Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Week 11 – Something relaxing

The past few weeks have been emotionally and mentally challenging for many people. As graduate students, we have to maintain a good work and study performance while juggling our Covid colored social lives and personal care, in addition last week many experienced  the stress related with the election. This week I would like to invite our readers to share pictures of the objects in your homes that helped you relax, ground and move on. 

Send a picture (1 or 2) of your “something relaxing” to sayyara.huseynli@tufts.edu. Include your name and where you currently live. 

Sayyara Huseynli. Collage on watercolor paper, background – black ballpoint pen. Artists whose works are used in the collage: Andrea Ortuño, Paul Cezanne, Anna Madia, Gun Legler; quotes are by C.G. Jung and F. Nietzsche 

As usual, I will be the first person to share. Last week, I felt that I was attacked by news coming from everywhere, academic work deadlines gave me anxiety and personal life was troubled. While I was journaling one day, I got an idea that I should create a collage of my emotions. I mapped my emotions, connected them with other forms of art, like cutouts of paintings and drawing and added words. I extracted the words and phrases from the quotes by my favorite philosophers, poets and other artists. While creating this kind of art, I felt calm and relaxed. 

Happy Veterans Day!

And happy grand opening day to the National Museum of the United States Army! Here’s the link to watch the opening ceremony, which will be livestreamed this afternoon at 1 p.m.

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National Museum of the United States Army

There are various exhibits set up, including a soldiers’ gallery, which has the stories of men and women from many historic periods. Other exhibits seem broadly organized by period, covering the colonial era and Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Army’s role in WWI, and all the way up to modern warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq. The individual soldier seems to be of particular focus, giving voice to their particular narratives and experiences.

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Experiential Learning Center, National Museum of the United States Army

The museum is also in the process of preparing an experiential learning lab, in which visitors must work collaboratively to help the Army solve a humanitarian crisis; this experience helps reinforce geography and STEM skills.

The museum is also ensuring the health and safety of staff and visitors, with efforts such as timed tickets and contactless ordering from the cafe.

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COVID-19 safety measures, National Museum of the United States Army

The National Army Museum is also offering virtual events, for those visitors who are unable or uncomfortable to visit in person. There are two upcoming (free!) virtual book talks:

November 19, 7-8 pm EST. Book talk with Marc Gallicchio.

December 17, 7-8 pm EST. Book talk with Paula Tarnapol Whitacare.

Personally, I’m super interested in the Curator’s Corner episodes, which feature artifacts of interest in each episode. The first episode features Sgt. Gary Uchida’s canvas travel bag during WWII. Here’s that episode: 

It is certainly interesting to see how the museum is diversifying and offering these events, and the efforts that are being made to ensure that museum visitors and staff can still enjoy the museum safely. It is certainly some good news to see a new museum opening up, and a great way to celebrate Veterans Day. Thank you to all who served, and are serving now!

Happy Belated National Fossil Day!

October 14, 2020 was National Fossil Day in the United States. Organized by the National Parks Service, National Fossil Day is a celebration of paleontology and the importance of preserving fossils for future generations. The National Parks Service hosted a bunch of events and resources, including talks and demonstrationsQ&A’s with paleontologists, manipulatable models of fossils, and announced the winners of its annual art contest.

The official artwork of National Fossil Day 2020.

The National Parks Service also partnered with many educational organizations, including museums, to celebrate National Fossil Day. While physical gatherings were out of the question, many natural history museums around the country offered virtual webinars and activities. Fortunately for us, many of the National Fossil Day festivities are still available online for our enjoyment.

Looking locally, the Harvard Museum of Natural History hosted a series of four free webinars with Harvard paleontologists. Visitors had a chance to get to know the researchers and learn a little bit more about the life of a fossil hunter. The talks covered the process of preparing fossils for study, caring for collections, studying ancient organisms, hunting for specimens, and interpreting fossils. Participants and students had the opportunity to engage with polls and even ask questions despite the digital format. For anyone interested, the Harvard Museum of Natural History’s NFD presentations are available here

Nationally, many museums offered similar webinars and talks, as well as other activities. The Michigan State University Museum hosted a poetry session with Jay Artemis Hull, a Michigan-based poet who draws inspiration from fossils, rocks, and nature. The Texas Memorial Museum shared fossils from their collection, along with a story time for younger viewers, and a tutorial for creating a fossil with common kitchen staples. 

The Museum of Science, Boston took a different approach by raising funds for museum operations with Cliff the Triceratops, one of only four nearly complete triceratops skeletons in the world. Visitor gifts will be matched and donors of $50 or more receive a pair of limited edition Cliff socks. They are super close to reaching their goal of $10,000!

Cliff the Triceratops at the Museum of Science in Boston.

While many museums still remain closed, and those that are open are limited in their operations, virtual events like National Fossil Day allow museums to keep in touch with their communities. The Harvard Museum of Natural History talks brought fossil loving adults, like myself, together with families and classrooms over a shared interest in natural history. Though I still miss the ability to go look at fossils myself, virtual National Fossil Day helped me feel connected and engaged, if not even more eager to go visit museums.

Week 10 – Working out from home?

A few months into quarantine, there was a long waited realization that the Pandemic was not going to be over any time soon. Many people started getting back into some kind of routine, especially in regards of physical exercise. Many people started utilizing their neighborhood parks, Youtube workout-videos or created/purchased  in house exercise settings. In the course of past 2 months, numerous gyms, workout studios and other physical training facilities reopened slowly with limited capacity due to which people are will working out at home.

Have you also been working out from home too? Share your home workout tools/instruments/set ups with the world! It could be anything from just a space where you do body weight exercise, a yoga mat, dumbbells, bench, indoor cycling stand or running shoes. Basically whatever you use to move and get the benefits of physical activity that your body needs. – This prompt was suggested by Kumail Zaidi

Send a picture (or 2) of your home workout setting to sayyara.huseynli@tufts.edu. Include your name and location. 

Artmaking and Stress Relief

As I have grown older, I have come to value artmaking as not only something fun, but as something that can help me relax or refocus my attention before returning to work. Unfortunately, this kind of stress-relieving activity can easily be dropped when one’s to-do list becomes overwhelming. I found myself falling into this very trap when the fall semester began. I couldn’t help but wonder why. If artmaking can help me reduce stress why haven’t I done it?

After some self-reflection, I found some major culprits. First is simply time. I found that when making my to-do lists for the day, I was only writing down things that I needed to be doing, such as homework or household chores. There was no time reserved for relaxation or stress-relief. Even if I had time, however, I found that I was often favoring activities which required the least amount of effort after working for a number of hours. How could artmaking become not only a habit but an integral part of my day? The final hurdle has been my general perception of what artmaking has to mean. I needed to remind myself that it wasn’t necessary to create a masterpiece with every project. Also, artmaking doesn’t have to mean drawing or painting. It can also mean crafting, making music, or even decorating pastries.

So, what are the possible benefits of artmaking on your mental health and how can museums help us out?

According to Malaka Gharib, a journalist for NPR, she did some self-reflection of her own and found that in between daily tasks she was always doodling. In order to find out why she enjoyed doodling so much and what effects it had upon her brain, Gharib spoke with Girija Kaimal, a professor and researcher in art therapy at Drexel University. Highlights from their conversation are discussed in Gharib’s article, “Feeling Artsy? Here’s How Making Art Helps Your Brain.” According to Gharib, Kaimal and a team of researchers conducted an experiment where they measured the blood flow to the brain of a variety of participants. They found that when making art there was an increased amount of blood flow to the reward center of the brain. This suggests that artmaking can stimulate the reward center of the brain despite one’s concerns regarding what to make, how to make it, or how it will look in the end.

In another experiment, Kaimal and a group of researches looked into the effects of artmaking on stress. In this case, the researches asked a group of healthy adult participants to create art for 45 minutes in a studio with an art therapist. During this time, the cortisol levels – which, according to Gharib, “is a hormone that helps the body respond to stress” – of the participants were measured. The results showed that 45 minutes of artmaking in this setting significantly lowered cortisol levels. Additionally, they found “no differences in health outcomes between people who identify as experienced artists and people who don’t.”

While understanding the benefits of artmaking on one’s mental health may be intriguing, there is still the concern of where to begin. During my undergraduate years I can remember making art all the time. However, I was also taking studio classes where I was given specific projects to complete. Without the list of class projects, I have found myself struggling to decide on what to make and how to go about making it once I have finally decided to get creative. That is where museums can offer some help.

MFA Watercolor Study. Sourced from the MFA Studio Art Courses Webpage.

Since the pandemic, a number of museums have increased their presence online. In some cases, museums have created online versions of activities they would normally offer within their institutions. For example, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has started creating instructional videos for their page “Junior Artists at Home.” These videos are about 10 minutes long and offer step-by-step instructions on how to complete their projects. While these videos are designed for individuals between the ages of 5-8 years old, that does not mean others cannot give it a try or use the videos as inspiration for another project. For those who are looking for a more challenging project, the museum also has a “Studio Art Classes: Tutorials at Home” page where individuals can watch artmaking video tutorials which utilize a variety of materials.

The Institute of Contemporary Art has also developed its own page, “ICA at Home,” where they provide a number of links to virtual events. Also included on the page is a list of instructional artmaking videos for at home. Sponsored by the Bank of America, the ICA’s Art Lab has been a space where visitors have the opportunity to make art that relates to contemporary art. During their closure, the ICA committed to generating a new activity for each week. These projects are still accessible on their website.

Artmaking doesn’t have to mean making masterpieces. It doesn’t even have to mean drawing, sculpting, or painting. Artmaking simply means finding a creative outlet that is enjoyable and stress-free. Sometimes it can be hard to know where to begin, especially when to-do lists get longer, and projects come due. Cultural institutions like the MFA or the ICA can offer some help, creating projects for us to try. Hopefully this week we can all find some time to get a little creative, have some fun, and make some art.

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