Dr. Michael Mason, Director of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, presented “Cultural Sustainability at the Smithsonian: How a Framework for Relationships, Understanding, and Action Transformed a Fifty-Year-Old Institution” on the center’s work on cultural sustainability. His talk was part of the Arts Administration program’s Distinguished Speaker Series, a platform for students to gain insights on different subjects in the field of arts administration.
Allason Leitz is in her second year of her masters in Arts Administration at Columbia University. She has worked for the last seven years with the Congo International Film Festival (CIFF) most recently as the assistant to the Artistic Director where she primarily gathered (and occasionally curated) films. Since beginning at CIFF, she has worked on a number of projects that seek to connect Congo and the western world, primarily through her work with the web series Kinshasa Collection and the women-owned startup Tulizeni.
Allason shared her reflections on her most recent trip to Goma with us:
This summer I went back to Goma, D.R. Congo to be part of the Congo International Film Festival which I’ve been helping out with for the past seven years. Two things were a bit different this year than in the past: 1) I was coming off of an incredible first year in the ARAD program and 2) the festival was transitioning from a founder-run festival to one run by a successor. As we learned in our course “Principles and Practices in Arts Administration,” this sort of organizational shift can affect every defining aspect of an organization. Yet as with most experiences that push your limits, the things I took away from being there in person far exceeded what I imagined when I sent out the countless emails and messages for the GoFundMe campaign I was relying on.
Taking part in a film festival in a war zone comes with its fair share of challenges, ones that inevitably go outside the scope of the Arts Administration challenges we speak about regularly in our program. On more than one occasion I wondered if getting there was even going to be a reality. The festival depended on me, so I had to get there–I was responsible for the tablets we needed for an exhibition, and I had the only copy of EVERY single film for the festival. Despite whatever happened, these items had to make it there.
My journey was complicated by a short planning time frame and a complicated visa process. Getting a visa to the D. R. Congo has become more complex based on new international agreements between the U.S. and the D. R. Congo—it is a process that can take ten days and subject to quirks in the system. Sitting in desperation on Connecticut Ave in Washington, D.C. with no visa the day before my already postponed flight, I wound up resorting to the absolute last option to make it to Goma in time. Instead of flying from D.C. to Goma directly, I changed my flight to fly to Kigali, Rwanda. Changing my travel route, enabled me to be eligible for a different visa which I could get at the border, though it was unfortunately a much more expensive option. In Kigali I got on a TINY propeller plane to Kamembe (a southern Rwandese border town to Congo) at the crack of dawn and crossed the border on foot to the D.R. Congo. Then, despite a mis-dated visa, I made it onto an overnight boat to Goma (a twelve hour journey instead of the normal three) and arrived six days after I had left my apartment in NYC.
I could write a small book about all of the mix ups, as well as the amazing people who saved me time and time again and restored my faith in humanity. Yet when everything was going wrong for a while, I was reminded by a friend of mine from ARAD who was texting with me that this would probably make a pretty good story for my grandchildren. In the moment it was riddled with anxiety, triumph, peace, doubt, anger, confusion, euphoria, you name it, the emotions were all there: tell-tale signs of any adventure.
I learned a valuable lesson at the end of an epic journey and an incredible festival with the realities of an unstable warzone ever present. I saw that we in much of the Western world have become dangerously defined by an expectation of ease.
Working at CIFF has in many ways tested my will and my desire. I’ve also learned to trust those inclinations that push me to believe in my values and myself. My journey to Goma was a pale version of the tests many people in Goma face daily, but my greatest privilege is that I have chosen to be a part of this festival every year instead of the innumerable festivals in the U.S., because this festival brings more to the table than any festival I have ever been a part of in the U.S. There is an ease in the U.S. that we take for granted: the electricity working when we have a screening, ready access to internet fast enough to download films, and internet that works and doesn’t cost a fortune.But, CIFF celebrates the triumphant glee of self-expression in a way that accepting ‘ease’ has made routine. It accentuates the bliss and vulnerability that comes from sharing your thoughts with the world and is truly a celebration of us as individuals and community. The heroes of this festival are my colleagues on the ground who dare to create a festival that can run in in the D. R. Congo as well as in other places around the world. Being in the D. R. Congo constantly reminds me that such deep celebration is best not forgotten.
Over the past few months, ARAD has enjoyed the company of visiting scholar Léonie Hénaut. Hénaut is an Associate Professor at the National Center for Scientific Research, and a member of the Center for the Sociology of Organizations at Sciences Po in Paris. She is also a permanent faculty member of Science Po’s Department of Sociology. Hénaut received a BA, MA, and PhD in Sociology from University Paris 8, and her BA in Art History from the Ecole du Louvre. Her personal webpage and publications are available here.
Hénaut studies work, occupations and organizations. Her primary focus is on professionalization and organizational rationalization, and how the two processes interact with each other and transform the division of labor. During her time with ARAD, she has been working on her book project on museums in the U.S., provisionally titled “The Rise of Pluri-Professionalism: Transforming the Division of Labor in American Museums.” The book documents the shift of museums toward an increasingly diverse set of knowledge-based occupations in addition to traditional curators.
Hénaut shared more details about her work with Sunny Leerasanthanah, ARAD 19.
Our Spring 2018 Microgrant Recipient, Beryl Ford shared her reflections on Black Portraitures– BP IV: The Color of Silence, a conference she attended in Cambridge, Massachusetts with help from funding by the ARAD Microgrant.
It was such a rewarding experience to be able to use my ARAD micro-grant to attend the fourth iteration of Black Portraitures– BP IV: The Color of Silence. As a budding arts administrator, I found it truly inspiring to convene with the major players– influencers, scholars, museum professionals—in the black art world who are thinking critically about visual expression. This year’s conference theme– The Color of Silence– was particularly compelling because it focused on the increasingly Diasporic nature of the artists and ideas of the Black Portraitures community– finding its intellectual roots in the African Diaspora as it is expressed throughout Latin America. As Henry Louis Gates Jr. explained in his opening remarks, “The Color of SIlence refers to the visual expressions of the national imaginaries prevalent throughout the African Diaspora, in which political ideologies that negate racial differences render black subjects invisible.”
Each panel was thoughtfully organized to respond to and navigate this question of invisibility. During the conference, I attended the following panels: The Curator, the Artist, the Art Historian, and the Critic, Black Agency, Black Freedom: Portraits of Survival in Word and Image, Portraits of Power: The Aesthetics of Resistance, and Queer Identities. From each of these nuanced conversations, I gained a better understanding of how the visual arts work to support activism and are deployed to shed light on the experiences that are purposefully ignored and shrouded in darkness. As an arts administrator, I believe that it is my responsibility to be aware of the barriers precluding certain groups access to the visual arts! Given this, attending the BP IV conference was invigorating because I felt as if I was part of a larger collective endeavor that is working toward and is concerned with a similar goal.
Thanks for sharing your reflections with us Beryl, we are so proud to be watching you bloom!
We had been in the exhibition a while before I thought to double back to the entrance and inspect what I’d missed: the caramel-colored hand pump bottle, sitting proudly on a tall white sculpture pedestal. What was this? Pushing myself to interact with the bottle rather than first read its label, I squirted some cool, viscous mixture into my hand and then extended my hand to my husband, David. He took a deep whiff before promptly backing away from me and shaking his head. “Wow. What does it smell like?” I asked, amused. “It’s really strong…” he paused. “Hmmm. It’s like if you took a sip of vodka when you thought it might be water.”
This “ritual cleanse” (I did read the label in the end) was just one stop on our visit to The Senses: Design Beyond Vision, on view at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum through October 28. The exhibition features more than 65 design projects and more than 40 objects and installations dedicated to – as the exhibition’s entrance sign spells out in a bold, goldenrod headliner – the senses from a to z.
What were the other stops? Among them: a wall of thick, plush synthetic fur that plays different tones and notes depending on where you touch it, so that curious visitors create a collective orchestra. Chairs and headphones that together stimulate the sounds and sensations of random, improbable events described in projections on the floor at your feet (“falling backwards into a tub of Jell-O;” “an avalanche of frozen peas.”) Interactive stations playing original music compositions inspired by our taste of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.
Contemporary museums – and particularly, art museums – are organized around vision. As students and I discuss in ARAD’s Access and the Arts seminar, it wasn’t always this way. The earliest museums encouraged touch, believing it a valuable way for the elites who visited to experience artifacts on view. By the mid-nineteenth century, an array of factors – including, most significantly, the rise in museums’ public access – created the museum of sight we today take for granted. While many have debated the limits of the “look, don’t touch” model, lately there has been increasing scholarly and professional interest in what Nina Levent and Alvaro Pascual-Leone have called “the multi-sensory museum.” This shift has been catalyzed in large part by increased attention to museum accessibility: efforts to break down barriers to promote participation for all visitors, regardless of ability. As the introductory wall text for Design Beyond Vision highlights, sensory design is physical, it enhances experience, and importantly, when done well, it is inclusive: “By activating multiple senses, designers embrace users with different needs.” In this way, multi-sensory exhibition design can challenge museums’ sensory hierarchies: the social orders through which people privilege particular forms of sensory experience over others.
At the Cooper Hewitt, I was thinking about sensory hierarchies in the context of my teaching and research. But I was also moved by the show as a visitor. As someone without a sense of smell, I’m often struck by how difficult it is for people to describe smells to me; sometimes they lack words completely. I don’t always think about my anosmia when visiting museums. However, wandering around The Senses: Design Beyond Vision I thought about it quite a bit, mainly because the show gave me ways to think about smell beyondmuseum walls. I spent time with scent wheels categorizing aromas and relating smell to color; sculptures pairing wafted smells with distinct textures; and a “smell map” of Amsterdam plotting out the association of smells not just with fragrance, but with memories. As we left, David commented how the show’s focus on synesthesia – the sensation of a sense stimulated by another sense – got him inspired to describe smells in ways that rely on sight, sound, and even simile. “It’s really strong” didn’t mean much to me. But I understood how much it might knock you out to take a sip of vodka when you thought it was water. In this way, the exhibition gave us new ways to think, talk about, and share our experiences of the world: in short, it did well what museums do best.
Art is a near constant presence in the halls of Teachers College, but this month a special exhibition, Unleashing, will bring the work of 27 international artists to 21 sites across the campus. To make this possible, ARAD students Emily Pengyuan Lin and JuanCarlos Santos-Andrade have provided extensive support to the exhibition team as interns. Through their internships, they have gained practical experiences that will serve them well as arts administrators.
Emily has coordinated with the artists on tasks ranging from arranging insurance for their pieces to finalizing the wall text that will accompany their work. She is promoting the exhibition and accompanying public programs through social media, media for Teachers College and Columbia students, and sites geared to the New York art world. Her work has also included logistical efforts like scheduling installations and working with Teachers College facilities.
JuanCarlos brought his experience in digital technology to the role and designed the exhibition’s website. He has developed a map that will guide visitors—especially those unfamiliar with Teachers College’s tricky layout—to the exhibition sites scattered throughout the campus. He has also worked on the design of the wall labels and installation logistics for the exhibition.
Unleashing is directed by Richard Jochum and curated by Livia Alexander and Işın Önol. The project is made possible by the Office of the Provost and the Art & Art Education Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. It will be on display from April 1 – May 31, 2018, at 525 West 120th Street, New York, NY 10027.
Congratulations to Emily and JuanCarlos! We look forward to seeing the results of their hard work as we wander the halls of Teachers College.