on museums and their role as gatekeepers of information.
Qualls finished by daring the audience to…”Let museums be an instrument for empathy. How have museums been instrumental in your life?
We will post the video as soon as it comes online! Thank you for challenging the audience to seek the truth, Zachary!
A couple months ago, we reviewed the Gilcrease Museum’s exhibit, “Rick Bartow: The Things You Know But Cannot Explain.” The exhibit’s contemporary and abstract quality are in striking contrast to the other exhibits in the museum. The Gilcrease has long been a champion of western American art in the mid-west, but the museum is getting ready to turn the page. Laura Fry, the new Curator of Art, sat down with me to talk about her plans for the Gilcrease, as well as trends she is seeing in curating and of course, her masters program!
Since arriving at the Gilcrease Museum in December, Fry was struck by how extensive the Gilcrease’s collections are, especially American paintings from across history. There are masterworks from colonial Mexico to the 20th-century Ashcan school to sitting in the vault and Fry wants to find new ways to tell their stories in the context of the Gilcrease.
“My goal is to find universal themes in an artist’s work that anyone can relate to… but also, to find threads that strike interest in our visitors.”
Fry’s curating approach was influenced by her master’s program but also her work with other professionals at the Denver Art Museum, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and Tacoma Art Museum.
“[Artist] William R. Leigh left to go art study in Europe by himself at age 16, that’s crazy. As a curator, I want to place visitors in his shoes. Going to Germany by himself—that was so brave. I want people to understand what it would have been like for people in these situations.”
But the word “curator” is getting a liberal usage these days. When I ask about it, she laughs it off. “I think it’s funny.” She quickly pulls up a Tumblr page, whenyouworkatamuseum.com, which pokes fun at the most humorous aspects of museum life. But this points to the blurring line between professional and participant. Museums are beginning to seek visitor participation in new ways, including visitor-created content.
“Visitors are being encouraged to create their own opinion. Artwork is intentionally subjective and museums have no business telling people which artworks are ‘good’ or ‘beautiful,’ but should rather give visitors a context for artwork and then encourage them to form their own viewpoint.”
As far as visitor engagement, some museums are being more thoughtful than others. Fry points to the Frye Art Museum in Seattle as an example of how to increase visitor participation and encourage co-creation between professionals and visitors.
“The Frye Art Museum crowd-curated an exhibit, ‘#SocialMedium,’ from their permanent collection of 19th-century European paintings. They posted artworks on social media and you could vote on which ones you wanted in an exhibit…everyone who participated was considered a co-curator. That is something I would maybe like to try here.”
Fry points out how the perception of the Gilcrease is that it never changes but more community engagement could change that perception. With the Gilcrease collections about to go online and a potentially a huge building expansion, there will be more opportunities to display the unique collections as well encourage visitor participation. But as a far as the role of the professional curator goes, Fry thinks it’s all about crafting that overarching narrative—creating the threads that tie these objects together.
“We have opportunities to see how community input can augment and drive a narrative—but it’s critical to know the collections well enough to know where to start. It is also important to see how some of these particular pieces would work with particular communities, and to ensure we are serving a broad audience.”
Fry built her content background in the University of Denver’s master’s program. Hailing from Ohio, Fry received her BFA in studio art and ceramics, with minors in art history and American culture studies from Washington University in Saint Louis. After finishing her undergraduate degree, Fry considered her options.
“I discovered quickly that with just a bachelor’s degree, you are not a competitor for most museum jobs, you need a master’s degree.”
While considering a master’s program for exhibition design, a former professor suggested a more content focused program, such as art history. So Fry packed up and headed out to Denver, where she spent two years working on a master’s degree from the University of Denver in art history and museum studies.
“The content-focused art history program gave me more flexibility. And with the museum studies component, I began to understand more about collections management, conservation, and registration…It was good to see how professionals work. My master’s program gave me an understanding of the field that I didn’t previously have… During undergrad I gained an interdisciplinary background, but in grad school I found more job-specific skills.”
Fry eventually went on to work at several renowned museums including the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and the Tacoma Art Museum before moving to Tulsa with her husband, Jason Jones. And Tulsa suits Fry and Jones just fine! In fact, Tulsa’s art industry is the reason the couple moved here.
“Tulsa is very supportive of the museum community. The city is investing in itself and showing a strong sign of commitment to urban development. Tulsa is bettering the community, instead of letting places slide downhill.”
Fry was surprised to see how many people attended the Brady Art’s District’s First Friday event, even in the cold rain. Tulsa’s vibrant art community bodes well for Gilcrease’s new transition. Between the Gilcrease’s Zarrow educational center downtown, the new Helmerich Center for American Research, and the launch of their online collections, Gilcrease is poised to make a strong comeback.
Happy Spring Break! If you’re like us, you were in need of some serious relaxation! We are excited because we will be featuring some guest bloggers in the next couple weeks. But first, we have three things to do if your spending the weekend in Dallas!
1. Dallas Arboretum (unbelievable blooms, check out the children’s garden!)
2. Dallas Museum of Art (World class collections, incredible architecture, educational programs to boot!)
3. Klyde Warren Park (on Saturdays, it’s such a fun spot to enjoy downtown at! splash zones for kids, food trucks, and overall a festive atmosphere)
1. Mudsmith Coffee and Bar (gorgeous patio in the heart of Lower Greenville. Wes Anderson themed decor, great coffee, and awesome locals!)
2. Mi Cocina in Lake Highlands (you can’t come to Dallas and not eat Tex-Mex!)
3. The Zodiac Room at Neiman Marcus downtown (a posh setting for a delicious, Dallas experience)
Of course, there are a million great things to do in Dallas but here are a few highlights! Stay tuned for more Spring Break adventures from the MSM group!
Great Sunsets. No traffic. World-Class Museums. Best pizza in the state (lookin at you Andolini’s), Best folk music archive in the world.
You might be a bit surprised to see that last one on the list.
The University of Tulsa and the Gilcrease Museum just acquired the Bob Dylan Archives. So along with Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs archives, the Dylan archives makes Tulsa a hotspot for Folk music aficionados and scholars from all over the world.
Dylan sold 6,000 artifacts from his private collection — including handwritten lyrics, photographs, contracts and private letters alongside video and audio recordings to the Kaiser Foundation. The archives will be housed at the Helmerich Center at the Gilcrease Museum and open for scholars and fans to experience!
Speaking of folk music, MSM’s very own professor, Dr. Kerry Joels, curated the Kingston Trio exhibit at the Woody Guthrie Center in downtown Tulsa. Joels gave a talk on Saturday, where he gave the historical context for the folk revival during the 50’s and 60’s. At the end of the talk, Joels even pulled out a guitar and sang a couple songs with the audience! Check out our video! Dr. Joels and Tom Dooley
Can you believe it’s March already?
The beginning of the month is always an exciting time in Tulsa! It feels like the whole city comes out for First Friday, an evening devoted to Tulsa’s downtown art scene! The University of Tulsa Museum Association (UTMA) went to take in all the excitement!
First Stop? Zarrow Center for Oklahoma Center for the Humanties’ exhibit, The Art of Politics: American Political Cartoons.
Next Stop? Philbrook Downtown! Philbrook Downtown had a special Doel Reed exhibit open, as well as their long-term Contemporary American Art exhibit and their famous, Identity and Inspiration: 20th Century Native American Art exhibit.
We ended the evening with pie from Antoinette’s and coffee from Gypsies! Great weekend for Tulsa!
Let us know what fun things you did in Tulsa by sounding off in the comments!
How does society, at large, deal with anxiety? Humor. This is the argument proposed by the Oklahoma Center for Humanities’ recent exhibit “Wimmin Troubles: Humorous Images of Women from American Magazines, 1900-1920,” The exhibition was the subject of the OCH’s Final Friday gallery talk on February 26. Curated by TU Ph.D. candidates Hannah Covington and Annie Page and using the material from The Modernist Journals Project, the exhibit focuses on how early 20th-century magazines negotiated women’s changing power through humor.
Drawn from a moment when women entered the workforce in huge numbers, the exhibit captures the public’s acute anxiety over the changing social norms for women. The highlight piece was a cartoon series depicting the biblical characters, Adam, and Eve. The cartoon draws Eve as a giant, cloddish woman with a club, with Adam daintily perched on her shoulder like a parrot. The cartoon was meant to play on conventional low humor and critique the ways women and men’s bodies interact. However, Covington and Paige explain how often these cartoons reproduce the narrative the cartoon is trying to critique. Eve serves as a reminder that the women’s suffrage movement was a threat to the masculinity of men, furthering the public’s anxiety about women’s changing role.
The exhibit relents the ways male cartoon artists were involved in negotiating and interrogating women’s power using their art form. In one cartoon, a woman is rallying a crowd against a female candidate, citing her conventional female looks as a reason for her incompetence. The male artists were negotiating women’s power by projecting them as incapable of supporting each other. Casting the suffragettes as immature women who are unable to engage with real political issues.
The curators end the gallery talk by bringing a significant point to light, masculinity was being renegotiated during this period as well. The exhibit shows a significant anxiety over masculinity in the early 20th-century. While women’s roles were changing to reflect the growing suffrage movement and the increasing rights in the workplace, masculinity was being interrogated in opposition to femininity. One of the cartoons depicts a story about a wife, husband, and a hen. Here the husband is depicted as “hen-pecked”, too weak to stand up to his wife. The wife has overpowered him in the domestic and public sphere and now he must join the suffragettes. The exhibit does an excellent job of showing how early 20th-century magazine publications were interrogating these questions of gender through cartoons. Using humor as a way of deflecting the growing anxiety about the reordering of masculinity and femininity in the United States.
Welcome to the first installment of our series, Interview with the Graduates! This week we are featuring Meghan Raleigh, who graduated in 2015 and now works for the Philbrook Museum of Art in their membership department. We asked Meghan a few questions about life after graduation as well as some challenges facing museums today.
Why was getting your master’s a game changer? What advice do you have for people thinking about graduate school?
I was contemplating going to grad school for art history, but after finding out about TU’s MSM program, I realized that having my MA in Museum Science and Management would give me more options. With this degree, I could teach art history/museum studies, work in museum management, or do a little bit of both. My advice for people thinking about graduate school is to do it. Sure it was tough, but having my MA puts me a step above other young professionals in my field. It’s made me a more desirable candidate for prospective employers and has opened so many doors for me in my career.
What led you to the membership department at the Philbrook?
I fell into membership and development completely by accident. I took a course at TU over grant writing and met my current boss while working on my project for that class. I completed an internship in Philbrook’s Education Department (which I also received due to that class) and when I was approaching graduation, a position in my current department opened up and my boss reached out to me and I’ve been here ever since.
What trends are you seeing in museum membership programming right now?
I’ve learned that museum membership is really exhibition-driven. When we have a blockbuster exhibition, like Monet in 2014, we see a surge in membership. A lot of our on-again-off-again members have told us that they only join up again when we have an exhibition that interests them.
How has social media played a role in membership department?
I work a lot with our Communications Department. We create membership materials together, work on marketing campaigns, and just as important– discuss social media posts. Social media plays a huge role in membership. We advertise member-only events/promotions via email and social media and that’s how we reach out to not-yet members. Without social media, we would just be sitting at the Museum hoping that our visitors become members.
Where did you get your undergrad degree?
My undergraduate degree is a BA in Art History from the University of Oklahoma
Favorite Tulsa Restaurant or favorite thing about living in Tulsa?
The people in Tulsa are, by far, my favorite thing about Tulsa… Besides Philbrook 🙂
In the corner a small gallery at the Gilcrease, a cedar sculpture stands. More abstract than most works in the museum, this sculpture depicts the face of a man with his brain cracked open, his anxiety spilling out.
For 30+ years, Rick Bartow has cracked open his brain and poured the spillage onto wood, paper and canvas, creating figures that pulse with electricity and flow with a spiritual transformation. The Gilcrease is the first museum to host The Things You Know But Cannot Explain exhibition, which is a retrospective on Bartow’s best works from the past 30 years.
The exhibition itself, is awash with transformation. Historically, native art exhibitions have been organized by culture area or time period, but curators from the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art use a thematic approach, choosing 7 categories: Gesture, Self, Dialogue, Tradition, Transformation, New Work, and Works on Paper to organize the works, which include paintings, drawings, and sculpture.
Rick Bartow has layered identities, native and anglo, soldier and alcoholic. He uses art to clarify the world’s complexity. Weaving emotion, experience, and tradition, Bartow creates enticing abstract works.
The exhibit begins in main hallway, where From Nothing Coyote Creates Itself, holds center court. The sculpture is carved from cedar with a coyote head on one side and a carved human hand on the other. The sculpture encapsulates Bartow’s native American traditions with his desire to create works that emphasize transformation.