Innovation Institute: Collecting & Curation Report (Brantl)

Within the two weeks that were the Innovation Institute, I achieved several goals – some clearly intended, some the serendipity of the occasion. A number of these relate to the broader context and offerings of the institute; others relate to the singular project I had posed for myself in applying for this fellowship.

THE BROADER CONTEXT: The institute itself brought us out of our silos offering valuable camaraderie and an eye-opening awareness of projects on which colleagues had been or were working as well as the particular possibilities and challenges in other disciplines. It also made us aware of commonalities ranging from assessment issues and technical challenges to potentials for shared experimentation and possibly even teaching opportunities.

The team that directed our program gave tremendously of their time, energies, and varied expertise. We were only well started when it was brought home to me, at least, how much work was going on in the background to make these two weeks as productive and meaningful as possible: from the let-there-be-ipads-in-no-time-at-all initiative to the steady stream of topics and perspectives made meaningful and applicable in limited reading, presentation, and discussion. Those carefully honed morning sessions provided ideas, models, and vocabularies, and did so in a way that regularly brought the participant’s thinking back to ready, imaginable utilizations both in the classroom and in our scholarship. Those involved in the planning and carrying out of the Innovation Institute are to applauded…and thanked.

In the process that team did an amazing job at making us all aware of them as resources–be it for advice, technical know-how or brainstorming. Again and again, it was brought home to us that there were numerous open doors (some unrecognized perhaps) on this campus if we would and could find the time and energy to reach out – and how readily what lay beyond the doors could take our 2 + 2 and make not a mere 4 (or even 5) but perhaps a 15.

MY OWN PEDAGOGICAL EXPERIMENT: I arrived at the Institute with some still rather amorphous ideas about reshaping a 2009 Art History course on Issues in Collecting into a more focused study of the collection and its curation joined to a rather innovative project intended to build student awareness of the constructed nature of collection and exhibition curation and the implications of same.

Not only did the Institute provide time centered on course construction (something I will at least pretend I might have found for myself this summer), but did so in a stimulating, critical environment that I could not have produced. By the end of the first week my course structure had taken on an unexpected sophistication in scaffolding consciously built around defined learning objectives. Particularly notable was the synthesis of the student project work into the overarching course—again building backwards from those same increasingly clarified learning objectives.

During the same time I’d had the first of several meetings with library personnel who will provide the bulk of the technological support for the student project work. And indeed this is definitely a case of being able to get way beyond my limited skills (say, excel=2 and powerpoint=2) and producing something much more 15-ish.

Where the project now stands is with a well-structured, if not fully populated, course model built around concepts of collection, changing factors in the art object and exhibition space, and curation models both traditional and those revolutionized via the web. All aspects of the course focus on that primary learning objective–to build student awareness of the constructive nature of collection and exhibition curation.

That same learning objective seamlessly then allows integration of a major course project involving use of a limited data base from an actual contemporary exhibition which can (1) be explored through various models of charting and mapping data visualizations and (2) the be curated by the students in a virtual space as a means of exploring curated meaning-making. Along the way students will study an in-depth moment in contemporary art and do so concurrently with critically assessing the lens through which we experience such a moment in exhibition. While the students will work in teams through the project so far outlined, individually-designed “audio-tours” of the curated spaces will allow students to put a personal mark on the team outcomes. In conclusion, it should be possible to assess the success of the project through an assigned critique of another exhibition.

The largest challenge in this project indubitably lies in the technology involved in the data visualizations and the flexible virtual exhibition space the students will curate—work largely being undertaken by a Munday Library tech team. While I have considerable work ahead of me in data collection and in framing the nature of the graphs, mappings, and curation space desired, the library tech team, in consultation, will then take it to a whole new level of possibilities. In so doing, frankly, they are providing the type of support I had never envisioned as found in the library, and in so doing providing one more instance of the value of the Innovation Institute.

As the instructor the largest challenge may still remain with the level of sophistication in thought and active curation to which I can encourage students in a single semester (especially allowing that the class will likely include both advanced art history minors and students with little to no knowledge of contemporary art). That said, an experimental in-class session this spring semester with my semi-flipped art history survey classes, which that asked them to work in groups exploring two artists through diverse curations, leaves me quite optimistic.

And while I have considerable work ahead in building this course, it now seems quite viable. Equally exciting to seeing the course take shape, moreover, is the potential it now holds to grow both in later iterations of the course and in conjunction with SoTL and/or content-related scholarship in the future.

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