guest post: the college museum

It’s Campus Museum Week! Today’s post highlighting the unique challenges and benefits associated with campus museums is brought to you by Cate Bayles. Cate is a graduate student and emerging museum professional hoping to work in education, public programming, and community advocacy. She loves learning about people, collecting blue mason jars, and consuming Swedish fish. This post was originally published at Cate’s blog, Fresh in The Field

cate bayles

Wait, I’m not supposed to eat this? – personal photo courtesy of Cate Bayles.

Think back and remember yourself as a college student. Maybe you had a little bit more hair, maybe less. Maybe you knew exactly what you wanted to do with your life and maybe you had absolutely no idea! I remember myself as passionate and driven, albeit slightly goofy. I recently stumbled upon a New York Times article which examines the roles of campus art museums on college communities and it took me straight back to my first museum studies class. I was 18 and the professor was not my biggest fan – she thought that freshmen were too young to know what they want to do with their life. While my school did not have its own art museum, we did have a wonderfully stocked archive and library facility where I curated my first exhibit. As I grew as a professional, I learned that college museums have the power to play a formative role in the development of young minds.

As the face of education in our nation begins to shift towards a more interdisciplinary, participatory, and technology based learning agenda, where do academic museums stand? Commonly, university museums are seen as being oriented too much towards the art world and not in line with the academy, but an increasing number of art museums are embedding themselves in the curriculum of their host institutions. For two interesting reports on the subject, check out “The Campus Art Museum: A Qualitative Study,” which was published by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation in October and “Campus Art Museums in the 21st Century: A Conversation,” put out by the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago.

When I look back on college – I think of questions. Lots and lots of questions. I questioned everything from what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing to how I fit into the norms of society to what I was going to eat for breakfast! College museums are not only able to link academic courses to cultural ideas, they have the ability to be public spaces where dialogue can take place. They are not only sites of learning, but places of connection, creativity, and inspiration. Here are a group of people who are questioning almost everything about themselves – why not make museums a safe space for them to ask the questions and get a few steps closer to the answers?