Under the Iceberg: Planning a Student Exhibition

“The submerged bit of the museum is much more of an iceberg than [a] picture gallery.”—Neil MacGregor, director, British Museum

Would you believe that work on our exhibitions often starts years before you see the works on the wall? At the NCMA, as at the British Museum, there is more going on behind the scenes than you might expect. Our fall college exhibition, A Life, Still, offered one group of college students an opportunity to dive under the iceberg to see what happens behind an exhibition.

Months before the opening of the college exhibition (planned to complement the special exhibition Still-Life Masterpieces), Museum educators started collaborating with students and faculty at East Carolina University through “Under the Iceberg,” a program designed to give students a hands-on experience of planning and curating an exhibition. The development of A Life, Still included large- and small-scale projects, from deciding on the exhibition theme and marketing the call for submissions to selecting the final works and arranging them in a thoughtful visual narrative.

ECU senior Anna Hajjar took away a better understanding of the resources required to put on an exhibition, noting that she had never before considered spatial limitations and obstacles, museum aesthetics, and promotion when imagining the exhibition process. She noted, “It’s not just about finding artwork and nailing it on the wall.”

For artist Kendall Temotio, a senior at ECU, the best part of the experience was “being on the other side of the table.” Temotio said, “Usually I’m the one submitting my work and waiting at home to hear the results. It was interesting to see how decisions are ultimately made. Now I can look at my own work when it is declined or accepted and better understand why or how the selections may have occurred.”

ECU senior Abigail Jones noted the importance of their cumulative decisions: “Everything from writing the wall texts to judging the works of art to understanding the layout of the show affects how well and smoothly the exhibition process will run.”

Collaborating with the Museum, these students helped recruit over 180 submissions from across the globe (172 two-dimensional, 12 video). The resulting collection represents college students from 21 universities, 13 states, and two continents. Visit the exhibition blog or see the show in person at the Museum through January 13.

—Michelle Harrell is coordinator of teen and college programs at the NCMA.

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