Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: Claudia E. Haines (page 1 of 3)

Paid Internship at the Brooklyn Museum

For anyone interested in a fall semester internship, here is a great opportunity at the Brooklyn Museum! This could be a great option for museum studies students in their second year or beyond, especially those living and working in New York City. Applications are due on Wednesday (August 25th), so if you’re interested, be sure to submit your application right away!


The Brooklyn Museum Fall Internship is a part-time, paid opportunity. Interns receive $15 per hour, and work 17 hours per week for 10 weeks from late September through early December. Selected interns will be paired with a supervisor and integrated into one of our departments, participating fully in day-to-day workplace activities and projects with the guidance of full-time staff members. In addition to gaining extensive work experience, they will have the opportunity to attend weekly seminars together that focus on the role of museums in society today, and how they might imagine the future.

The application form can be found here, and questions can be directed to hannah.lawson@brooklynmuseum.org.

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Reflections on a Nearly-Complete Summer Practicum

The Cyrus Dallin Art Museum in Arlington, MA.

At this time of year, many Tufts Museum Studies students are wrapping up their summer practicums. And while most of us have had to adapt to working from home due to the ongoing pandemic, our experiences have still been productive and rewarding! Personally, I have spent the past eleven weeks as an intern at the Cyrus Dallin Art Museum in Arlington, Massachusetts, and with just a week and a half to go in my internship, now seems like the perfect time to reflect on my experience.

Cyrus Dallin in his studio.

The Cyrus Dallin Art Museum is a single-artist museum focusing on the works of American sculptor Cyrus Edwin Dallin (1861–1944). A native of Springville, Utah, Dallin relocated to the Boston area in 1880 to study under sculptor Truman Bartlett. While Dallin is probably best known locally for Appeal to the Great Spirit (1908), which stands outside the Museum of Fine Arts, and his equestrian sculpture of Paul Revere in Boston’s North End (1940), his works can be found around the country. In addition to his work as a professional artist, Dallin spent more than four decades as a faculty member at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, teaching sculpture to hundreds of students, many of whom went on to become professional sculptors themselves. He was also an outspoken advocate on behalf of Indigenous peoples, and was a longtime member of the Eastern Association of Indian Affairs. Dallin passed away in Arlington in 1944, but his legacy lives on through the museum that bears his name.

Dallin’s sculpture of Paul Revere in the North End.

Under the supervision of Heather Leavell, Director and Curator of the Dallin Museum, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about Dallin’s life and works through a variety of projects. At the beginning of the summer, I spent several weeks researching Dallin’s teaching career at MassArt, with the goal of learning more about his relationships with his students. Based on the archival materials preserved at MassArt—including yearbooks, student newspapers, annual portfolios, and more—it’s clear that Dallin was beloved by his students, who affectionately referred to him as “Cyrus the Great.” In a yearbook from 1939, students wrote that Dallin’s “genius, kindliness and wondrous wisdom have left a lasting impression on many a class. […] He is truly a rare combination of great artist, teacher, and fine man, mellowed with a searching understanding of the great puzzle—art.”

Dallin’s photograph in a MassArt yearbook from 1939.

I also spent time researching a few MassArt students who are known to have become successful professional sculptors after studying under Dallin. One such student, Bruce Wilder Saville, had a lot in common with Dallin: Saville went on to teach sculpture at Ohio State University and the Columbus Art School, and was known for his large-scale war memorials.

Finally, I’ve recently been working on a project with a member of the Dallin Museum’s Nonprofit Board of Directors creating Wikipedia pages for Dallin’s various sculptures. Having grown up in central Pennsylvania, I was especially interested in researching two of Dallin’s memorials located near my hometown: Cavalryman (1905) in Hanover, PA, and General Winfield Scott Hancock (1913) in Gettysburg. The results of my research should be publicly available on Wikipedia by the end of the summer!

Having the opportunity to work on several different research projects over the course of the summer has allowed me to learn a lot about a significant local artist, as well as the workings of a small art museum, and I’m so grateful for this experience. Have questions about the Tufts Museum Studies practicum requirement, or reflections on your own internship experience? Let us know in the comments!

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Please Touch: The History of Museum Accessibility for Blind Visitors

Though it might seem paradoxical to expect blind and low-vision visitors to enjoy a visit to an art museum—after all, the contents of art museums are often called the visual arts—museums have a long and rich history of proving that this is absolutely not the case, and that they actually have a lot to offer to the low-vision population. And contrary to popular belief, museums’ efforts to make their collections more accessible, educational, and enjoyable to all began long before the passage of formal accessibility legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. As early as 1909, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City created a designated space where blind visitors could touch taxidermied specimens. Six decades later, in the 1970s, there was a proliferation across the globe of art exhibitions curated specifically for blind and low-vision visitors. Most of these exhibitions centered around sculpture, because sculpture is typically more tactile than two-dimensional paintings, drawings, and photographs.

During my final year of undergrad, I chose to research the history of museum accessibility for blind and low-vision visitors for my honors thesis. My research took me to archival collections in New York City, London, Cape Town, Sacramento, Raleigh, and beyond, and the information I found proved fascinating. I learned that art museums have made great strides in the past several decades towards improving their accessibility for all visitors—but at the same time, there’s still a lot of work to do as museums move into the future.

Charles Stanford, the museum educator who spearheaded the Mary Duke Biddle Gallery for the Blind at the North Carolina Museum of Art, guides a group of blind students through a tactile encounter with sculpture.

Of the many “exhibitions for the blind” that took place in the 1960s and 1970s, a few stood out to me as the most interesting and best documented: the Mary Duke Biddle Gallery for the Blind at the North Carolina Museum of Art (established in 1962); Dimension (1970) and Perception (1971), two touring exhibitions created by the California Arts Commission; the Touch Gallery at the South African National Gallery (which produced a series of tactile exhibitions throughout the 1970s); the Tate Gallery’s Sculpture for the Blind (two different exhibitions by the same name, in 1976 and 1981); and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s To Touch and Hear (1975), Shape and Form (1977), and In Touch with Ancient Egypt (1996). While each of these exhibitions highlighted different content, all offered visitors the opportunity to touch a range of sculptures in regulated circumstances, often with the help of a museum educator on hand to explain the unique details and contexts of each piece. Based on contemporary reviews of these exhibitions, it’s clear that they were extremely popular with visitors both blind and sighted: a blind student named Michael Esserman, who visited the Met’s Shape and Form and had the opportunity to encounter works ranging in time and place from the Ancient Near East to the twentieth-century United States, wrote in a letter to the museum that visiting the exhibition was “a most interesting and rewarding experience.”

Then-governor of California Ronald Reagan greets two children visiting “Perception” in 1971.

In my research, I also looked at more recent—that is, post-ADA—efforts by art museums to welcome blind and low-vision visitors in an equitable, authentic way. I’ve found that while museums consistently offer ramps, handrails, and Braille and audio versions of their content, the spirit of creativity that reigned fifty years ago and led to the tactile exhibitions mentioned above seems to have waned. Is it possible that museums’ focus on binding accessibility legislation has caused them to prioritize offering more tokenistic accessibility measures that do little more than meet legal obligations? This is up for debate, but in any case, museums can always do more to make their collections more accessible to people of varied abilities. Physical accessibility measures like ramps and elevators are not enough in themselves—museum educators need to take more creative approaches as well to make sure that art collections are intellectually accessible as well. Maybe by recognizing the rich precedent of museum accessibility, especially the efforts that were made before accessibility legislation was passed, art museums can reignite their commitment to genuine accessibility measures and challenge misconceptions about who is welcome within their walls.

A visitor guide for the Met’s “In Touch with Ancient Egypt,” designed to help blind visitors experience ancient Egyptian sculpture by touch.

 

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